Fairy tales are a mirror of reality. The mirror in a novel shows us what is hidden in our own heart. The mirror in a fairy catches something hidden, too.
If you squint over a good fairy tale, you can almost see it: what is lurking in our own, and all of history. That sudden transcendent reversal – what Paul called “the weight of glory.” Inseparably linked to the parts of the plot that prostrated us most. Jesus’ sermon on the mount is full of that sort of magic.
He did not say that those who are getting what they want out of life now are blessed. That sermon would have maybe gone a bit like this:
“Blessed are you, when you are happy!
“Blessed are you, when you do not feel weak and helpless!
“Blessed are you, if you get what you need!
“Blessed are you, when you assert yourself to get it!
“Blessed are you, if you are a good person!”
But Jesus was far too realistic to say anything like that. What he actually said was that we are blessed if we are carrying a confused welter of pain. He said that the meek, who can’t even seem to keep their place in line at the grocery store, are blessed. When our rectitude gets used against us, we are blessed.
When we know we have no rectitude, when we feel a vacuum where we want to feel like a good person; when we are starving for goodness because it is not in us – we are blessed.
In the very ways we come out needy and hurting, we are blessed. Because we aren’t the real heroes of the story.
Oh we persist. We persevere. We slog on. We keep trying to grow straight, rather than crooked in spirit. We try to be patient. We wait – it seems we spend most of our lives waiting. We keep trying to be unselfish, to be brave, to get up every time we fall or get knocked down. And we keep getting knocked down, or falling, every time we get up.
But the real hero – he also felt very sad. He got elbowed out of this world. He was humiliated and beaten. He did the right thing and was condemned in a court of justice. Strong people tore even his clothes away. He was tortured to death, feeling abandoned by God.
So take heart.
That is only the middle part of the plot, that scrapes your lungs every time you breathe. Paul got struck blind on the road to Damascus with a vision of how it ends. It knocked him in the dirt and left him so helpless he had to be led about by the hand.
Because Resurrection is what Eternal Life does with death. Power is what perfect Strength does with weakness. Beauty is what utter Love does with deformity.
Mary’s helpless, crushed heart, when she watched her child die, was how she carried the coming weight of glory. So if you lose your place in line at the grocery store today – don’t sigh that “one more straw on the camel’s back” sigh. Maybe you’re being dogged by magic. If you turn around and squint, you might almost see it.
* * * * *
I wrote the above before October 7, and even then, words felt trite to me. My life and my friend’s lives are sustaining sharp blows; our trials pale hearing bits and pieces of recent news. Words won’t carry what is being wrung out of our hearts. Even prayers feel sealed in with pain, muffled and dulled with the inexpressible everywhereness of it.
But Jesus did not let the world relapse into Wordlessness. So we use the emblems of His presence, our words, to remind ourselves to hope.
Even when the strong, the cruel, the self sufficient or the self righteous seem to run the game – those who mourn and suffer, who are cruelly and unrighteously razed, who feel starved for God, are not cursed.
It is true, what we learned in Sleeping Beauty. The innocent, good, and beautiful one dies. Everything she was meant to inherit is choked in thorns. But there is something stronger than the curse. It can be crushed down into the dirt and lie dormant, but anywhere on earth, it will take root and grow. Isaiah said it would one day burst into bloom, even in the desert.
There is also a blessing.