The Gospel According to Snow White

RevelryA little over a year ago, I wrote a post referencing the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty and how its depiction of dragon-slaying and the victory of goodness over evil is quintessentially biblical, reverberating with the sweet harmonies of Jesus’ grand story. We now must turn to Snow White

I brought home the movie a few weeks ago for my daughters to watch. Toward the end of the film, I was struck by the sheer power and depth of the story in displaying both the dilemma of death and the transcendent beauty of redemption, culminating in the glorious resurrection of all things. Indeed, the Bible teaches that Eden most certainly will be restored, and, to quote T.S. Eliot, “all shall be well, and / All manner of thing shall be well” (The Four Quartets). In his Revelation, John declares with valiant sureness, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Rev. 21:5).

It should be no surprise that the gospel can appear in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of transformative power. After all, all truth is God’s truth. Tolkien showed us this in his epic tale of a halfling saving all of Middle-Earth. Who can forget the disbelief, the skepticism many shared that the responsibility for the One Ring should fall to a lowly hobbit? Or that the salvation of all the Jews could rest in the hands of Esther, one who attained her royal position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?

Even more directly, Chesterton writes in his essay “The Ethics of Elfland” of the glorious beauty and wonder that fairy tales hold in presenting the most dynamic truth in truly astonishing ways:

“…We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales because they find them romantic…This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water…We have all forgotten what we really are”

Chesterton is right; fairy tales jolt us awake to the absolute vibrancy and wonder of God’s True Story. Indeed, these stories we tell are numinous, bathed in sunlight; we merely need eyes to see them. The world and its millions of stories, trickling through every pore of reality, are diaphanous, “charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). Just as Plato described the awakening of man’s reason to see the light beyond the cave, for these are mere shadows before us, Lewis believed the resurrecting of man’s imagination drew us “further up and further in” toward the dawn of True Reality to see the glory of God’s story in living color. Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “To see the common things of daily life drawn into the bright shadow of the Christ – this is the mark of a well-nourished theological imagination. It is precisely the biblically formed and transformed imagination that helps disciples wake up and stay awake to what is, and will be, in Christ Jesus” (“In Bright Shadow”).

So, we must turn to the truth and beauty of Snow White not to be merely entertained but to equip the eyes of our imagination to see more clearly the truth and beauty of God’s Story.

The Bliss of Eden

DopeyWhen Snow White arrives at the dwarves’ cottage, we see a warm and inviting portrayal of Eden: there are chores and tasks to be done (to the blissful tunes of whistling while you work, of course), there is community and fellowship, and the cottage is alive with song and dance. Merriment abounds. The story presents this way of life as a perfect balance of duty and desire; each person has a role to fill, and he or she fills it gladly. Sneezy is the one who sneezes, Happy is the one who is happy, Grumpy is the one who is grumpy, and so on.

Dwarves

At the center of this pure and enchanting home is the image of Beauty herself, the ideal virtue incarnate in the character of Snow White, the proverbial “fairest of all.” She is undistorted by the seductions of the mirror, and she is elevated to the right position of a bride and mother, for the prince seeks her hand in marriage, and the dwarves seek her loving and affectionate arms in biblical domestic motherhood. She is the mother of all the living, and the eventual bride of the prince. The stage is set for the great Drama.

The Dilemma of Death

AppleEdenic paradise, God’s story tells us, is subject to the rebellion of man. It was only a matter of time before Snow White would face the choice to fall from the warmth and glory of her perfect home. And fall she does as she fills her mouth with the false deliciousness of the Queen’s poisoned apple and succumbs to the deep sleep of death. Yet, this sleeping death is no individual affair; the effects of her sin are not limited to her lifeless body. Indeed, all of nature is bent by her fall, and when the dwarves encase the body of Snow White in the glass coffin, all of creation attends to mourn the death of Beauty. It is a truly eerie scene in the film; Snow White lies beneath the numb sheet of sin and death, quiet and still, as her dwarves weep softly around her and all of the woodland creatures draw near to see and to mourn. In their sorrow, they know that ultimate Beauty has died and their perfect world has been damaged by darkness and evil. All of creation feels the sting.

Funeral

The Kiss of Life

In this bleak moment of despair and sadness, the sleeping bride is powerless to rise from her bed of death. She needs the sweet kiss of a savior, the arrival of her great prince to bring her back to life. She needs resurrection, not only for her but for all the grieving world. Mourning must turn to morning.

