Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 6

“I understand,” said the man.

Dawn broke above the waves, and the man and the unicorn continued on their journey.

“There was a time when I too was alone. Everywhere I looked, all the creatures were given one like them, but I had to use my gifts on my own,” said the man.

The unicorn listened intently.

“All our longings are seen, all our questions are heard, all our pain is remembered,” said the man. “No one was made to be alone.”

The unicorn just kept walking, his gait getting stronger every hour.

“What are you thinking?” asked the man.

“‘No one was made to be alone.’ It reminded me of the herd, is all. Some of the older stallions called me ‘little lamb,'” he said.

“Lamb, you say?” said the man.

“Pure, and docile. Always following,” he said, with a hint of resentment. “But I’m not helpless.”

“Far from it!” said the man. As they walked, they fell into another silence. They journeyed for almost half a day before the unicorn spoke again.

“I’m afraid,” said the unicorn quite suddenly.

“About what?” asked the man.

“Is there really one like me? Who understands all my layers, who sees all of me, who can join me in my calling, and I in hers?” he asked.

“That’s not for me to answer,” said the man, “but I know that if you are to find her, you are sure to find her.”

Ahead of them, the mountain rose high into the clouds.

“Is that where you raced up to?” asked the man.

“It is. Perhaps one day I will make the trek again on my own,” said the unicorn.

“Oh, perhaps not with the herd, but surely not alone,” said the man with a wink. His fantastical friend noticed, but said nothing. What did he mean, exactly?

The man patted him on his hide.

“You realize though,” he said, “that if there is one like you, you are as rare to her as she is to you.” He swept his arm across the landscape before them. “She could be searching as hard as you have, waiting for you just as long.”

The unicorn stopped. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.

“The world is much larger than we can imagine,” said the man. “It could be that you’re further apart than you realize, and it will take time before you meet.”

“It could be,” said the unicorn, thinking.”So what should I do, teacher?”

The man looked towards the hills and the mountains, and the unicorn’s path was plain to him.

“Make yourself visible, be beacon not only for her, but for all those around you,” said the man. “And not only for others, but for yourself too,” he said. “The song inside you was not meant to be hidden. It’s bursting from you.” He pointed to the mountain’s summit.

“If you sing from up there, who knows who will come to listen?” said the man.

The unicorn blinked as his eyes followed the mountain’s side to its summit, just hidden in the clouds. Alone, the trek would be tiring. Daunting.

The man nudged him. “You don’t seem like one to shy away from a challenge,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” said the unicorn, pawing the ground.

The man and the unicorn reached a fork in the road, the man’s path going one way, and the unicorn’s another.

“The horses usually race from the other side. This path is yours to make,” said the man. “Perhaps you’re the only one who can make it.”

The unicorn hasn’t taken his eyes off the summit. “The thought of it, of all of it, scares me and pleases me at the same time. How can that be?”

The man shrugged. “You’re talking to a man destined to walk over the whole Earth. I don’t know how, but one day I reckon we’ll understand,” said the man.

The unicorn bowed once. “Thank you, teacher,” he said. “Truly, thank you.”

The man returned his bow and almost started down his path. “Oh, I nearly forgot.” The unicorn turned back.

The man rose on his tip toes while the unicorn lowered his head a little. As he whispered in the unicorn’s ear, his piercing eyes grew wide. His whole being seemed to brighten, and be full of life.

The man, quite pleased, said, “I thought of it when you sang.”

The unicorn bent a knee low. “Thank you, teacher, thank you. Thank you.”

“Remember, I will call you by name. I know you by name.” The unicorn smiled. “Oh and one more thing,” said the man.

“When you start missing someone you’ve never met,” he pointed to the sky. “Just look to the stars. They’ll light the way in the dark.”

As they parted ways, the unicorn never forgot.

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Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 5

The unicorn sat in the sand while the man treated his back in the dying light.

“I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t feel like a horse yet. Until I could be the best even with the sandbags, I wouldn’t take them off. But I was a fool,” he said.

The man said nothing as he helped the beast.

“The horses were sending their best to race up this mountain. I was about to go with them and considered taking the bags off then, but the moment I tried…” The man’s hands hung mid-reach for more salve.

“I could barely stand,” said the unicorn. “The herd had no choice but to leave me behind.”

“Then I found you,” said the man.

“No, you didn’t,” said the unicorn. “After the horses had gone, I let my horn glow. I couldn’t heal everything, but I was well enough to canter.

“I ran through the night when the others would be resting and caught up with them by morning. We reached the summit a few nights ago. I completed my training, I was one with the herd,” he said.

“You can heal…” said the man.

“When I said you were skilled you didn’t think I was just saying so, did you?” asked the unicorn. “When the horses would sleep, I’d heal their sick and weary. It was the least I could do.”

“And who healed you?” asked the man. The unicorn didn’t have to reply.

“Perhaps,” he started. “Could it be that,” said the unicorn. “Could that be my purpose? To heal?”

The man brought the unicorn back on dry sand and they started a fire while the stars emerged.

