“Me, too,” I respond.
In our house we tell stories incessantly, and they’re all true. They began with Special Baby, Gwyn’s imaginary friend when she was two years old. Special Baby could do everything Gwyn couldn’t, like go to the library when it was closed and eat extra servings ofdessert. Then came Lilly the Lilac Fairy who lives in the gnarled lilac tree over Gwyn’s sandbox and who is too shy to show herself to grown-ups. Of course Santa comes every Christmas eve; he eats the cookies we leave out for him and puts bagels and kiwis in our stockings. Once a week with friends and then every Sunday at church, we tell stories about Jesus. He walks on water. He spits in the dirt and uses that mud to make a blind man see. He rises from the dead.
I’m in the business of stories. I’ve just written my first novel, which I made up; only three pages are true stories, although you’d never guess which ones. I dedicated this last decade to the life of the imagination. Sometimes my memoir students say they don’t read fiction “because it’s not true”, and I want to scream. Stories can be truer than true. If we live within a framework of facts, we’re missing the essence of what it means to be human—that we reside here, in our bodies, and not here; that we are bigger than our parts; that we’re inextricably bound to an invisible world of meaning and love and unity. We need the faculty of the imagination because without it we don’t practice the art of possibility. We don’t know how to extend beyond our limitations. Sure, God is in and through humanity, but God is also beyond, and so imagination is fundamental to faith.
I believe Lilly the Lilac Fairy is out in our yard, hibernating in a tiny snow fort, because thoughts of her put a glint in Gwyn’s eye. Eventually faith grows more complicated; Jesus really did walk on this good earth, but what of the mythology around him is factual and what isn’t? Of course it’s important for scholars to sort through the mess, just as it’s healthy for me to make (marginal) distinctions between reality and fiction. But for faith to function, I don’t need facts—I need story. I need a character who inhabits a cosmology complex enough to encompass my full humanity, and a plot that will guide me through my intricate, overwhelming days. Jesus and his miracles do this, so they’re true. For Gwyn, for now, so are fairies. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew