Will Stanton, an eleven-year-old wizard, is racing across a snow-covered island on the Thames River in the middle of the worst winter storm in history. Will—the hero of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising—is in pursuit of a sinister, shadowy figure who has just kidnapped his sister. Stumbling across the roots of an old beech tree, Will is suddenly struck by the unusual dark magic of his quarry:
The magic held him transfixed, turning his thoughts away from their proper direction, turning them away from everything except contemplation of whatever happened to be closest at hand. He saw a twig on a low branch of the beech close to his head that seemed for no reason so totally enthralling that he could do nothing but gaze at it, as if it contained the whole world.
This magic makes Will overly fascinated by a twig, and in doing so it imprisons him in a twig-sized world. Cooper gets at an important spiritual truth: our minds and hearts take on the dimensions of what we ponder and love. Because of this, the things we love can captivate us in a world their own size.
The dark side of this, though, is that it doesn’t take black magic to trap our minds in a microscopic universe. We’re already prone to obsess over things that (in the long run) aren’t that meaningful, to harp on the little flaws of others that annoy us, to “make mountains out of molehills.” How often are we overly concerned with what clothes we are wearing, how people perceive us, the annoying way this person laughs, or the negative comment that other person made about me? Trivialities like these imprison us. They want to occupy our thoughts all the time. When we devote our mental energy to them they seem to grow in size, eclipsing the rest of reality and making us forgetful of the others who deserve our attention. The result is that we become small-minded, unengaging, tepid, trivial.
But it’s not just petty things that can captivate our attention in this way. Even what is good and noble has the potential to enthrall or enslave us. Art, music, education, philanthropy, work, friendship, family, and the like: if we devote ourselves exclusively to any one of these things, our hearts become somehow deformed—not because these things are bad, but because we aren’t designed to pour all our love and attention—our adoration, in other words—on created things. Yet the fact remains: we are made for adoration, our hearts designed to be totally captivated by a “Beloved.”
It’s possible for us to set our hearts on the things of this world such that we exclude Jesus, or at least push him out of sight. Set against Jesus, however, everything in the world becomes trivial, and unless our hearts are totally captivated by Him, our lives run the risk of becoming trivial too.
Again, we shouldn’t deny the real, even spectacular goodness of the things we naturally love. For supernatural love gives supernatural depths to seemingly ordinary things. Instead, we have to contemplate Jesus as if He “contains the whole world.” It is only by entering into a world of Jesus’ own dimensions—by letting our hearts and minds be totally captivated by Him—that we are able to freely love everything else without fearing the “dark magic” of worldly fascination.
Image: Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Child