The Veil of Familiarity

Stories reveal truth.

The first story I remember creating was in the fifth grade. I would think about this story every single night in bed while I tried to go to sleep. Little by little, I constructed the plot in my mind. It was never the most realistic scenario in the world, but hey, give me a break, I was eleven.

It always began with me shredding the slopes of Mount Hood on my snowboard. The mountain recently received obscene amounts of snow and so everyone in Oregon wanted to experience the fresh powder. While enjoying the view at the summit of the mountain, I bumped into the new girl in school I had a massive crush on. What fortune! This was my chance to show her my skillz. She smiled at me as we chatted about school, making fun of our teacher, and how boring math was. It was a grander experience than the mountain itself. 

As we were about to bomb down the mountain together, a great earthquake shook the entire base of the mountain, causing a massive avalanche. Hundreds of thousands of tons of snow thundered down at mach speeds, eating everyone and everything in its sight. My girl and I bobbed and weaved, missing deadly obstacles by mere inches. Thankfully though, because we were at the summit when the avalanche began, we had avoided the worst of its crushing weight. 

Eventually, the snow captured so much debris that the avalanche stalled halfway down the mountain. This created a giant wall of snow over a hundred feet high and five hundred feet thick. The only survivors were me and the girl. While the company was pleasant, we were trapped behind the wall of snow, unable to scale the wall, and unable to be rescued. 

The noble man that I was, I comforted the girl and let her know she would be safe with me. After she cried on my shoulder for a bit, we banded together and created a large shelter out of snow, complete with a living room, bedrooms, and a kitchen (with a special smokestack to keep our fires from melting our new home). During this time we fought off hunger, cold, snow storms, and wild beasts. Eventually, the girl fell in love with me and we even got to kiss!

It was all a magnificent fantasy to fall asleep to every night. The world grew larger with every attempt and the story became more and more elaborate. I could feel the cold snow on my finger tips, smell the pine, and hear the roar of the avalanche. The only problem was, I could never figure out how to get us off that darn mountain. Perhaps, a part of me never wanted to. 


THE STORY

I know it sounds like a cliché (and that's because it is a cliché—a true one, nonetheless) but, life is a story. It’s full of characters—some good, some insufferable, some evil. It has dramatic tension and despair. It has high points and victories. It has plots and subplots. It has a beginning and it has an end.

This is your life.

Often, we don't think of life as a story though. We think of it as just existing, like a plastic bag caught up in the wind with no aim and no purpose, landing wherever we will. We wake up, we plod through work, we make fools of ourselves, we eat, we go to the bathroom, we read, we go home, we spend time with our family, we watch TV, and we go to bed to start this exhilarating cycle all over again. But there's more to life than just existing. There is living. All you have to do is open your eyes to the story. There’s a lot more happening around you than you think.

Life is a story because it's caught up in the Story. It's the truest story there ever was, but it's still a story. It too is full of characters, most of them also insufferable and evil. It has drama. It has hope. It has a story arc. It has a villain. It has a hero. It has a beginning and it will have an end, but the end is not here yet because you are here.

This story is found in the Bible, and it explains all others. It gives us aim and purpose. It explains what we’re doing here on this rock hurling around the sun at unimaginable speeds. This story tells you why you feel what you feel, desire what you desire, and what to do about it.

You are in this story, the source of all others, but you are not the main character. Life is a story, but ultimately it’s not yours. Life is His story. 


BEHIND THE VEIL

Good stories aren't an escape from reality. In fact, they can be a way to help us dive deeper into reality. They sweep us away to different worlds so they can plant us back in our own, with new eyes to see. 

Stories reveal what’s going on in our hearts. Perhaps, my story of the wall of snow displayed a longing to grow up to be a man, a hero. Perhaps, it displayed a thirst for adventure. I know for sure it betrayed a deep, deep desire to get the girl. 

But good stories are more than just a mirror into the soul. They’re also a means of communicating truth. Good stories don't just tell us how things ought to be. They give us an accurate picture of how things are. They don't sugarcoat reality (unlike Amish romance novels and Thomas Kinkade paintings). They give us the the brutal, unvarnished truth about human nature and life. 

That’s what I love about the Bible. It doesn't give us a rosy-colored view of humanity. Most "heroes" of the faith, in fact, are more messed up than any of us ever could aspire to be. Noah was a drunk. Lot slept with his daughters. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, who he thought was just a prostitute (their child went on to be an ancestor of Jesus, by the way). Moses was a murderer. David was a murderer and an adulterer. I could go on and on down the list.  The point is, good stories don't hide the truth, they bring it to light for all to see.

We need stories to do this for us because the truth often grows stale in our mouths. We've heard it time and time again—be good, be nice, be truthful, be noble, be generous, don't lie, don't cheat, don't kill, don't abuse, don't take advantage of the weak, don’t destroy the environment, and on and on and on. We get it.

Stories pick us up, shake us out of apathy, and force us to see these truths in new light. C.S. Lewis wrote about this concept:

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’. The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. (On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

Instead of just hearing we ought to fight for truth and freedom, we have William Wallace storming down the plains of Scotland against the oppressive English, kilts waving in the air. Instead of just hearing how the best leaders are humble, we get to see Aragorn and his refusal to take the throne before his time. We get to see true sacrifice in Aslan’s death for Edmund. We get to see these things played out and feel the weight of their significance.  

In seeing truth played out in stories, we get to experience it. These dusty truths begin to take on a new weight for us that they never could have taken before. Good stories are theology made flesh.

We are in constant need for truth, but far too often our eyes are blinded by the veil of familiarity. It's the same old same old. This is why we need good stories, to take us behind the veil and bring us back into the light.