And so arrives the great prince, ready to unseal the curse of death with the kiss of life. I challenge anyone to watch this scene and not whisper “amen” at the moment their lips touch, for this is truly our story. This is our greatest need. We are the sleeping Bride of Christ, desperately in need of Christ’s resurrecting power. Hear the old song:

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth,
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

Kiss

Indeed, our Prince has come to kiss us wide awake. Savor the beauty and the power of the Story.

Tolkien writes it this way:

“‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

Amen. May it be. A great Shadow has departed, and everything sad is coming untrue.

All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We all live happily ever after.

Siri

I asked Siri the other evening if she could write a poem.

“Who, me?” she answered in her dry voice.

“Yes, Siri. Can you write a poem?”

She hesitated, just long enough to load her thoughts,

 

And as she spun the circle of her meditations,

I recalled how she had shown me the nearest star in our galaxy,

Connected me to the closest coffee shop,

Guided me home from a friend’s house.

 

Yet now, I watched as her screen puzzled

Over the catalog of responses, the program of poetry

And how exactly to access it

To give me what I needed.

 

“Sure you can, Siri,

Anybody can write a poem.

They often begin with the simplest of feelings,

Like the surprise of laughter or the sunlight of a single glance.”

 

But as the cycle of her wondering continued its revolution,

Bearing down on the wifi to find a proper answer,

I told Siri that poetry just has to come from the heart,

And she wept to know what I meant.

Everyone Moves Away – The Soundtrack of the Soul

10481858_298121743700397_3975414626893827198_nIn a clever turn, the music group Everyone Moves Away printed on their Facebook band page a rather revealing insight into what makes their music speak so beautifully and effortlessly to the humanity in all of us. For the “Location” section on their profile, they simply put: Earth.

This pithy statement speaks to the vast range of human experience and cosmic potential that EMA seeks to capture in the electric, near interstellar depth of their music. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to write a review of their first EP, titled I, in which I said the following:

“Hailing from the Music City itself, Nashville-based Everyone Moves Away is taking quite a unique approach to capturing the powerful and transcendent effect of music on each of us. Founded by music producers and writers of diverse backgrounds and projects, EMA represents the kaleidoscopic effect of varying styles and experiences blending into a unified, storytelling voice. […] The heart of EMA lies in the atmospheric, almost cinematic beauty of their music, a thrilling combination of lucid guitar phrases, sweeping ambient tones, electronica, and anthemic choruses that highlight frontman Chris Small’s soulful, yet melancholy vocals . In their debut EP I, EMA fluidly moves from the hauntingly-lovely dream quality of “East Lights” to the wild blood of the ever-hopeful “We’re Only Getting Closer.” Steeped in the natural harmony between music and memory, Everyone Moves Away explores what is most true and most raw to the depths of human experience.”

Now, I’d like to take the occasion to conduct a brief exploration of their most recent work, aptly titled II. For all the overwhelming intensity and spirit evident in their freshman project, II delivers power and feeling that only furthers the band’s firm command over musical and poetic effort.