“Something tells me that your gifts go beyond mere healing, it’s just that no one’s noticed ’til now,” said the man. The unicorn was amazed. Who was this man that he saw what no one else could?

The man did not keep the silence this time. After hearing more of the unicorn’s tale, he saw in him a familiar longing, one that had been turned to pain.

“Why did you leave the herd then?” he asked. The unicorn took his time answering. He knew he was being drawn out.

“I was lonely,” said the unicorn. “Even with those I thought of as brothers, even with those I could compete against, even when there weren’t many who still thought I could never belong… I was alone. Accepted but not known, loved but not understood,” said the unicorn.

“I will never fully leave the herd, but by now it was clear that I needed to look for my own kind, and make my own mark, follow my own gifts. I had just returned to my life of wandering when you met me,” he said.

“How timely,” said the man. He poked at the kindling in the fire. “You enjoyed running, but you had to train for it. So what is it that you would really like to do, what comes naturally to you?”

The unicorn smiled. He looked up at the stars and closed his eyes. His horn glowed and a beautiful song resonated from his being. The man could not tell where exactly it was coming from.

It was like it came from everywhere and inside him, as though he were listening with his mind and not his ears. As if the instrument the unicorn was playing were his very heartstrings.

The melodies were pure, but haunting. They were hopeful but sad. They were just as unicorn was: lonely.

“I am on a quest to have this question answered,” said the unicorn. “I will pursue it with everything I have.”

Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 4

The man and the unicorn came to the seashore, letting the waves wash their feet and hooves.

“Let’s rest a while,” said the man. He pulled out the bloodied ropes and muddy sandbags. Picking one up, he tossed it from hand to hand.

“You… kept them?” asked the unicorn.

“I couldn’t leave them on the road. Someone has to carry them,” said the man. “I’m quite strong enough,” he said.

“No, please, I can’t have you carry my burdens. Please, let me carry them on my back for you,” said the unicorn. “In fact, put everything on my back. Ride me the rest of way,” pleaded the unicorn.

The man gave him a sideways look. “Your back hasn’t healed yet, and you want to take on a burden greater than the one you carried? One that isn’t yours to bear?” asked the man.

“Well…” started the unicorn.

“I was instructed to walk and care, so care and walk I will,” said the man.

Seagulls chirped above them, riding the thermals. The beach was cool and tranquil.

“Tell me about these bags,” said the man. “Where did they come from? Where did you come from?” he asked.

The unicorn straightened his muscular shoulders and faced the horizon. “I came from the same place as you, I imagine,” he answered slyly.

The man gave him a gentle splash. “Alright, alright. And the bags?”

As the tide went down, a smooth black rock appeared in the sand. The man sat, ready for the unicorn’s tale.

“I came upon the herd of horses running in the field one day,” he began. “I’d been wandering on my own, looking for something for many years.

“One of the colts found me, and wanted to play. What he didn’t know is that though I was only a little bigger than him, I was older than his grandmother,” said the unicorn.

“You’re an old soul, then,” said the man.

The unicorn reared on his hind legs and splashed the man as he landed. “Not unlike yourself, sir!”

Wiping the seawater from his eyes, he said, “but a child at heart nonetheless.”

The unicorn looked at the scars around his hooves, the memories pulling him back into his heaviness.

“The colt had a short, thick dark mane, and a rich brown coat that shined as he ran. I followed, and chased him through the tall grass, but he was much faster than I was. Finally when I was just close enough, I charged and tipped my head just so,” said the unicorn. “And my horn touched him.”

“He was a good sport about it, I hope?” said the man.

“I suppose. It was the first time I’d really played with anyone. After I’d tagged him, he stumbled to a stop and trotted over back to me. The poor lad had only just realized I’d had a horn at all!

“‘Where did that come from? That’s not fair, put it away!’ he cried. I told him quite simply I couldn’t and that it had always been there, but he wouldn’t believe me.”

“Hmm,” thought the man. “I suppose, with your silver coat and if your horn were shorter then, it could have gone unnoticed by young eyes.”

“Oh, what young eyes,” said the unicorn. “He’d never seen anything like me, and he thought I was a horse.” The unicorn smiled to himself. “Then again, I thought I was a horse. I’d never seen anyone who looked even a bit like me,” he said. “But that’s when the colt said something I haven’t stopped hearing since.

“‘You’re… strange,’ he said. ‘Strange?’ I asked. ‘Yeah! Um… different. I’m only a colt and you can’t run as fast as me, and you’re bigger than me. And your coat is different, and your voice is different, and you’re dull like the grown ups, but not quite as dull. And then you’ve got… that thing, of course.'”

“Ha, a tongue as quick as his gallop! Indeed you are different from the horses. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were made of moonlight itself,” interrupted the man.

The unicorn ignored his comment and recollected his thoughts.

“The colt brought me to the herd and the adults also weren’t sure what to make of me. Was I a horse, a child, an adult? I’m not sure why, but they invited me to stay. I had nowhere else to go, so joined their herd.

