If our first words illuminate our future, then once upon a time has to stand as my favorite; for, it does not give the hour, the day, the year, whether the sun shone, the clouds darkened, or the rain did not cease, it merely tells that a time once occurred. Once upon a time does not assume the worst or take refuge in what it does not know will happen, it merely allows the reader to find out and be surprised.
Once upon a time, I set out on a goal to be more vulnerable and true, not only as a writer, but also as a human. I had come to realize I hid behind my strengths and flaws, and that I substituted half of myself for fear and shame. Now, as I have consider the lonely silences and people I’ve come to know, I have journeyed to learn some realities of myself and the world about me, some assumptions that time has not been left to keep.
Isaac, though not as prominently remembered apart from his father, plays a unique role in Scripture; for, apart from his near sacrifice as a child, the story of Isaac is almost entirely revolved around his wife, Rebekah. One such story concerns how fully vulnerable and truthful our Patriarch was willing to be in light of how much he loved his wife and how “very beautiful” she was. When Isaac comes to remain within the land of Gerar, following a great famine, he finds himself before Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In fear that the men of the land would kill him for his wife, Isaac lies and tells that she is his sister — not his wife. Eventually, Abimelech learns the truth and rebukes Isaac, upset that he could have caused someone to fall into sin with her. Abimelech then warns the people that, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death” — thus protecting both Isaac and Rebekah (1).
I, we all, Isaac included, miss the best things God has to offer us when we assume the worst, when we assume things are the same as they always have been, when we assume Satan has won. Isaac assumed sin and corruption and nearly put not only his wife’s pure life in danger, but also other men’s. He failed to trust God would protect him, and failed to trust that God had the best for him, thus trying to control the situation in desperation. Charming is charming because he does not assume, but trusts. I fell into a horrible habit of this the past year; I put an assumed blindfold on and accepted that nothing has changed, that negativity, distaste, and my own fear rules; and from such I ended up hurting and being blind to the person I care most for, blind to the reality of life and missing a chance for truly caring words and actions. I was blinded to my own mistakes because I assumed the lie that God had never actually won, and that I must make up for it.
Best we can do, I’ve now learned, is to assume God is who He claims, and trust in our assumption of such, for faith is the assumption of faithfulness. Best I and all of us can do, is to have faith in grace and forgiveness, that we might, by God’s hand, make up for the wrongs we have let happen; best we assume God’s loving grace, which may fill those we’ve let hurt. Best we can do, is to assume God, for our assumptions make a world of difference.
About AD 397, St. Augustine wrote, in his fifth book of Confessions, of the “bond of original sin whereby we all die in Adam,” which would come to be the first use of such doctrine of humanity’s origins of fallenness (original sin, that is) (2). Yet, while this doctrine may be all good and true, it seems to often lead us to an unfortunate circumstance.
As Jesus sat at the temple one day, a woman caught in adultery was brought before Him. Claiming the rule of the law, those who brought her told Jesus she was to be stoned. Jesus then kneels down and draws in the sand (I believe He probably drew each man’s sin), and told them that whoever is without sin shall throw the first stone. They of course all leave, and the one Man present who is without sin tells her to sin no more, for neither He condemns her (3). The men come with hearts of blame, calling for justice for the woman’s “fallenness”, yet they all find that blame is without reason, for the only blameless Man does not blame her.
I used to be a bit of a feminist, I used to assume that most the time men were beasts and women too often got caught up in the dungeon, but I’ve come to realize that both are just as guilty. Men can be beasts, they can yell in anger, carelessly injure, and selfishly lie, but so can women. Men are beasts, women are witches, and when they group up, well, then you have packs of giant wolves and weyrs of coldblooded dragons. Yet here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter. Far too often have both men and women thrown up arms about Eve causing Adam to sin or Adam carelessly letting Eve sin; when, the truth is, they were united as one flesh, and they both were guilty: neither faithfully caring for the other. The doctrine of original sin has become a copout, it seems, as it has become our blame tool for when we do not have an answer to what God gives us in life. Even Job and the man born blind were blamed for sin, when it was only for God’s own glory that both fell to such lives, not sin at all. Jesus didn’t blame Adam and Eve, the woman, or even sin. Jesus didn’t blame anyone. He merely said, “Sin no more,” and walked away without a single stone.
If anything, Jesus took the blame for sin, took every tossed stone. As Lewis wrote, concerning such pain, which sin and thus death brings, “Sometimes it is hard not to say, ‘God forgive God.’ Sometimes it is hard to say so much. But if our faith is true, He didn’t. He crucified Him” (4). When we assume that blame is to be given, then we assume sin has won; we are limiting God’s grace and glory, and assuming His defeat. We are assuming Christ’s death was worthless. Best we can do is to never blame, to never worry about who is at fault, for what does it matter. If Christ has won, if sin is defeated, if God holds all justice, and if He did truly bear the stones we deserve, then we are forgiven and blameless to love one another without reserve, and without blame.
