Behind the Name
I’ve often heard human beings called “storied creatures.” If that’s true — and I think it is — then some vital questions need to be asked. First: what story are we in, and how does it go? How do we perceive it?
There was a season I would have believed (though never said) I was the center of my narrative. I siphoned purpose furiously from that which gave me a sense of accomplishment, and my busyness was my everything. That ship didn’t stay afloat long.
I had to learn painfully and not nearly quick enough that I couldn't keep holding my house of cards together, and that there was far more to this life than my own shallow endeavors. The impetus behind Awaking Dragons is that my story, I believe, is not unique.
Much wiser people than I have written about this short-sightedness I entertained. As I nursed my wounds I came across the work of poets and philosophers writing on the “film of familiarity and selfish solicitude” which I had donned.1 I read on the the destructive tendency of our age (not to mention my own heart) toward materialism, reductionism, and the misled treatment of this world as a machine.2 I devoured writings on the importance of story in the rescue of a mind and heart numbed by appropriation of the world around.3 It seemed I had stumbled onto something far larger than myself. Thank God that I was — am — not alone in this.
If others have seen such familiarity and possessiveness cloud their view of the world — seen it and pushed back, fought it like the plague it is, and found greater meaning and beauty beyond it — well, then perhaps I can learn a thing or two from their example. Probably more.
Our perception colors our reality: we must keep our lenses clean.4 And our language — the words we use, the stories we read and tell, the way we frame our thoughts — will shape and reshape our perception. If we are storied creatures, then it is vital we see a tale greater than ourselves being told around us all the time. This is not about getting the “right” information. It’s about wonder, and being open to seeing things in new ways. It’s about humility. And that’s something I could often use a fresh dose of.
I expect this will resonate with many to some degree, but as far as Awaking Dragons is concerned it is a charge to myself first. I have to start with “yours truly” if I’m to make any changes around here.
Going Behind the Name
So why the name “Awaking Dragons”? I’ve shared here of the deep impact that an early reading of The Hobbit had on my growing self. On the shoulders of the fantastical images J. R. R. Tolkien shared with us in his works, dragons seemed to me an appropriate representation of the wondrous, and the awe-full. And I hope I’ve given as good an argument as I can here for why wonder must be awoken and refreshed. At very least, I know I crave it. I need it.
But why ‘awaking’ and not simply ‘waking’?
It could have been an arbitrary decision, but that hardly seemed fitting for a newsletter celebrating the power of language. That tiny, unassuming prefix a- carries with it connotations of reviving, and movement into or engagement with something,5 and the verb is in the present continuous tense. Awaking Dragons, then, is not simply waking up to the wonders around us, for we could just as easily fall back into old habits and ways of seeing and knowing. It’s instead for the active moving and reviving of our perceptions into a state of hopefully perpetual (or at least perpetually renewing) wakefulness to “the wonder-teeming world.”6 My hope for Awaking Dragons is that, as I work to frame the world and a life in it rightly for myself, you would be inspired to do the same. I choose to do this with words. What is your medium, and how do you see the world better through its practice? I’d love to hear from you.
The tagline I have chosen for Awaking Dragons is “Resurrecting wonder from the ordinary.” Some have said there is nothing ordinary, and I would agree with them. But such a statement is itself an attempt to resurrect wonder from what we have made ordinary. We have lulled the dragons of our lives asleep, duping ourselves into believing they cannot stir again to disturb our manufactured and convenient realities. No, nothing is ordinary, but that doesn’t prevent us from seeing it as such, and casting dull grave clothes on the living and breathing splendors we’re surrounded by.
And I don't just mean the woods and the mountains and the sea, though I mean those things as well. I mean the experience of waiting in line. I mean the urban sights seen from off the highway. I mean the kindness of my neighbor, the beauty and wisdom of my wife, and the immaterial gold of my children’s belly laughter.
Come, let’s give wonder its rightful place in our days. Come, awake the dragons with me.
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Litereria, vol. II (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 7, quoted in Malcolm Guite, Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2021), 12.
Wendell Berry, Life Is a Miracle: An Essay against Modern Superstition (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000).
J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," in Tree and Leaf: Including the Poem Mythopoeia and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (London, UK: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001), 58.
Douglas Harper, "A- (1)," Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 04/06/2022, https://www.etymonline.com/word/a-?ref=etymonline_crossreference#etymonline_v_3.
George MacDonald, Phantastes (London, UK: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1940), 155.