“Growing up with them, I had never belonged anywhere before, so I was determined to be a horse. With time, and training, I could run with them, and loved running. I even ran faster than some of the other horses.”

The man waited for the unicorn to continue, but he was still staring at the horizon.

“…And the bags?” asked the man cautiously.

“Oh, they were my training of course. If I could run day and night with the horses while I was weighed down, how much faster would I be without them?” said the unicorn. “Some nights I thought to myself, ‘once I’m fast enough to take these off, I may even grow wings and fly with the Pegasus,” he said.

The man surveyed the unicorn’s impressive figure. Muscular, powerful, lithe. Scarred, weary. Though he was capable, being a horse was not his element. Though he was content, he was not satisfied. It broke the man’s heart.

“I see you,” said the unicorn, almost playfully. How could the man have forgotten that piercing gaze?

“You’re wondering why I never took off the sandbags,” said the unicorn. The man adjusted his seat on the rock, waiting.

“Tell me,” he said.

Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 3

After walking with the man for some time, the creature broke his silence. “Never before has anyone’s patience outlasted my own. You are the first I’ve met that understands silence.”

The man laughed.

“What is it?” asked the creature.

“Nothing at all,” said the man, still chuckling. “My wife keeps me in good practice when it comes to patience and silence.”

The creature brightened. “I see!” said the creature. What was this feeling?

“Oh my,” said the man.

“What is it?” asked the creature, alarmed.

“I do believe you’re smiling, friend,” said the man. The creature realized it too.

“Oh my, I am!” he exclaimed.

They continued walking and spoke of a great deal of things. Well, the man spoke of a great deal of things, while the creature was quite content to listen, learning of all that the man learned as he discovered the world over the years.

“You are quite knowledgeable, sir. If anyone can give me a name, and help me remember my purpose, it’s you,” said the creature.

“Let’s hope so, friend,” said the man. He thought for a moment. “How about this,” he said. “The name I’ll give you, your true name, when I find it, can be a secret between the two of us. Hidden, and perfectly suited. Until then, and when I call you in front of the other creatures, may I use the name the others are familiar with?”

“Hidden?” asked the creature.

“Mm,” said the man. “You are creature of great rarity, one that I sense has great power. Not only great power, but great integrity. Often, one is present and not the other,” he said. “I fear that once you’ve recovered your calling, you may be often sought after and it will be difficult for us to meet again,” he reasoned. “So, while many will call you by a name, and your glory attached to that name, there is only one name that you will answer to. Your secret name will be your name, and when you feel lost, at the hearing of it you will also know who calls you.”

The creature bowed to the man. “This is wise,” he said.

“Very well, then,” said the man. “How have the other creatures called you?”

“They saw plainly how I am like the pegasus and the horse and the narwhal,” said the creature. “But being almost like them, but not quite, they thought perhaps I am turning into either a pegasus or a horse or a narwhal,” he said.

“How interesting,” said the man, amused.

“I was like the pegasus but could not soar like they could. I was like the horse but could not run quite like them. I was like the narwhal but could not swim like them,” said the creature.

“In their eyes I was like a magnificent creature, but only almost. Imperfectly glorious,” he said. The man listened.

“So they called me ‘becoming great,'” said the creature. “But I was not changing, I was never changing, and so I would never be great,” he said.

The man was beginning to understand. “You said they called you a name based on how you look. How else did they call you?”

“Ah, that,” said the creature. He bowed his head, letting the man touch his horn. It was sharp, and strong and smooth.

“They called me ‘unicorn,'” he said.

“Unicorn,” said the man. He turned it over and over in his mind. Finally, he spoke. “Well, that won’t do at all!” he said. “By my honour, I’ll give you name that suits and pleases you,” he said. “But until then…”

The man stepped in front of the unicorn, and bowed slightly. “What an absolute pleasure to meet with you.”

Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 2

When morning came, the man tended again to the creature’s wounds, and brought sweet fruit to eat.

“Thank you, sir,” said the creature. “You’re a skilled healer.” The man smiled. “These are your instructions?”

“Yes,” said the man. “May I ask what are yours?”

“I’ve forgotten.”

“Forgotten?” asked the man. Truly, he has never met a creature such as this. “No wonder you are so downcast! You’ve forgotten your gift. How can a creature do what it was meant to if you’ve forgotten what that thing is?”

The creature could not answer. This was his plight.

The man helped the creature to its feet. Already, he was getting stronger. “Perhaps I can help you remember.”

When the creature stood, the man was in awe. “Even with your wounds, how majestically made you are!”

The creature watched the man circle him round and round, back and forth. “What do you see?” he asked.

“How unique,” said the man, deep in thought.

“Unique?” said the creature.

“Yes! I’ve seen many, many creatures, but none like you.”

“Oh,” said the creature. The man noticed how sad the creature had become, so he did the only thing he’d been doing since he arrived on this Earth. He continued with his work.

The man touched the creature’s sides. “You have the strength and majesty of a pegasus, but not its wings.” He ran to the creature’s face. “And you have the face and the eyes of a wild horse, but,” the man looked between the creature’s ears.

