Have you ever noticed that books for young readers tend to ask deep questions about meaning, being, purpose, life, and reality? Story is a wonder-full way to explore and answer life's greatest questions. This is yet another reason I recommend reading children's books often.
"What is real?" This question is posed again and again throughout Madeleine L'Engle's book A Wind in the Door. It is a question we ask through all of life, as well. "What is real?" Is it what we see, touch, taste, hear, smell -- in short, our experiences? Or are the 'realest' things unseen, like love, hope, friendship, God, and truth?
You can't take a handful of friendship with you anywhere. You cannot cut open the heart of love and vivisect it. And even if you travelled across all of time and space, you could not get to God's country. Though His country exists, it isn't somewhere you can reach like that. He has to bring you there Himself. I have a hunch that God's country is far more real than we can imagine while we are in our own country, like Lewis describes in The Great Divorce.
What is real, then? The seen? The unseen?
We live in a world where the seen, the tangible, are considered the substance of reality. But we know from Scripture that the 'realest' things are those that are not seen. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
I have been thinking about this in relation to the Lord's Supper recently. What transpires in the bread and the wine administered at the altar rail? I will not delve into the various views on communion here, I will simply state that I believe that the bread and the wine are icons of the truth that I am feeding on the spiritual Body and Blood of Jesus.
So, an image is something that helps us catch a glimpse of reality. A poet, a storyteller, could not work without images. Nevertheless, an image is only an image, a reflection not unlike the reflections of the shadows of reality in Plato's cave.
If an image is not easy to define, an icon is even more difficult. We usually think of icons as corrupt images which ought to be broken. But it is only an icon misused [...] which needs breaking. A true icon is not a reflection; it is like a metaphor, a different, unlike look at something, and carries within it something of that at which it looks.
...An icon, if it 'works,' is more than itself; it bears a fragment of reality.
~ Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet (pp 17-18)
My friend, Stephen, asked why many evangelicals act as if receiving the Lord's Supper as a spiritual reality is somehow less potent than the bread and wine being the actual body and blood of Christ. He insisted, "Isn't it much more than that?" Well, what is real? Certainly actual flesh and blood are real. Yet if an icon bears a fragment of reality, and if our unseen 'spiritual man' is being fed by that reality, then receiving the spiritual body and blood of Jesus is indeed potent, weighty, and life changing. It is, in fact, more real than tangible flesh and blood.
We must understand that it is a serious thing to receive the Eucharist. We must examine ourselves to see that we are in the faith, not eating and drinking condemnation on ourselves in the blesséd bread and wine. We must allow the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to reshape us into real men.