A New Fairy Tale
Joshua Alan Sturgill
Awake in the World of Dreams
[Wherein is recorded the story of our kingdom’s fall and re-founding, as told by the founding elder of the hermitage. This tale is among the elder’s final words, delivered over a period of several days before his repose in the Lord. May the peace of God grant rest to his soul.]
Brothers, I am old now. The days behind me far outweigh the days ahead, and abundance of memory is greater and more present to me than new experience. I look with eyes both old and young; what was, I see more clearly than what is; I see both past and present fading before the journey I make now: my imminent removal from your company.
Mark well what I have to tell you, because I will soon enter a silence and a concentration preventing me from speaking again with this voice of flesh and breath. When I am gone, remember what I say and recount it for those who will come after you, so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated in the future through forgetfulness or neglect.
This story reveals both the heights and depths to which the human soul may reach. Both the virtue cultivated by the wise and the depravity contrived by the foolish are open to us. Beware, therefore, the thoughts you permit to reside in your hearts. Thought becomes choice and choice becomes destiny. A seemingly inconsequential thought tending toward violation becomes a destiny irretrievably tangled in violence.
Brothers, despite the evil of those times, many persevered and many had faith in the Lord, though the kingdom became for a moment a dark and frightening place. We can learn from those who continued to farm, to marry, to raise families, to be generous to their neighbors. In the monastery, life is simple. But do we have the faith and perseverance of those outside our walls? Their reward will be great. They endured evil and did not lose heart.
Brothers, this is the story:
Once upon a time, and it was not so very long ago, a King came to the throne who was very capable and intelligent, a man of science and philosophy, who longed to know the secrets of Nature and the animating principles within the plants and animals, and who studied carefully the movements of the stars and planets.
In his youth the King was wiser than he afterward became, and though he did not care about marriage for its own sake—being more interested in his solitary studies—he knew he must find a Queen to share the rulership for the sake of his people.
In accordance with his calculating mind, the king indeed found a wise and beautiful woman, and in his own way, he loved and honored her, and she loved him in return. Soon, they had a child, a daughter, as beautiful as her mother and as intelligent as both her parents. The people loved their Queen and honored their King, but their delight in the newborn Princess was unsurpassed. The years of the Queen’s rule were prosperous and happy for all.
Brothers, if you look from our monastery grounds, you will see nearly our whole kingdom, nestled in its valley, surrounded by the Great Forest. At the center of the village stands the castle. There above the castle gate are its three grand windows, which reflect the sun by day and glow with the warmth of fire by night. The window on the left is the Royal Chapel. The window on the right is the Assembly Hall. The center window is the king’s Room of Invention.
The people of the village looked often toward the castle and saw the life of the royal family told by the light of these windows. When the left window shone at evening, the people knew the Queen was saying her vesperal prayers. When the right window shone in early morning, the people knew the Wise were at council, debating law and policy for the good of the land. And when the center window glowed by night, often in bright flashes or steady colors of flame, the people knew the King was in his laboratory, studying the secrets of Nature.
All was well in the kingdom, alas!, for only a brief time as ages are counted. When the Princess was eight years old, the queen announced that she was to have another child. Prayers and rites and celebrations animated the whole kingdom for many months. But as her time drew near, the Queen sensed something amiss. Premonition turned to foreboding, and in her heart, she knew her life was near its end.
The Queen took every remedy and followed every command of the royal doctors. During her last days, she retired to her bed and drank only blessed water mixed with herbs and ate the simplest foods. The King was beside himself with grief. Perhaps it is true that his heart had very little room for love, but he gave this love, limited though it was, completely to the Queen. They spent many hours talking alone, and for the last month of her pregnancy, all the windows of the castle remained dark and empty.
Not long before she died, the Queen summoned the Princess to her bedside. “Your father studies the secrets of Nature,” she said. “He sees from outside, trying to look within. I have never known anyone as focused or penetrating, as determined or as intense. I fear that when I am gone, his intensity will possess him completely and overthrow his heart.”
The Queen looked deeply into the Princess’s eyes, to see if the Princess could bear what she was about to reveal. I believe the Queen was looking for a specific trait: the capacity to love, and to love even what is ugly and evil and broken, without judgement or fear.
Brothers, I can tell you that the Queen did, indeed, see in the Princess the kind of generous love she was looking for, and it comforted her in her final clinging to life for the sake of her unborn child. Listen to what our wise Queen said to the Princess in that sad, dark hour:
“There are many worlds in which the soul lives. Some are above us and some beside us and some within us. I will not speak of the worlds below. Most of them are not our concern, only God’s and those He has made to live there. Above us are the worlds of the angels and saints, where holy souls rest after they die to this world. That is where I am going soon.
“Beside us, the world of the fairies and elves, the spirits of flowers and streams, carry on their business and seldom interact with us. Of course, some see this world more clearly than others, and some have even travelled there.” The Queen smiled as she said this, and the Princess wondered if her mother was among those who had visited the Fairyland.
“But as I said, there are worlds within us. Two of these are the worlds of hope and fear. Shadowy places, not real or unreal, part true and part imaginary. These worlds bend into each other, and are like two cities in one valley, closely connected.
“My child, entering fully into hope and fear is very dangerous except by one means: you may enter without consequence only through prayer. If you enter by prayer, you will not become lost in those dark and difficult spaces. I am telling you this, because you must know that, just as each citizen has his own house yet lives in the same kingdom, in the same way each of us has private hopes and fears that yet join with all of the hope and fear around us.
“Because hope and fear are within us, we are more or less present there at different times. Perhaps the closest we come to fully standing in those worlds is in our dreams—both our daydreams and our dreams by night. So these places of hope and fear are often called simply The World of Dreams. Have you not found yourself, sometimes, so close to the world of dreams that you seemed to have left this world behind? Even while here, you travelled to that other place and saw your hopes or fears as if real and accomplished before you?
“I am not being clear, my beautiful child. Hope and fear are like another village alongside and within the village you know, and the World of Dreams closely resembles the waking world—as if made of pieces, reassembled. Someday you may need to find your way to the World of Dreams, and you may need to find your way home again. Be careful. While nothing there is yet real, what we bring back with us may have consequences holy or tragic.”
Brothers, this speech the Queen gave to the Princess, and I have often in my life seen the wisdom of her words. The Princess did not understand the full importance of her mother’s advice, but she believed that her mother would not have taken such pains to speak except in great urgency. By the grace of God, none of the Queen’s words were spoken vainly; the Princess kept all of them in her memory and tested them against the trouble soon to come.
I am tired now, and we have reached the time of our evening service. Permit me to pause and continue the tale tomorrow. Brothers, forgive me.
To Be Continued…
All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2020 by Joshua Alan Sturgill. All Rights Reserved.
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