“You bear the horn of the narwhal!” The man remembered the light he saw the night before. “A horn that brings light, like a sword reflecting the light of the moon.”

“Indeed,” said the creature, his voice full of melancholy. “I am strange, aren’t I.”

“Strange? Oh, I’m not sure about that,” said the man, marvelling at this new discovery. “I wouldn’t call you strange.”

The creature lifted his eyes until they met the man’s. It was the first time he had seen eyes grow wide, filled with compassion.

“My, what a piercing gaze you have, friend,” said the man. Overwhelmed, he took a few steps back to get a better look at the creature. “Surely a creature such as yourself has a great power, if only we could remember it. But first…” the man tilted his head to one side slightly.

“What should I call you?”

“I don’t have a name,” said the creature.

“No, of course not, I haven’t given you one yet, silly,” said the man.

“Am I silly?” asked the creature?

The man thought about it. “I suppose you could be, but that’s not all you are. No, no. Silly won’t do. We’ll need to find a name much better suited for you than that.”

“Those who know me gave me a name about my appearance,” said the creature.

“I see,” said the man. “Goodness, if I did that, an elephant may well be called a long-nose!” he laughed.

“How would you like to be called? I’ll consider it.”

The creature thought a while. “I’m not sure,” he said finally. “A name suited for my purpose.”

The man smiled. “Well said, friend,” he said. “Say, would you like to walk with me?”

“Where are you going?”

“Wherever the path leads,” said the man. “I am to care for those who are sent to me.”

“I’ll follow,” said the creature, a little brighter than before. It warmed the man’s heart. They began on the path, walking slowly.

The sun warmed their skin and a breeze swept the creature’s silky mane behind him. The creature did not speak. Never before had he been able to share such a blissful silence with someone.

Unicorn’s Pursuit: Chapter 1

As the years went on, the needs of the creatures became many. The Earth was large and the man had not yet walked on all its paths, though his years were many and his face was old.

One day, the woman said, “I will care for the needs of those whom we’ve already met, while you continue your journey. This way, we can accomplish what we had set out to do.”

The man admired her wisdom and found this a good thing to do. Though he did not prefer to be apart, he remembered that his question had already been answered long ago. Just as his instructions could not be taken away, neither would his answer. Though apart, he was not alone.

He walked for many days, and cared for the creatures whose homes he had not visited in as many days and nights. As the day drew to an end, still his path did not cross with something new. For every single day he had walked upon the Earth, he had encountered something unfamiliar.

He watched the sun dip below the mountains. Was today the day his knowledge would not grow? Was his work finished? Would he receive new instructions?

It was puzzling, but all these questions reminded him again of that question from long ago. These questions had been heard and would surely be answered.

The stars began appearing in the sky, emerging in the darkness, and sleep began to grow in the man’s thoughts. This too reminded him of that evening. If he sleeps, perhaps he would wake to something wonderful again.

But nothing happens the same way twice.

As the man was falling asleep under the stars, a light emerged. At first he thought it was a star, but this light was not in the heavens, but in the distance. The man got up and shielded his sight from the strange brightness. This was a creature!

The man was excited, but as he approached, the light stopped where it was, and faded. He lowered his arm from his eyes. The creature had its head hung low upon the ground.

“Hello, there!”

The man saw the creature move its ears.

“Are you hurt?” he asked. The creature collapsed where it was on the path.

The man quickly ran to it. As he approached, he could see it was a peculiar creature indeed. One, he had never seen before.

As he came closer still, he sat by the creature’s side. There were sandbags tied to its rump and its hooves. The man  felt anger and concern rise in his chest. What was this suffering?

“Who did this to you, friend?”

“I did, sir,” said the creature.

The man began untying the ropes and vines. The creature’s skin was rubbed raw, its back twisted and arched so it could not move, or walk or stand.

“Even if I could not be the best, I wanted to do my best, and be my best. But I’m tired now and have been looking for rest,” the creature said.

“How long have you been looking for it?”

“I’ve had these bags for two years, sir.”

The man marvelled at this peculiar creature. He had never heard a creature speak as this one did. Though he did not understand immediately, he saw clearly what he could give this creature.

“You sought for rest in these sandbags, but only found slavery. See, I’ve untied them now and the stars shine above us. Now you may rest with me.”

The creature put his head down while the man crushed some leaves and tended to the creature’s wounds. The creature slept soundly, his back relaxing as the man massaged it.

The moon was high in the sky when the man had finished. He lay down next to the creature to sleep.

“What a peculiar creature indeed. You must tell me your story when we wake.”

Unicorn’s Pursuit: Prologue

Long ago, when man lived with the all the beasts that lived upon the Earth, and cared for all that breathed under the sun, there was two of every living thing.

From his youth, man was instructed to watch over the beasts, tend to them, and name them. He did so faithfully, counting and naming. As he roamed, he encountered new friends. He built homes suited for them, and brought them to trees that bore good fruit, and rivers with clear waters.

