Splintered Fragments of True Light

Splintered Fragments of True Light

Georgia O’Keeffe, Yellow Hickory Leaves with Daisy, 1928 via Flickr

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, quoted in Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien a Biography

This is what I cling to when I teach the kids about mythology and other religions. We try to look for the splintered fragments of true light in their stories, to find the good as well as the error. I love the image of steering shakily to the true harbor.

We’ve been reading a lot of mythology this year. We began with the Orchard Book of Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs, which Ben got for his birthday last year. After that we worked our way through D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths. And then we picked up Rosemary Sutcliff’s versions of the Iliad and Odyssey. Then Ludmila Zeman’s Gilgamesh trilogy (Gilgamesh the King, The Revenge of Ishtar, The Last Quest of Gilgamesh ). And now we’re reading Penelope Lively’s version of The Aeneid, In Search of a Homeland.

We’ve had quite a few conversations in which the kids tried to puzzle out these stories, why we read them. How they compare to what we know is true in the Bible. We’ve also been pondering the story of Mohammed and the roots of Islam and, well, religion can be hard to talk about with kids. Especially religions not our own. I think I’m pretty good on Jesus and the Bible and Catholic theology. I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground there. If I don’t know the answer I know where to turn. But for myths and religion I really think a solid grounding in Lewis and Tolkien has often been my touchstone for how to let these conversations develop.

And so I often ask the kids, what is the good in this story, in this god? What is the good in Zeus? In Aphrodite? In Hera? And then what is not so good? Where do they fail? It’s led to some interesting conversations. And I hope, maybe, will set a good foundation for going higher up and further in later as they get older.

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