September 18 — George MacDonald

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Ephesians 3

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. — Ephesians 3:20-21

More thoughts for meditation about George MacDonald

“In very truth, a wise imagination, which is the presence of the spirit of God, is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen nor ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect. It is the nature of the thing, not the clearness of its outline, that determines its operation. We live by faith, and not by sight.”
— George MacDonald, A Dish of Orts

George MacDonald, who died on September 18, 1905, spent his life putting this quote into practice. He was a prolific writer, constantly trying to light up the imagination and the hearts of his readers; to open up their spiritual sight. He consistently created scenarios in his fiction in which God’s love and the New Creation could be encountered from a new angle. He asked “What if?” and followed it far beyond the conventional wisdom of his day. He banked on what could not be described and for that many consider him a mystic.

He loved exploring the character of God’s Fool. He created countless characters and circumstances that helped us to see ordinary things with new eyes. In many novels and stories he imagines a person who knows the foolishness of Christ so intuitively and completely that they just can’t fit into the norms of various British societies (often his home, Scotland).  They are misunderstood almost to the point of absurdity, which delivers many plot twists and much inspiration for those of us wishing to be invasive separatists in our own time and place. Examples of this fool include, Sir Gibbe in the book by the same name, who is really the quintessential example; also Donal Grant’s mother in Donal Grant; David Elginbrod, the title character of his first novel; Ruby in The Back of the North Wind; and Dawtie in The Elect Lady.

The spiritual adventurer is the main character of his most well known fantasies, Phantastes and Lilith.  There is a sequence at the end of Lilith which imagines heaven in such a beautiful, extended way it seems impossible. The protagonist wakes from his vision, reflects on his journey through the land of the dead to this beautiful heaven and wonders, “Was it a dream or a real journey and does that matter?”

MacDonald cites imagination as a source for faith. Believing our dreams to be given by God we can touch the truest nature of things that often lies beyond the perceptible.

In moments of doubt I cry,
“Could God Himself create such lovely things as I dreamed?”
“Whence then came thy dream?” answers Hope.
“Out of my dark self, into the light of my consciousness.”
“But whence first into thy dark self?” rejoins Hope.
“My brain was its mother, and the fever in my blood its father.”
“Say rather,” suggests Hope, “thy brain was the violin whence it issued, and the fever in thy blood the bow that drew it forth.—But who made the violin? and who guided the bow across its strings? Say rather, again—who set the song birds each on its bough in the tree of life, and startled each in its order from its perch? Whence came the fantasia? and whence the life that danced thereto? Didst THOU say, in the dark of thy own unconscious self, ‘Let beauty be; let truth seem!’ and straightway beauty was, and truth but seemed?”
Man dreams and desires; God broods and wills and quickens.
When a man dreams his own dream, he is the sport of his dream; when Another gives it him, that Other is able to fulfill it.

Princesses, witches, goblins and fairies abound in his fairy tales, for which he is probably most well known.

MacDonald says “For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” His stories provide us with courage and loyalty for our own impossible tasks. The allegories between the fantastic world he paints and the spiritual world he perceives are thick and rich enough to walk on barefooted beyond the edge of your familiar spiritual paths. The tenderness of his language, though old fashioned and often even in the Scotch language (did you know there was a distinct Scotch dialect?) are difficult enough to be all consuming, intellectually and spiritually. They are worth the effort. All of his works are in the public domain and can be read for free at Project Gutenberg. Also, LibriVox has recorded dozens of his works in audio format, many of which you can find in your podcast app.

More? An extensive fan page

A great video that eloquently introduces his mysticism and his impact.

This post focused on his imaginative works but his Unspoken Sermons is among the best of the gold mine of really good theology he wrote in several collections of sermons.

Suggestions for action

Put a novel on your reading list, even if MacDonald is not your cup of tea. Where does your imagination find a home? What goodness can you dream? What did you actually dream last night while you were sleeping? All of these are sometimes neglected, or underappreciated sources of revelation. Practice trusting beyond the intellect. Perhaps you can grasp at it with your own art⁠—language or otherwise. Share that feeling that is hard to describe. Attempt to illustrate God’s glory.

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