There’s nothing more powerful than a story. Watch what happens to a child—when you say those four magical words “Once upon a time.” Or, “In the Beginning was the Word.”-Sally Lloyd Jones in an interview with the International Arts MovementWe have been spending this Lent season with The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, as we have the past few years. We have loved this story Bible so much that we literally wore the cover off of our first copy, which was then replaced by two more copies and the audio cds. This year, Brent began at the beginning and has been reading a chapter each night bringing us now into the Holy Week stories.
Easter and Lent can be a challenging time with kids. Christmas is so easy with its Fisher Price nativity sets, chocolate advent calendars and singing songs that rejoice in tidings of Great Joy! Then in Lent, we purge our house of candy, we ask our kids to give up desserts.
In Holy Week, we, as parents, are faced with the prospect of telling our children a story that gets very, very bad before it gets good. In it are many themes we would normally edit out of bedtime reading: suffering, betrayal, violence, execution, and a sealed-up tomb. All those stories of the beautiful baby born among the cattle and the sheep, joyously heralded by choirs of angels, and it ends here on the cross
in the darkness, with the earth shaking, and the sound of weeping in our ears. It's so tempting to gloss over it and jump to the good stuff: the celebration of the resurrection.
I had the privilege of hearing some really wonderful talks by Sarah Clarkson at the Storyformed Child Conference last weekend. She spoke about how essential stories are to shaping the soul of a child and in helping them to find out the heroes and heroines they were made to be. In her last talk, she introduced me to a word that J. R. R. Tolkien invented "eucatastrophe." I googled it when I got home and found this quote from Tolkien's letters.
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love."So the best stories, the ones that ring with truth and that momentary glimpse of something bigger and beyond what we know, there is this moment of eucatastrophe: Frodo on Mt. Doom.
"I am glad you are here with me," said Frodo. "Here at the end of all things, Sam."Then the battle shifts. The eagles descend and sweep Frodo and Sam away to safety.
"Yes, I am with you, Master," said Sam, laying Frodo's wounded hand gently to his breast. And you're with me. And the journey's finished. But after coming all that way, I don't want to give up yet. It's not like me, somehow, if you understand."
"Maybe not, Sam," said Frodo, "but it's like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Our world is short on heroes these days. It is why we need stories like Frodo and Sam, and it is why we need the story of Good Friday and Easter even more. If we believe, as Tolkien believed, that the Gospel story is a story even more epic than the Lord of the Rings, and that the resurrection was the greatest eucatastophe possible, then our children need to hear it as such, and they need to know Jesus as the hero of that story. This is why I love The Jesus Storybook Bible so much, because it presents the Bible as this epic hero story.
To truly know Jesus as the hero, it will mean walking through the darkness of fear and death, holding our children's hands the way we do during the scary part of a movie, when we whisper, "Don't worry. This is not the end of the story. Everything is going to turn out okay. Better than okay." There is that moment when it seems that all is lost. It is finished.
And then the "happy turn in the story that pierces us with joy."
He is risen. He is risen, indeed!
"Mary ran and ran, all the way to the city. ... And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy --the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds...her heart. Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death come untrue?" Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones