Over the past few years, I’ve made a journey away from institutional church, away from attending services on a Sunday. This journey has been an act of faith. Part of my reasoning was the realisation that the culture and language of church separated me from the ‘real’ world – a world I believe God has called me to inhabit fully. For me, the songs and rituals, language and assumptions, of the church community became a story that separated me, often in subtle ways, from the reality many of my friends inhabited. This was a boundary I felt God was asking me to cross. In the process, I have had to let go of many of the things that used to define me as a Christian. I have missed many of these things. At times, indeed, I’ve doubted whether I am a Christian anymore and questioned what gave me the right to make that claim. I have become more aware of my own failings, of my habitual struggles, of the weaknesses in my character. But through this, I think I have, perhaps, grown closer to the character of Jesus, who inhabited reality fully, even to death.
Richard Rohr writes: “Faith in God is not just faith to believe in spiritual ideas. It’s to have confidence in Love itself. It’s to have confidence in reality itself. At its core, reality is okay. God is in it. God is revealed in all things, even through the tragic and sad, as the revolutionary doctrine of the cross reveals!”
My reflections on this journey of faith resonate with my reading and writing. In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund step through the wardrobe into a fantastical world. Through this adventure, they learn truths that help them understand and navigate their life back in our world – in the ‘real world’. It’s not always an easy crossing: When the time comes for Edmund and Lucy to finally return to our world for good, Lucy is heartbroken, until Aslan reassures them that they will meet again: “…This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
When I was writing The Firebird Chronicles series, I wanted the direction of travel to be different to the Narnia stories. I wanted the movement to be from the fantasy realm into reality. And so in the first book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, my two main characters, Fletcher and Scoop, two Story Characters training to be Apprentice Adventurers, realise they have a connection to our world, a connection that draws them ever more strongly away from their own fantasy realm and into this world of flesh and blood. This movement finally brings them across the Boundary that separates their world from our reality, leading them first to Christchurch on the south coast, and then, for Fletcher, to Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds.
For me, this is a story of incarnation, of becoming flesh. Having faced the various challenges of their story world – fleeing giant spiders that are gradually taking the islanders captive and escaping the NIGHTMARE army – the two apprentices finally cross the Boundary and find themselves in our world. As they do, the story changes from a third-person, universal narrator voice, to a first-person voice. We begin to see the story through Fletcher and Scoop’s eyes. Time slows. The apprentices feel lost. In their story world, there was always a narrative voice pushing them forward, making their choices for them, keeping things active. Now, they discover they must make their own choices. As Fletcher says, “It’s up to us now, we have to choose our own story.” Scoop is terrified by the prospect. Gradually, as Fletcher and Scoop navigate our world, they begin to forget where they’ve come from, to doubt their origins; they begin to fade. But there are voices, often from the periphery, that call them back. While exploring the town of Christchurch, a homeless man sees Fletcher. Fletcher is shocked. He is used to being unseen. The man directs Fletcher to a foodbank, where he meets Hilary, who tells him that ‘words need to be made real, they need to be made flesh.’ This sticks with Fletcher until the end of the story, when there is a final moment of revelation.
The third and final book in The Firebird Chronicles, Through the Uncrossable Boundary, is a story about growing up, leaving the safe structures that once defined us and setting out into the unknown. Such journeys are scary but are ultimately the way in which we grow. One of the things I’ve learnt as a writer is that the more honest I am, and the more personal I make my writing, the more universal my writing seems to be – something else that suggests that incarnation, specificity, is the way to discover truth. Because of that, I hope this story will relate to other moments of passing from one reality to another. For my younger readers, perhaps the transition from primary to secondary school; for older readers moments such as grief or the challenges of losing a job. The message is that even through the struggle of these moments, or perhaps because of them, there is enlargement and hope to be found.
And so, it’s in keeping that Through the Uncrossable Boundary ends on Christmas Eve, the night before we celebrate the incarnation of the word made flesh. And so it is on this, the last day of Advent, that Fletcher and Scoop finally become fully fledged advent-urers and walk into a new beginning…
Brown, Dan Ingram (2018) Through the Uncrossable Boundary Our Street Books
Rohr, R. Daily Meditations, Monday 29th Oct 2018, https://cac.org/
For details of story events and to find out more about Through the Uncrossable Boundary visit www.danielingrambrown.co.uk