There was peace in all the territories, so the man continued on his path, waiting for his path to cross with new creatures he had never seen before. Some were similar to old friends he’d already passed, others were unlike anything he could imagine. Some had tails, some had claws, some crawled, others walked. With every new creation he discovered on this journey he’d been on, he marvelled at the gift he’d been given. Indeed, the instructions all the creatures had been given were not only instructions, but gifts.

The horses were told to run swiftly through the fields, the lions were told to roar with all their might, the giraffes were told watch from the heights, the elephants were told to water the ground and trod upon the earth. As for the man, he was told to watch, and so he watched.

But one day, as he watched, a question came to mind. He had asked questions before, but none felt as terrible as this. “All the creatures have one like them, but why am I alone?”

In that lonely question, was a longing and a wish. The question would not leave his mind as he walked by the sea under the shade of the trees. No one had crossed his path today, so he sat, and watched, and waited. Still he found nothing, still the question would not leave.

As the day turned to night, and wakefulness turned to sleep, the longing remained and his wish became a dream.

When he awoke to the songs of the birds, and the sun rose above the waves. He heard a voice that he had never heard before, but that he recognized. It was a voice that resembled his own, but that was distinct from his. It was a beautiful voice.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a woman. One like him, but distinct and beautifully made. Placed at his side to help him in his work and build the world together, two as one. His question had been answered.

This is the first story of the man’s youth. He encountered many more creatures as he lived and roamed the earth, as did the woman. All that lived did as they were given, and they were fulfilled.

However, this familiar story isn’t about the man and his wife, but about a creature he encountered in his later years. He called it, the Unicorn.

Only We Would Leave the King of the Universe Hanging

What happens when runaway thoughts spin themselves into a hurricane inside your heart, but all you want at that moment is to go to bed?

“Spirit, can you hold these thoughts, bookmark them or something ’til morning?”

The storm only presses upon me like a firm and gentle push on the swings, adding momentum. Very well. Here I am.

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced the same conversation several times, which I found rather curious. It went something along the lines of, “Well you have your Christianity thing, but I prefer the buddhist philosophy if I had to choose.”

I’ve heard many people express their admiration for the buddhist worldview, my own grandmother being a devout practitioner.

I’d always wondered what made it so attractive until I saw a booth on campus a few semesters ago, that encouraged students to develop spirituality or oneness with the universe… but where God was optional.

One part of me said, yeah um, good luck with that. God is inviting you into true spirituality, that is, a relationship with His Holy Spirit (and the Son and the Father), how can you possibly do that without Him? You can’t fist bump without a fist to bump! There have been many times when a friend would hold out their fist and I’d miss it, so to add some dramatic flair to the situation and reduce the embarrassment, they’d make a big deal about leaving them hanging. I do it by accident of course, though Freud might disagree. However, we do do this on purpose to God all the time, on a daily maybe even hourly basis. He’s set up the relationship so that He contacts us, we just have to be there and be willing. Instead, we don’t just leave Him hanging, we left Him, the King of all things, high and dry!

But back to the booth. The other part of me empathized. We were made to worship, and worship we do. We are constantly searching for it. Some will worship things like money or success or approval, not in the golden calf sort of way, but in putting their identity in relationships (self is only in relation to so and so), image (I live to appear like this to the world), reputation (I am who people tell me or expect me to be) or a career (I am no one without my career and/or my salary), and so many other things. Others will worship virtue, being and doing and living according to some moral standard, a constant process of atonement. In fact, since the Fall, these are the defaults in you, in me, and in everyone else who ever lived.

In seeking just spirituality, people are looking for the “way of life” part of worship, which is why I can understand the thought process behind “why can’t people just believe what they want to believe, do what works for them?” Another phrase I’ve heard often, but oddly more frequently in the past bit.

Worship, the kind that we were designed for, includes another component: loving and generous volition. In other words, a relationship. Without that, nothing will work or satisfy your soul. At least not forever. When we say that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the way, the truth and the life, we’re not trying to take away people’s free will! If a treasure hunter finds the room with the jackpot, a sea of treasure, won’t they say, “hey guys, come here, I found it!” It’s a jackpot, you really can’t miss it, which is why it doesn’t make sense for the other treasure hunters to ask, “are you sure you found it? There’s a smaller room here with some cool trinkets, that might be it.”

As followers of Christ, we are not just servants to the King of the universe, but heirs. Heirs! The one who holds the name above all names is not just our Lord or our Master… He is our friend and Father who knows us deeply. He cares much less about us and His rules than us and Himself. Matt Chandler puts it this way, “God is more interested in progress than perfection.” Progress of course, requires an interaction with the one assessing you.

I’m not sure what kind of spirituality people have found without a deep and personal relationship with God, but I can imagine the peace it brings is more about keeping your hands busy than finding rest and purpose… A peace that comes at the price of never ending toil, with the resulting fruit leaving something to be desired.

Here’s another one I hear often enough: “So many other religions and worldviews are similar, what makes Christianity right or better than them? It’s not even the first one.”

