Longing for Reality

What is reality?

Have you ever had a dream that seems so real that when you wake up you find yourself disappointed?  The reality of waking life seems less real, in a way, than the dream just felt.  You try to go back to sleep, if only for a moment, to return to that fake reality of the dream.

But it can work the other way too, yeah?  You may have a nightmare so terrifying that, once you wake from it—covered in a cold sweat and trembling—you regret that you couldn’t rouse yourself to reality sooner.  If only I could have woken up, you think; but thank heavens I’m awake now, that this world is in fact reality and not that other world of my dreams.

Noted Christian author C. S. Lewis plays with this idea quite effectively in the fifth book of his beloved Narnia series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  With the exception of the very beginning and end, the story takes place entirely in a made up world.  It is a time of peace in the land of Narnia, so the king, Caspian, collects a crew and casts off on a voyage of exploration.  The ship is named “Dawn Treader”; and the purpose of the voyage is twofold: to sail eastward, beyond all previous explorations; and to locate seven king’s men who vanished several years before during a similar exploratory voyage.

Several chapters later the Dawn Treader’s crew finds a missing king’s man at a mysterious island where all a person’s dreams come true.  The missing man is hauled aboard the Dawn Treader in almost utter darkness—the crew found him by his screams—and he cannot believe it.  He keeps pinching himself, expecting at any moment that his rescuers will vanish before his eyes into oblivion.  That’s when he tells the others what this island is all about, that it is a place where all one’s dreams come true.

Well, you can imagine the initial hoots and hollers of delight from the crew.  For upon first hearing this they recall all the best dreams they’ve ever experienced, like those ones I mentioned above that you don’t want to wake from.  But after a word of caution from the frightened man (“Oh, no!  You don’t understand.  I said all your dreams come true!”), and a collective moment of silence while everyone processes what the man has just said, all manner of pandemonium breaks out as the crew desperately tries to turn the ship around and get out of Dodge.

It won’t spoil the story too much to say the crew made it out (I highly recommend the whole series!), but only after succumbing substantially to the spell-like stupor of the place—only after reaching a point themselves of losing all distinction between hallucinations and reality.

Along these lines (of reality blurred), we could take a step further back and look not just at C. S. Lewis but at the entire world of fiction.  Fiction, by its very definition, is not reality.  But more often than not it tells a story more realistically—it captures the realities of humanity, of good, of evil, of life in all its complexities better—than non-fiction, or what we call reality by definition.

Now then, on to All Saints’ Day.

One of our lectionary’s readings for this feast is Revelation 7:9-17.  Here John relates a vision—a dream, or even a hallucination.  But the reality of it is much more truly real even than what we experience in our day-to-day lives in this material world of ours.

What John sees in his vision is a huge gathering of people, a number beyond what anyone can count; people of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language of the world.  They’re dressed in white and waving palm branches.  And they’re standing before a throne upon which sits a lamb.  Other creatures are present too—animals of some sort and angels.  But the great multitude that John sees is clearly and distinctly people.

John then turns to his guide and asks, “Who are these people?”

And he is told, “They are the ones who have come out of great suffering.  They will never be hungry again, or thirsty again.  The sun will never scorch them again.  And that lamb you see there, he will lead them to springs of cool, living water.”

This vision that John has is of all the saints, the feast we celebrate on All Saints’ Day.

We see now only in part.

Don’t you long for true reality?


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