In asking for submissions for an anthology of Christian stories, one can never be quite sure what one will get.
Some interpret the request to mean that I want stories explicitly about Christ; others think that they need to write sentimental or ‘sickly-sweet’ tales which contain hardly any darkness or conflict and which would be suitable for young children; still others think that, on hearing the word ‘Christian’, they must immediately be excluded as they do not share the Christian faith. There is a whole range of other interpretations too.
In the original request, I had written that this anthology was for the many Christian writers out there. But I had also made it clear that I would welcome submissions from those who didn’t consider themselves Christians but wanted to try their hand at a story with what Tolkien called a ‘eucatastrophe’ - a miraculous ‘turning to the Good’ at the end.
My attention was partly on the Christmas market, in terms of readership, but I also made it clear that the stories didn’t exclusively have to be about Christmas as such. It’s natural that, on hearing the term ‘Christian story’, many would think about Christmas, but the possibilities are so much wider than that.
Apart from thinking that people might buy this book for Christmas, though, what else was I thinking?
I have always had a fascination for stories in which there is a sense that something is at work in the background - not a ‘dark force’, like Fate, or an indifferent agency, like Entropy or Chaos, nor even an anarchic power, like Luck, but a Providence of some sort. My favourite authors, like Tolkien or Lewis, made this surrounding and pervasive influence explicitly like the Christian God; other favourite authors had something benevolent lurking in the background of their tales, whether they had determined what it was exactly or not. Children’s literature often has this sense of a hidden but entirely bounteous and sympathetic essence at work, partly because its nature is an expression of human adulthood towards children and childhood. But many adult works have the same thing too.
This tolerant, benign, compassionate, caring, sympathetic power which rules the universe of the story starts to die out, to recede, to become confused and a little dispersed in literature at the same time as the rise of the materialistic and consumerist society with which we are all too familiar.
Tolkien, Lewis and a few others shine out like beacons in the twentieth century precisely because the kinds of worlds they describe in their fiction, in which the ultimate sovereignty belongs outside the created universe, and in which the explicitly religious elements act as metaphors for what the authors believed was the true state of affairs in the real universe, were becoming rarer in literature. Their time was dominated by the rise of science-based stories, or stories in which the supposed ‘hard facts’ of the ‘real world’ were paramount, ranging from ‘kitchen sink’ dramas to cynical political thrillers, to horror stories in which the world was not only empty of God but occupied by something far from benevolent.
‘Miracle’ was an opportunity for writers to resurrect the earlier notion of what stories were about, and what they were for: not simply a childish or child-like wish that the world might be a better place, but a projection of the deeper truth that on some level it already is. Part of the problem of today’s society - arguably, its most essential problem - is that it lacks a vision which goes right to the heart of human suffering and still finds that hope, light and even joy are truer than misery, death and pain. The stories in this book each reflect upon that problem in some way, and conclude that, rather than being either a meaningless and indifferent universe, or one in which we are persecuted victims of a faceless power, perhaps there is something else at work: perhaps — just perhaps, mind — the older world was not as deluded by superstition as many think, but actually had a pretty firm grasp of certain foundational truths which the last hundred years or so have eroded away in the popular mind.
Perhaps a Christian story is a way, in other words, of revealing something about reality which few other kinds of story can do.
Whether or not the authors in this book succeeded in their revelations is up to you. But it can make quite a difference to a life when they do succeed.
Miracle will be released soon. Stay tuned!