Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Deeper Magic

Sometimes it's really interesting/odd/funny/weird/thrilling how threads of themes interweave themselves in a person's life in the same week... or the same day. So... speaking of that thrill... If you are a writer, maybe you know about what one of my favorite authors, Lucy Maud (or L. M.) Montgomery, calls 'the flash.' What is it? Well, in her book Emily of New Moon, Montgomery describes 'the flash' thusly, by depicting her young heroine's experience:
Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn't exactly describe it. It couldn't be described—not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to anyone else.

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely—went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it—never summon it—never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night; with a shadow wave over a ripe field; with a greybird lighting on her windowsill in a storm; with the singing of "Holy, holy, holy" in church; with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night; with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane; with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a description of something. And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

… She knew just how she would begin it—the sentence seemed to shape itself in her mind: "The hill called to me, and something in me called back to it."*
Emily Byrd Starr and I and any writer who has experienced this truth know that 'flash-filled' reality of living something and then reliving a bit of it as we write about it and then read what we've written. And even better is to share that bit of writing with a kindred spirit whose soul quivers at the same resonating tones of the beauty we're attempting to express and the beauty of the expression itself (even if that expression is a splintery rough draft!).

I'll risk sounding 'pagan' and call this reality 'magic.' And here's why. Two more of my favorite writers use a similar metaphor to speak into being their understanding of what feels to me to be part of the great mystery and wonder of how God made His creation (especially us, humankind) and life itself.

In a blog post titled "Fahrenheit Zero", responding to last year's on-again-off-again plan, by one pastor, to burn copies of the Koran to commemorate 9/11, Kat Coble writes:
My first reaction is my usual reaction when people talk of burning books. To me there is no greater flaunting of ignorance than the desecration of any sort of written word. Do people not realise the true magic of writing? I know it seems commonplace in this world where most people can read and write at least a basic amount. But the very idea that ideas themselves can live, charging like lightning down an undersea wire from person to person, because of marks on a contrasting surface—that, my friends, is the penultimate magic. The penultimate victory of life over death. In my mind, it is second only to the redemption of Jesus’ sacrifice.
See? It's 'the flash' again. Kat knows it. No, she doesn't merely know about it. She knows it. She lives it. She breathes it. Like Emily Starr, budding writer, Kat, growing (flowering?) writer, cannot not write. She must write. Even on the days when the physical act of writing is too painful and exacerbates the pain already there. She's still composing in her mind.

Life, writing, being, truth, beauty—I sense that for both Kat and Emily, these are all one. And how that is, is a great mystery. Not in the sense that it hides... but that it is complex. Just as trying to explain this truth (that truth?) is complex (yet as simple as tapping on letter keys on a laptop!).

Kat's comment about penultimate magic reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from C. S. Lewis's book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, from his series The Chronicles of Narnia.

After the White Witch reminds Aslan of her right to kill any traitor in Narnia—this particular traitor being Edmund—Aslan takes Edmund's place, allows his mane to be cut and shaved and himself to be killed upon the stone table, and then lies there all night. The morning brings a surprise for Susan and Lucy: a deafening cracking sound. They rush to the stone stable, expecting they do not know what, and find that it has split down the middle. And Aslan is not there. Susan wonders aloud, "Is it more magic?"
"Yes," said a great voice behind them, "it is more magic."

They looked 'round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.**
Susan and Lucy are delighted, overjoyed. And they shower him with hugs and kisses. But they wonder why he is now alive.

Aslan explains:
It means that though the witch knew the deep magic, there is a magic deeper still that she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have know that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the table would crack, and death itself would start working backward.**
So... going back to Mr. IWannaBurnaKoran...
How can a man who is supposed to understand the real thing, the sacrifice that Aslan's is only a shadow of, not understand its true nature, its true power? And then not understand the potency (albeit, less than Jesus' sacrifice) of writing?

Or is it that he does know that writing is powerful and he fears the writings of others? Here, namely the Koran. But then... he has forgotten the power of the gospel... and the power of the One he claims to serve. And that power is greater. It is the greatest. It is still mighty to save, so we need not fear the power that writing has. But we use it. For the good.

But Kat understands. And she states:
What I will do? Buy more books. Write more books. Teach people to read. Teach people to write. Pass the word along that writing is magic for ordinary lives. …

Up to this point [in this blog post,] there were 398 words, composed of 26 letters. That’s 32 lines, 9 circles, 6 half circles, black against a white background. That’s all it is, in its most basic form. But in it are the thoughts of my brain, reacting to the thoughts of others and causing more reactions in yet more people.

Those things burn with an altogether different fire.
And my friends, when 'the flash' comes, we writers know that we've felt the heat and seen the light of that fire.

It seems no coincidence that tonight I am revisiting a draft of a blog post I began almost a year ago, dear book-friends so beloved in my girlhood, and a song that too has resonated with me as many a good writing has done. As I want to really know the reality of the 'deeper magic' and live it and know the One who created it all, He brings together these elements to serve as reassurance markers along my way of discovery, my way up that Alpine path that Emily and L. M. Montgomery climbed, the same one that Kat and I are climbing.



* Montgomery, L. M., Emily of New Moon, New York: Bantam Books, 1983. pp. 7–8. [Some punctuation changes, mine.]

** Lewis, C. S.,
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Michael York (performer), Audible.com, 2005.