Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Not Exactly Fairy Tales

I've been re-reading  Margaret Silf's book Inner Compass, a gentle, hands-on introduction to Ignatian spirituality.  No jargon, but many exercises to help a reader sort through her spiritual life with the creativity and focus that the Spiritual Exercises encourage.
One of her suggestions is to recall your favorite fairy stories and use them as you might a Gospel contemplation: ponder, ruminate, explore, wonder, seek.

They aren't fairy tales, but the two childhood books that came immediately to mind for me were Heidi and The Secret Garden.  I was probably about eight when I discovered them, and I know that I re-read them several times over the next few years.
At eight or nine, I would not have seen what I realized immediately last night: Girls without parents, thrust into worlds in which they had to depend largely upon their own wits and determination for their emotional survival.  Girls whose inventiveness enabled them to triumph.  Girls who found beauty in nature even as they were surrounded by angry, withdrawn, grieving adults who were themselves struggling to surmount terrible losses.

A few years ago my daughter asked me why I had studied literature rather than psychology in college.  I responded that I had addressed exactly that dilemma all those years ago, and concluded that they were essentially the same major, but that one told stories in the form of technical terms, experiments and graphs, and the other in the form of imagery, metaphor, and textured words. 

These days, a little girl such as the one I was would acquire a therapist and a support group ~ all to the good, I'm sure.  But I hope that someone would also hand her novels with characters who might become her best friends and guides through the treachery of a motherless childhood. 


  1. oh, so wonderful, Robin! Thank you!

  2. You're so Jungian. :) One of the reasons I find Ignation spirituality so compelling is how beautifully it meshes with my language of symbol.

    I have much the same relationship with books - Heidi in particular. But two of my childhood books that are beacons of my early years are "The Lion's Paw" and "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenwiler" ... both books about children who run away...and that was certainly a dream of mine. But in the 6th grade a woman handed me a small box, with six paperbacks in it. "The Chronicles of Narnia" ... I devoured them. And for years and years it is how I started off the summer, staying up all night re-reading them. To this day, I do not tire of reading them.

    Yes. Lectio on a good piece of children's lit or a fairy tale is a powerful (and fruitful) spiritual practice.

    1. I don't know The Lion's Paw, but I loved reading The Mixed Up Files with my daughter.

      As far as Narnia . . . just not my cup of tea. I am not a fantasy reader. I read every one of those books out loud to my kids one summer and then I was SO relieved when Josh, who adored them, read them all himself the following fall. I did take the kids to see the first movie, to sort of relive our Narnia summer, but that was more than enough for me.

      Glad you love them, though!

    2. I'm not a fantasy reader either, and I was well into my 30's before I knew that CS Lewis was religious and that these were "religious" books. But my home life was so dry of creative thought, so overwhelmingly extroverted and practical and literal, that I soaked up the experience that someone somewhere had used their imagination and then written it down.

  3. The Lion's Paw...wonderful. Recently re-issued.

    I am another psych major turned English major. :)