Many people go to this point of the argument to discredit Christianity, but to me I see it as a proof of its legitimacy. Communicating what I see is of course the issue, but I will try. The most basic common ground for all the religions of world history is the human condition. It’s all about advancing or improving the human condition in some way. That is the common thread — a sinful heart that needs fixing.

This common thread extends far beyond religion, and into everything we do, since everything we do is a direct result of our sinful heart. But written on that same heart is God’s law — our conscience, our own moral standards. I’m most interested in storytelling, and so I see echoes of the soul yearning for the gospel all the time there.

The villains must always get their just deserts, because we know that sin and evil must be punished. The hero always starts out flawed or unprepared for the task, because we know that we aren’t perfect and need something or someone to make us whole, to prepare us for our destiny. The hero must always go through a great ordeal before succeeding, because we know that justice comes at a sacrificial cost. The hero always achieves the goal and overcomes the ordeal, rewarded with honour or revelation.

But these are just the standard givens of story structure, of the monomyth or infamous hero’s journey! Yes, but why? Why are they taken for granted, why is this what we want to see, why is it that if a story defies these laws, we are left cheated or unsatisfied?

After all, a story where the hero dies and the antagonist wins and the whole journey was for naught, is often considered a bad story, not a creative twist. We feel like we’ve wasted our time. What’s worse is that sometimes life is like that, intrinsically wrong and a waste. It’s that deep pit of dissatisfaction and despair.

I propose that at the root, we know in our core that there is a certain way things are supposed to be, and every human knows it. The gospel tells the story that is the balm to our souls. It doesn’t just give us hope and peace and love and fuzzy, flimsy emotions… it is a solid anchor to cling on to.

The hero’s journey example I just used is only one of many places I’ve seen the yearning for the gospel. There are more specific examples. Take the superhero boom. Of course many factors played into this, but at the root, I would say its appeal comes from our deep intrinsic need for a saviour with greater power or skills than ourselves. One, or a small group, must represent and save all of humanity from evil and tyranny. Or how about a show like Once Upon A Time? At the time of writing this, a saviour is being tempted in the wilderness to turn to darkness so that the laws of storytelling might be reversed — villains will get their happy endings, evil will reign, heroes are forever fated to fail and their redemption becomes a futility. Will she succumb and leave everyone without any chance of hope, or will she prevail and let redemption win? Or how about a movie like Jupiter Ascending that I just watched a couple hours ago? SPOILERS: it ends with the protagonist inheriting the Earth… Sound familiar?

I see elements of the human condition echoing the biblical narrative in stories, on TV, on the news, in movies, in people, in other worldviews… it’s everywhere! And I’m not surprised. In awe, definitely, but not surprised. The bible itself was written across centuries by different people in different contexts for different purposes through different mediums. Letters, instructions, songs, poems, historical documents, prophets, fishermen, tax collectors, priests. All this… and yet the common thread tying all these things together is the narrative of the cross. Everything pre-cross in the old testament points to it, and everything post-cross points to it. Prophecies of a Messiah, of a coming kingdom, meant as an encouragement to God’s people in the old testament, and a proclamation of what was done on the cross meant as an encouragement to the early church in the new testament.

My point is that, if the gospel is a common thread throughout the incredible diversity within the Bible, why should it be any different today? The existence of common threads among religions and worldviews isn’t discrediting the gospel, but rather reaffirms it in that we can all agree that we’re broken and need help — admitting this is the very foundation of our faith.

For some, this still doesn’t answer your questions or satisfy your stirrings, and this is to be expected. I couldn’t possibly explain everything because there is still a lot that I don’t fully understand. Even the apostle Paul said “I am perplexed, but not crushed” in 2 Corinthians 4. The guy who wrote most of the new testament still didn’t get stuff, so there’s no way I will.

However, I’ll touch a bit on why Christianity not being the “first” is not really an issue. Firstly, God understands what it is to exist outside of space and time, so linear thinking can’t really be applied here. I know that answer isn’t good enough for some of you, so I will go further.

Christianity didn’t “start” when we entered the story. The beginning wasn’t when humans finally understood what Jesus meant all those times after he died and rose again. It wasn’t when God showed us a virgin birth. It wasn’t when the prophets of Israel told God’s people that God was coming to humankind through a Messiah. It wasn’t when God himself told Adam and Eve that their seed would crush that of the serpent’s. No.

Everyone knows how it goes. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God. He is the beginning, He is where it all starts (and ends, but I won’t get into that here).

God planned everything from before creation, whenever that was. He wasn’t surprised at man’s rebellion, He wasn’t scrambling to come up with a plan to save humanity after the rebellion… He knew all along. He planned all of history before time existed. The cross and Christianity pre-dates time itself.

Your acceptance of this answer inevitably depends on your own worldview of course, but there is no talking about faith without faith.

I guess if there’s a take away point at all from all of this, it’s that God wants a meaningful relationship with you and has programmed that desire in you. That programming has come out in, among other things, the value we place over spirituality, our eternal search for steadfast peace everlasting, and our intrinsic sense of justice and redemption.