  1. “Waiting for Futures” – The EP opens on an almost dizzying array of atmospheric sound, pulsating in and out to introduce the tone of the whole album. In effect, we are invited into a spiritual space, a devoted study of hope and melancholy that escalates dramatically as Chris Small, the frontman, lyrically unravels the beautiful chorus: “All we have is falling / What are you waiting for?” With this incredible opener, EMA shares the emotional richness of wistful yearning and passionate feeling, captured in a brief, yet moving lyric. A personal favorite. 
  2. “Collide” – A more pop, upbeat number, “Collide” takes the heart of the first track and transmutes it to a young, anthemic dance hit. Yet, for the stark contrast, the music doesn’t lose its sense of continuity. The song’s primary focus is on the steady beat as the guitars and Small’s vocals soar over the march, quite an artful choice to combine a pounding rhythm with lofty, elongated lyrical phrases.
  3. “The Pale Star” – The shortest track on the record, this song distills the solemn and pensive moments of EMA’s sound and creates a small but lovely “miniature epic.” To the film reel of II, “The Pale Star” is a simple snapshot, a moment.
  4. “With the Night” – Considering the full force and broad appeal of the song, “With the Night” seems to open with a sort of false start, a promise that the track will deliver a slow and soothing ballad as Small calmly drifts through the verse. Then, all promises break as he calls out to herald the chorus and the drums respond: “So what do we whisper now? / I can tell we’ve lost control / The sun is going down on us / We’ve never found ourselves so sure / Love is lost with the night”. Featuring a spoken-word piece (delivered by Small) during the bridge, “With the Night” is perhaps EMA’s most eclectic and surprising track to date.
  5. “Hollywood” – Seemingly a second-act to “Collide”, “Hollywood” starts right off the bat with vocals, drums, and a modulating bass synth, mingling to create a walking rhythm (get your earbuds and get moving!). The ambience and startling digital effects throughout the track make “Hollywood” an addicting, attractive pop wonder, perhaps underscored by Small’s haunting lyrics: “Everything is fantasy […] Our nights playing on a movie screen […] Will you dance with me one more time? One more time?”
  6. “A Lone Spark” – Another shorter track, “A Lone Spark” combines cloudy and foggy swells with a punctuated single note repeated like a dotted line as Small’s vocals fade in and out of transmission. Darker in tone and somber in effect, “Spark” brings us to the end, reminding us of the pain and loneliness of exile only to prepare us for the glory of home in their best track “Everything”…
  7. “Everything”  – “Everything with my eyes closed / I can see you come alive / And with our eyes closed / I can feel the sun” So concludes the beautiful quest. Small has led us through dream and memory, futures and sparks, and here we experience a wondrous resurrection as we “come alive” through the power and transcendence of music: “When we wake, we aren’t the same / Are we a dream inside the sky? / And everything that we can see is everything close to me”. The final phase of the song, and indeed the endnote of the record, is a glorious bursting forth of voices and instruments, electric and vibrant, loudly pulsing to a close as we are left singing along, with our own eyes closed, fully alive.

Everyone Moves Away’s music can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and on their website.

EMA is comprised of Chris Small (vocals, guitar, keys), Melissa Mattey (keys, vocals), and Tony High (keys, drums, percussion).

2014_06_ema

Prince Caspian and the Honourable Shame of Humanity

narnia-illustration-aslanToward the end of Prince Caspian, after the decisive battle for the Narnian throne against the usurper Miraz, Aslan relays to Caspian the story of his heritage to explain his rightful place as the true king of Narnia. His tale, however, is not filled with accounts of glorious kings and queens or daring adventures on the high seas (though Caspian will see plenty on the Dawn Treader). Rather, Aslan recounts stories of thieves, murderers, drunkards, pirates, quarrelers, and fierce tyrants. As Aslan describes this history, the young man’s face sinks into a deep sadness:

“Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”

“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage.”

What follows from Aslan is perhaps one of the most striking and insightful passages from the whole of the Narnia series:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

This keen and penetrating truth strikes at the heart of young Caspian, instantly quieting him (the next sentence simply states, “Caspian bowed.”). And, if we are reading correctly, it instantly quiets us. One can almost feel the warm, yet powerful breath of the Lion as he commands us to “be content.”

It is true that humanity is characterized by both the responsibility and privilege of bearing the very image of God. We are unordinary. Yet, in this account, we encounter the unbelievably weighty tension between being the jewel of God’s creation and being depraved sons of disobedience. We are both diamonds and dust. Being human is an honor and a shame.

How many of us, like Caspian, look around at our humanity and mourn our tattered lineage? How many videos of tiny fingers and legs in petri dishes can we stomach before we shake our heads in despair at what it has come to mean (or not mean) to be human?

But there, right there, Aslan instructs us to “be content.” In our vacillation between pride and despair, honor and shame in the human race, we must remember to be content. The Lord is sovereign. The Lord is King. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Or, as Lewis would say, “Aslan is on the move.” Remember how The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe concludes: the winter is thawing and it promises to be a real spring. Or, as Tolkien would have it, everything sad is coming untrue.

So while we face dark days in our humanity, ruefully wishing our story were more noble, we must bow our heads like Caspian and be content, not in our strength to withstand the coming evils but in the power and certainty of Christ’s victory over all things. Aslan assures Caspian because he has the authority to do so. May we learn to trust the King of kings in our honorable and our shameful days, for He alone will make all things new.