Blame doesn’t always concern people however, sometimes blame can be a state of mind. Growing up, my family wasn’t the perfect image; we weren’t a complete mess, mind you, but we weren’t an orderly set either. My dad was a cheap workaholic, my brother struggled with horrible bullying and psychological disorders, my mom had trouble with money and depression, and I did my best to never do anything wrong and stay invisible, while being completely lost in school. Now, however, when I think of my childhood I think of Disneyland, fish, Star Wars, and Dodgers games, because my dad was a scuba instructor, most our family vacations were to California, all my friends seemed to always be obsessed with Jedi (and I guess I was too), and my best memories from high school were actually baseball games (Dodgers to be exact). By far, there was more than this, but this is how I’ve come to remember it. I haven’t blocked out the bad memories or set them aside, I just don’t see much point in dwelling on them, and dwelling on blaming them for anything. For, it seems that when we remember the past, everything becomes much smaller and simpler, and if we let those worse memories cover it all over for blame’s sake, then the small, good memories become lost in a fat cloud of bad feelings. I believe we tend to overcomplicate things, overemphasize what shouldn’t, and get too caught up in the pointless matters of life, which makes our here and now a frazzled mess; and, perhaps that is why it’s so hard to see the positive things in life when we’re living it, so hard not to blame. But, if we don’t dwell on every storm cloud, and do our best to enjoy the little things God has to offer us, the Disney version of our fairytales, then life is certainly a more joyful and loving experience.
From truthfully considering all of this, I’ve learned that I don’t care about a whole lot in life — not to say I’m careless, or don’t care about anything — I simply care about simpler things. I once wrote I would be fine with writing anything for God’s glory, whether I was a best selling author or a penniless poet. While I still don’t care immensely about money, my true desire, I’ve learned, is to simply have enough to live well and have someone beside me for any adventures that follow. I would much rather assume that every little thing matters far more, than always hope for something which will only distract me from life, from loving. I would much rather cherish one person all my life, giving her flowers every morning, than lead a nation, being filled with power and wealth.
Little things don’t just count in life though, they count in people too. For, people are made up of little things: little memories, little thoughts, little feelings, little actions. So, in all our relationships, what we truly desire is for those little things to matter to one another. As Lewis wrote of (his wife) Joy’s death, “What pitiable cant to say, ‘She will live forever in my memory!’ Live? That is exactly what she won’t do…It was [Joy] I loved. As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind! It would be a sort of incest” (4). When we fall in love with someone, we fall in love with the little things about them, the little quarks and oddities we could never manufacture on our own assumptions. We do not fall in love with a blanketed dream, but an actual being in fully revealed light. Yet, when we assume the hearts and thoughts of others, we are assuming those little things aren’t worth knowing. For, we’d much rather assume our own big image of them, which is much easier to do, than get to know the little things which create that person, and that God intricately chose. When we assume our own idea of someone, we are claiming ownership over the creation of that person, and telling God to shove off because we know better; we declare that who that person is does not matter, and neither does their Creator.
So, rather than assume people, rather than assume the world around us, assume the worst and go about blaming anything and anyone for our pain, rather than assume all is witches and beasts striving to take over one another, wouldn’t it be far kinder to simply assume angels and priests, to assume a once upon a time. God is much a mystery to us. Right? So why not assume the same for others. If we do not know every little thing about God, and God still keeps surprising us, then perhaps the same is true for what’s around us, and perhaps what’s around us is worth far more than our assumptions could ever give.
Paul would tell us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” and anything excellent or praiseworthy (5), so why not focus on those and stop worrying about Satan and his minions — they’ll have their day, and a sad day for them it’ll be — worry never got us anywhere anyway. I’d rather we all be princes and princesses than presumptuous villains. I’d much rather focus on loving one another, caring for one another, and chasing the adventures God sends me on, than assuming everything before me.
Once upon a time I made it a goal to be more vulnerable and true; now, I want to make it a goal to assume God’s victory, and assume God’s great mystery. I want to be Jesus; not that I want to be God or anything of that sort; but I want to be so amazingly loving and forgiving that the stones of the world fall around me, and not because of me, but only because Jesus is beside me. I want to assume Christ and His great mystery of grace, and nothing more; for, once upon a time, a babe in a manger was greater than the entire universe.
Augustine, The Confessions (Book V)
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 1961
Header image: Rebecca at the Well, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, 1708-1713
Body image 1: Eve, Merritt Anna Lea, 1885
Body image 2: (Original) The Fighting Temeraire, J.M.W.Turner, 1839; AT-AT Version, I have no idea
Closer image: Cupid and Psyche, Giuseppe Crespi, 1707