During one of their famous debating walks around Oxford, J.R. Tolkien challenged his walking colleagues, one of them being C.S. Lewis, to see beyond the confines of definition.
You look at trees, he said, and call them ‘trees’, and probably you do not think twice about the word. You call a star a ‘star’, and think nothing more of it. But you must remember that these words, ‘tree’, ‘star’, were (in their original forms) names given to these objects by people with very different views from yours.
To you, a tree is simply a vegetable organism, and a star simply a ball of inanimate matter moving along a mathematical course. But the first men to talk of ‘trees’ and ‘stars’ saw things very differently…. They saw the stars as living silver, bursting into flame in answer to the eternal music. They saw the sky as a jewelled tent…
The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter)
'Revival' is a dangerous word. It carries mental and experiential baggage that can be both positive and negative, helpful and restrictive. The diversity in its definition can so easily draw lines in the sand, narrowing viewpoints upon what we assume is the correct meaning… nothing more, nothing less. And yet our history can also demonstrate that we can throw the word around upon any meeting and declare it to be a revival without critiquing what we are truly declaring to the world about the divine embrace of God's love.
With all our history, knowledge, reference links and access to information, it can create an illusion of surety - that what we see captures the very life of what is before us. Yet maybe our ‘adult’ assumptions has sometimes dulled our imagination of what we have read or yearned for; and this was a challenge I was ever mindful of when writing Revival’s Symphony.
It continually amazes me the life and wonderment that resides within the writings from historic revival characters. Beyond any neat and tidy definitions that I (and others) may have, their words carry elements of the unknown that take the reader past the confines of a man-made wardrobe that was constructed for clothes, and into a world that pays little reference to the initial wooden structure. Their descriptions of the divine embrace lay out a tapestry of heavens interaction that invites all to enter this world of revival as a trusting child with a vivid imagination.
Yes, ‘Revival’ is a dangerous word - but not because it carries our baggage of hopes, experiences and prejudices. It’s a dangerous word because it lays before us a simple option. To marvel at a box so neatly defined for us to place our new clothes within, or step inside with a trusting heart and venture beyond what we assume is proper and correct.