London, N7
18/03/2014  •  1083 words

Listening to: There Is a Higher Throne by Keith and Kristyn Getty

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)

I believe in Easter. Which is not impossible because it happened, but is one of those only-possible-with-God things that is impossible in human terms.

And in what follows, just because I can, I will unite impossibility and Lewis Carroll and Easter.

Lewis Carroll was a polymath. A lot of people like to think of themselves as polymaths when really they are just inquisitive; Lewis Carroll was a polymath. He was a writer, famous for his nonsense poetry and prose, of which the Alice books are the best-known. He was also an influential mathematician / logician. (It’s funny how it takes an expert in logic to come up with the absurdity of Alice’s Wonderland.) Apparently, he like to take photographs. And to top it all, he was a deacon in the Church of England.

By all accounts Carroll was hard to pin down theologically. He was outwardly conservative but there is more than a hint that he had some ideas that were a little off the beaten track for today’s church, let alone the church of his day. This aside, he had some very good things to say about impossibility.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ends with a fantastic postscript, a letter from Carroll addressed to the young reader. The tone is earnest, sombre even, as he entreats the reader to strike a balance between fun and seriousness. It is titled “An Easter Greeting To Every Child who Loves Alice.”

He asks his reader to call to mind the first crack of a summer morning, as the curtains are drawn and the light begins to pour in, banishing the fear of the dreams of the night that has passed. Then he digresses:

Are these strange words from a writer of such tales as ‘Alice’? And is this a strange letter to find in a book of nonsense? It may be so. Some perhaps may blame me for thus mixing together things grave and gay; others may smile and think it odd that any one should speak of solemn things at all, except in church and on Sunday: but I think – nay, I am sure – that some children will read this gently and lovingly, and in the spirit of which I have written it.

Carroll is quite happy to do straight-laced Christianity, but he’s also quite happy to tell silly tales just for the joy of it. (You wouldn’t read Alice for the plot, after all, but stylistically it is superlative.) He takes this further in an effort to justify enjoying silliness in the presence of the Lord.

For I do not believe God means us thus to divide life into two halves – to wear a grave face on Sunday, and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day. Do you think He cares to see only kneeling figures, and to hear only tones of prayer – and that He does not also love to see the lambs leaping in the sunlight, and to hear the merry voices of the children, as they roll among the hay? Surely their innocent laughter is as sweet in His ears as the grandest anthem that ever rolled up from the ‘dim religious light’ of some solemn cathedral?

The world would be a poorer place, in other words, if we were to do only those things which seemed to us productive. In the economy of life, there is a place for activities which are conducted for their own sake. For those of us who try to justify every action in terms of how it aids some higher purpose, this is an important corrective. Some things are objectively meaningless and worthless, but subjectively valuable. God is not disgruntled when we enjoy them some of the time. Lighten up, Carroll is saying. Let your hair down now, then get back to business when you need to.

After this little excursus in making room for some fun in life, he returns to his main point which is about the sun breaking on a summer’s morning. This is, remember, an Easter greeting, and it’s to Easter that he wants to point us.

This Easter sun will rise on you, dear child, feeling your ‘life in every limb’, and eager to rush out into the fresh morning air – and many an Easter-day will come and go, before it finds you feeble and gray-headed, creeping wearily out to bask once more in the sunlight – but it is good, even now, to think sometimes of that great morning when the ‘Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings’.

The good that we experience in the fun and light and outwardly frivolous things of life are in a way anticipating a greater good to come. The peekings of rays through the curtains of life are there to warm our hearts and cheer our spirits. They point towards the glaring sunburst that signals the ultimate good of the new creation. The allusion is to Malachi 4, where the sun rises to burn what is evil and bring healing to what is righteous.

This prophesy is among the final words of the Old Testament, acting like a cliff-hanger for the whole inter-Testamental period that sees its answer come with an almighty bang in the person of Jesus. His work at Easter ushered in the sun’s rays. So, in Carroll’s brilliant and beautiful words, we “will one day see a brighter dawn than this.”

Surely your gladness need not be less for the thought that you will one day see a brighter dawn than this – when lovelier sights will meet your eyes than any waving trees or rippling waters – when angel-hands shall undraw your curtains, and sweeter tones than ever loving Mother breathed shall wake you to a new and glorious day – and when all the sadness, and the sin, that darkened life on this little earth, shall be forgotten like the dreams of a night that is past!

Because the sun brings healing on its rays, the darkness will be banished and all will be bright. Now, today, as we see splinters of that light in the books that we read, we can enjoy them for what they are: forward echoes of a brighter dawn to come.