I rode the Polar Express the other night.
Not by myself, of course – that would have been weird.
My family all jumped aboard with me – we dug out the Christmas PJs and Santa hats and braved the cold to ride the train. We sang the Christmas songs, drank the hot chocolate and ate the cookies – we met Santa, saw the elves, and let ourselves feel the magic of the story.
But as I sat in the middle of all the merriment – I looked around at all the other families sharing this moment with us and thought – this is all so bizarre. There is the man up there, with his arms covered in tattoos participating in the same experience as me. And in another car, there is the big family wearing matching giraffe costumes – I still don’t know what that has to do with the Polar Express or Christmas, but they looked cozy and happy. Surrounding me are people of all ages – wearing all manner of PJs and random Christmas attire – every walk of life, sharing this moment, this story, this child-hearted experience.
And I can’t stop thinking about it.
Whey do we do these things? We drink lukewarm hot chocolate, eat cheap sugar cookies, and listen to a story we’ve heard over and over … and we LOVE it! The incongruity of it all makes me think that something much more important is happening in our spirits and maybe we just don’t have the words.
If you’re anything like me, this grown-up world can spin you upside down. And if we’re not careful, the harsh winds can form a crust around our souls until we stop feeling. Maybe what we all need this Christmas season is a taste of childlike wonder to wake our souls up and help us see beyond ourselves.
Chesterton says it like this: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Is it possible? Do you think that this is what we’re all really craving but don’t know how to say it? A taste of the kind of wonder that we’ve all somehow forgotten? So we slip on our jammies and ride Christmas trains and whisper “do it again” because we all need to wake up our slumbering souls and savor the wonder again?
What about when it ends, and we wake up the next morning, put on more appropriate attire, throw in the next load of laundry, take the kids to school, and go about our workday, shuffling along in the apparent monotony of life. What about those days that unfold into weeks until we start to feel like robots in a factory?
I saw a man yesterday who had been through mind-numbing physical pain. He was a strong, active man – but sickness recently claimed his foot and part of his leg. As I saw him being helped on stage, with what remained of his leg wrapped and hanging out the bottom of his pants, my heart broke a little. Then he spoke, and my heart swelled. This is what he said about his pain – “it’s been a great adventure. All this pain – it’s worth it to simply feel.”
Maybe we spend too much time trying not to feel. We avoid the pain, numb our spirits with technology and diversions. We escape the monotony by running somewhere else in our minds, wishing we could be anywhere but washing these dishes again. We see other lives on social media that seem so much more interesting than ours and we forget that they start and end the day the same way we do – maybe we all need to ride the Polar Express and remember how to feel the wonder again.
To do it again with hearts awake! To let the magic pour out of the air around us and soften the crust around our souls. “All around us, magic is overflowing and running down the streets. Do you really live on a ball spinning in circles through the stars? Does the heat from the closest star really make trees and grass and moss out of the carbon dioxide in the air? Have [they] really pulled black ooze up from beneath the earth’s skin, mixed it in their lairs into something that explodes, and made us magical metal boxes than can race around on roads, riding on those explosions? Are you bored with that, yawning in your seat belt? Is lightning real? Tornados? Does the big spinning ball beneath us always suck us down, and are we really talented enough to constantly balance on our feet? What kind of creatures are we?
Sit Moses and Beowulf down, and listen to their stories. Sit Bilbo down and listen to his. Do you disbelieve their tales? Are they made up? Are they fantasy? Now tell them your stories. Have you flown through the sky in a giant metal tube? Do we have boats that can sail to the very bottom of the sea? Have we thrown men all the way to the moon?
A hobbit would laugh at you. To him, your world could not be real. Your stories would be fun to read, beneath a blanket on a rainy day. He might look out of his window and sigh, wishing for a more magical world of his own.” (N. D. Wilson)
Whatever you have ahead of you today, this is the only day we’ve got! Let’s be brave enough to stop the hurry in our souls and let the hardness fall off. I know it’s not all starry eyed happy – I know pain often hovers or threatens to consume. But when Jesus said “let the little children come to me”, He was talking about you and me. In the middle of all we have before us today. He said the kingdom of heaven belonged to them – to us! This is not just future tense, this is our foretaste of the kingdom of heaven now.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8