12.2.11 | By: Megan Langham

Incoherent Babblings on Faith, Sociology, and Legend

Sometimes schoolwork can be a necessary evil. Yesterday morning I wanted to get to work on Volunteer Mission; I’d stayed up later than I meant the night before writing an inexplicably exhilarating scene for it and now here I was with an essay on sociology staring me down. Cruel.

But before I had finished reading page one of the misbegotten essay little bubbles of happiness began to form silently behind my eyes; when I turned to page two, they burst in my mouth, making a sound something like “squee!” when they popped.

I think that is normal behavior for Bubbles of Happiness.

This particular essay, you see, was not merely on sociology but on sociology as it relates to the Christian church—and, more specifically, the church in the first years, decades, centuries of its beginning. Whenever I read anything having to do with those few early bands of closely-bound believers, stalwart in the love of God and constant in the war of spirits, I feel refreshed. Strengthened. There was a beautiful simplicity, a freshness of reality, about the church newborn; most of that has been lost today. Of course there is—and there will always be on this earth—a remnant that retains such freshness and simplicity, but it is a remnant, and it is pitifully rare.

So as I was reading through this essay, noting these habits of the early church that ought to characterize all our lives, I found myself thinking of Arval.

Arval may or may not be real. He is the mainest main character of The Road to Avalon (not yet written but often mulled over); in my shortish story “The Readiest Road”, he is Joseph of Arimathea’s son, come to Britain in the hopes of escaping his past and atoning for it both at once. In early legend, Joseph of Arimathea planted the first British church on the island of Avalon, which had formerly been a pagan place of worship. Eventually Avalon became the home of Glastonbury Abbey—connected in several ways with the legend of King Arthur. What isn’t there to love about such inspiring material? And yet so few people have chosen to work with it. These days Avalon has been relegated to a place of healing in Arthurian myth, with little mention of the legendary church that came before. There is a certain magic, I think, in keeping close to the original likelihood of history: not a nice magic, perhaps, or comforting, but good and strong.

When I write Arval’s story properly, I want to keep a firm grasp on the history forming a basis for what-could-have-been, and I want the pure, precious, sunstreaked faith of the early church to stand out in bold beauty against the landscape of primeval forests and mystical marshlands and snow-capped mountains. Because though the physical setting is breathtaking, it is such faith that is the story’s true beauty. The question that is life finds its answer in Life. Eternal life, joyous life, abundant life. Always we lost ones find ways to choke it, stifle it, do it to death—but it springs eternal in the hearts that God has made. Arval’s story is, in one sense, not just the journey from darkness to light but the fight to uphold the light against the darkness, the struggle to keep what has already been won. It is the difference between contentment and complacency.

I don’t know if any of that rings logical. Perhaps it is because I am used to writing fiction, in which you aren’t supposed to tell things straight. Or perhaps I ought to blame it on the sociology essay and all of the disjointed ideas it planted in my mind. Arval, too. He’s one of those with a way of making himself known when you’d fully intended to stuff him in the closet and forget about him for the time being. It remains to be seen whether that’s a good thing or not.

Simple faith is a good thing, though; that much I know. So, likewise, is Avalon. And Glastonbury, and “squee!” bubbles.

2 missives:

Jenny said...

"Tabby, Tabby," I cajoled firmly, "it's Rede's turn now. Please just...go stroll in the garden."

His the black-knit shoulders of his sweater sagged, but while he cast me a reproachful, hurt look, he obediently stalked off with his dog, disappearing through the open glass doors into the garden. I sighed with relief. Rede (especially Wing) was being a horrible bore about cooperating; he had been for the past few weeks, and I was sick and tired of all this shameless laziness.

A shadow fell across my document. Starting, I looked up into the weathered face of a darkish, bull-squat sort of fellow, broad and not very tall, and looking most unavoidably at me as though I had forgot to pay him rent. A thinner, more amiable young man stood just behind him.

"Who are you?" I stammered.

"Vitellius," he said bluntly. "Marcus Vitellius. I'm an engineer."

I stared at him for a few moments, wracking my brain in a frenzy. Engineers? I didn't have anything on the docket about engineers. I didn't know any engineers! Hoping to stall, I edged to one side in my chair and asked, "Well, who is he?" and gestured past Vitellius.

"That's Terence," said Vitellius. Terence flicked his fingers in a mute salutation. "He's an engineer too."

Two engineers.

"What do you want?" I was too startled to be polite. I wasn't sure they wanted me to be polite. They certainly weren't polite.

"We want a story," Vitellius said in no uncertain terms.

"A what?"

"It needn't be a big one," Terence assured me. "Just a little something."

I got out of my chair. I put my pen on the desk, hands spread flat around it. Vitellius was much bigger than I, but I was too startled by their sudden appearance and their lack of manners to be afraid. "I suggest," I said, very clearly and distinctly, looking back and forth between the two of them, "that you go out and wait in the garden, and maybe - MAYBE - if I have no more interruptions from backgroundless upstarts (not to name names) then PERHAPS - if I can finish this section on Someone Else - PERHAPS you will get the LITTLEST paragraph. Now GET. OUT."

Vitellius seemed not in the least hurt. He gave me his first smile, one which lit up his Mediterranean face uncomfortably becomingly, and, shoving his thumbs into his wide belt, strode past the desk and out onto the veranda. After a moment's hesitate Terence, who seemed to be recovering from my outburst, trotted past, giving me his silent wave.

I slumped into my chair. My tea had gone cold. My mind had gone blank (or, blanker than it had been before). When I sought for inspiration, all that came into my head were precise diagrams of city blocks: diagrams which, unbeknownst to me at the time, Vitellius had surreptitiously planted in my mind. I growled pettishly.

Rede emerged from the kitchen, cradling Minnow in his arms. "How is it going?" he asked cheerily.

"Oh, don't you play coy with me!" I snapped, and snatched up my dripping pen.

I feel like Scrooge sometimes. A little thing will affect my nerves. It's dreadful. *sigh*

Megan L. said...

"A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. ...an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato..."

...but in this case I fancy it's more than that. You nailed my own quandary perfectly, Jennyfer.

They just won't leave us alone, will they?

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