CS Lewis describes this unique God-us relationship like this:

You asked for a loving God: you have one… not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible of the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

If you’re searching for steadfast peace everlasting that does not waver in even the worst of circumstances and that transcends a mere code or creed, I can only tell you that I have found it here in Christ and have not yet heard of someone who found the exact same thing elsewhere. Will you cave to the backwards instinct to fight and run away from the very thing you’re looking for, or will you be called a friend of a King?

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The Artist’s Collapse

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift from God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is no obscure verse. There are cards and mugs and T-shirts and bumper stickers that probably have this verse on it. It’s great for encouraging one another, especially in those times (cough cough teen angst) when we question our worth, our existence, and our future.

I remember seeing it and reading it and coming back to it time and time again but as always, the Word of God always has something to say to the soul no matter how many times you’ve heard it. The ramifications of this verse are stunning; literally and figuratively. It’s huge! It’s almost unbelievable. It’s a compliment as big as God’s heart, and it’s so hard to take in. I have a hard time dealing with mortal compliments, that is, my response to them. How am I supposed to handle these words breathed from the God of all creation to me?

“Who am I that you are mindful of me?” asks the psalmist.

Here’s the usual breakdown of what this verse is actually saying:

1) If you are a human, we are told that each of us are masterpieces worth dying for.

2) We are chosen, and chosen well. We have purpose. We have a destiny. No one who has ever lived or will ever live, is an accident. No one is useless. Not only that, this purpose was carefully chosen long before you arrived.

3) Our salvation is a gift. This is the Bible turning backwards thinking right side up again. To us of course, the backwards part seems forward, and God’s forward seems backwards.

You do something to earn the reward, right? Not with God.

He gives first, now go do good work. We didn’t earn God’s gift, we can’t boast in our efforts toward it. But in truly receiving the gift of grace, our works and effort become a natural response of joy and gratitude. Natural. As if it were supposed to be that way all along. Right side up, right way forward.

Ours is a culture where chosen ones and heroes and destiny resonate so deeply with us. Most, if not every child has at least dreamed or pictured themselves as their favourite hero character. Maybe I’m an alien with powers that will develop in the near future. Maybe this body mark means I’m destined for greatness. Maybe my crazy old uncle has a double or triple life and will find me worthy enough to invite me into it. Maybe my family has a secret they will take to the grave and I’m about to join their ranks.

Maybe someday a mysterious stranger or mysterious circumstance will come knock at my door, tell me I’m chosen, present me with a purpose and turn my life upside down, but also make it so much more interesting.

I’ll be honest, with that last one I was initially thinking of Harry Potter or something like that, but reading it again… in many ways, isn’t it what we’ve been exploring in Ephesians 2:10 just now?

Sure, but that’s fiction, people have told me. Well how about an analogy, penned no less by CS Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, in which he answers the anxiety-inducing question, “if God is so good and loving, if God loves us, if God finds us precious and worthwhile, why does He allow pain and suffering into our lives?”

Not to belittle any painful experiences, but… well I guess I should just let him explain:

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’

Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life — the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child — he will take endless trouble — and would, doubtless thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

He goes on to show this love in a man’s despotic love for a beast or a pet, a father’s provident and venerable love for a child, and the inexorable love between husband and wife.

For the artist’s love for his work, it is persistent, according to Lewis. God’s love is persistent. It’s taken me a while to really believe the truth in Ephesian 2:10, and even now I haven’t plundered all its truth yet. But God is faithfully persistent in revealing it.

When all the other voices tell me what’s wrong with my body, my fitness, my intellect, my personality, my social image, my beliefs, my behaviour, whatever it might be… The cross tells me who I am.

Not that my identity is in religion, necessarily. Far from it. I am labelled under “Christian,” but its implications are far more interesting. The cross, and my faith in what was done on it, tells me that while I still deserved His wrath over my sin, God in all His glory and power died in my place because He loves me and thinks I am worth that cost.

Let me note that my revealing these voices is not to garner pity or validation… it’s not a secret cry for compliments. I rarely know what to do with compliments, it’s not my love language, if you will.

But the cross, the act committed upon it. That is love at its truest.

I love Lewis’ illustration of a sentient work of art. If we were to take the analogy a bit further, Christ’s incarnation would be like the artist being collapsed into his own creation, only to be scorned by it.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional painter is collapsed into a few two dimensional strokes of colour, and then blotted out.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional author is collapsed into a few lines of fiction, and then scribbled and scratched out beyond recognition.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional dancer is collapsed into pattern of movement, then practiced poorly, abandoned and forgotten.

The fully fleshed, three dimensional musician is collapsed into a simple melodious pressure wave, lost in a cacophonous symphony.

But the story isn’t over…

The painter, the author, the dancer, the musician, the creator… is so much more than their creation. Immeasurably more, as our friends at Rend Collective sing. What is a blot of paint to the painter, a scribble to the writer, poor repetition to a dancer, noise to a musician? A nuisance sure, but certainly not enough to wipe them from existence.

What is death to the creator of life?

But the story still isn’t over…

What if the art maker, like Gepetto, desired so much more, not of but for the artwork? For a wooden toy to become a son? For the creation to be like the creator?

[See] that you put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.

Colossians 3:9-11

What if the artist could lift the world on the canvas and bring it to life? What if the writer could lift a character from the page and hang out? What if a dancer could meet their dance personified in all its richness and complexity and beauty? What if a musician could duet with their opus?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Christ’s invitation to draw near to Him, to enter a covenant relationship with Him, is not for misery in righteousness, not an ideological cage or a prison. It’s an invitation to a life outside the confines of this reality.

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To Boldly Go

This weekend I got to see the KWS (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony) perform Michael Giacchino’s fantabulous 2009 score to Star Trek… LIVE to projection.

Needless to say as a band geek and a fan (I love Star Trek, but I’m nowhere near the Trekkie levels of fandom to name myself among them), it was the most fun I’ve had in a while.

Having the music component performed live to a screening of the film brings about a whole new dimension to the experience, an immersion that I think surpasses IMAX 3D. The soundtrack is the audience’s entry point to the soul and emotions of the film, telling the stories that can’t be seen or spoken.

Those gorgeous horns heralded the main theme as the logos went up and I knew I was in for an experience. You could feel the rush of wind whenever the Romulans made an appearance because the low end brass and percussion “punched it.” The strings made my heart strings weep during all those emotional moments (Labor of Love, Head to Heart Conversation…) Don’t forget about that harp either.

Everything about the movie just seemed heightened. There’s a common misconception that the soundtrack is subservient to the film, but it really isn’t. Audio and video complemented each other, the score and film working together as one to form the narrative, neither ever overpowering the other. Of course, during the credits when there’s not much to see other than names, the score is free to shine and the symphony took us where no one has gone before. More on this in a bit.

As was tweeted about the show, “goosebumps and tears are not optional.”

Ever since the development of the film and cinematic industry, theatre has always prided itself in the live aspect of that medium since it is the one thing film can never capture. The ephemerality, the proximity and the humanity of a live performance is completely unique and can never be replaced or digitalized in the same way that other mediums have undergone. Watching a film live on set would not heighten the art of film, in fact it might take away some of the magic. Live music on the other hand… I wish I could see every movie like I saw this one. You get the stunning visual effects of film that can never be seen on stage, but you also get the intense presence of a live performance that makes theatre unique. A big world on screen deserves a big sound that recordings and surround sound fall just short of, now that I know what I’ve been missing out on. It is a wonderful, dare I say perfect, marriage of filmed and live media; the best of both worlds.

This post was originally just going to be raving about the performance as an attempt to live in those memories just a bit longer, cement them while they’re still fresh, and wade in the tides of nostalgia before moving on with life. But of course, as I started writing, a “nugget” materialized and this beautiful relationship between score and film struck me as an uncanny analogy for complementarian marriage.

Not egalitarian. When it comes to marriage, I am no feminist. A bold thing to say in this age of sexual revolutions.

Let me say this before I go any further: neither man nor woman has the right to abuse the other in any way, in any kind of relationship. Ever.

But should the woman serve her husband? As the score serves the film. If the film overpowered the score, we would miss out on that musical narrative. If the score overpowered the film, we would be incredibly distracted and missing the point. It’s a strange paradox to explain… both score and film are needed to effectively tell the narrative, but the priority of focus should always be on the film, the main vehicle for the narrative. They are not equal, but the score is not the film’s handmaiden either. The film and score work together as one work of art, and they enhance each other in different ways, bringing the other to its full potential.

Personally, between listening to a score before and after seeing the film, I have always appreciated the score even more afterwards. Recalling the emotional images paired with the moving music simply makes for a better listening experience. And of course, watching a film without the score, sound effects, or sound at all, is simply pointless.

In the same way, the man should be over the woman like the film is over the score. Once in that covenantal relationship, they need each other as desperately as film and score need each other. They can no longer be separate, they are one masterpiece, one flesh. As soon as one overpowers the other, it’s game over. After all, the score was designed and created to help the film.

Am I saying then that women were designed and created to help the man? It’s scandalous and easy to get twisted, but yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. But again, this is no excuse to allow any abuse. The score doesn’t take orders from the film, but rather from the one orchestrating this marriage of mediums. Both visual and aural answer ultimately to the director, who ensures both arts blend harmoniously to tell a single story. Both man and woman answer to the One who brought them together to reflect a single love story: Christ and the church, His bride, for whom He died.

I will take the analogy further. When the film is over and gives way to the credits, it’s giving way for the score to shine and get the last word. God calls the wife to respect her husband enough to serve him for the rest of their lives, but He also calls the man to love her enough to die for her as Christ died for the church.

It’s three-fold: film and score, man and woman, Christ and church. An analogy for an analogy for the greatest story that has been, is and will forever be echoing across time. Indeed, the greatest story ever told. May we boldly go and proclaim it.

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