As I’ve shared before, there have been times in which participating in the Church is difficult. There have been times in which I am less engaged due to everything from boredom to fear of being and expressing myself. But through engagement with theater, TV shows, and comic books, I’ve discovered my desire for a connection with God and others through story.
An instrumental story in this process is The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman.
In September 2014, I began reading The Sandman at the recommendation of a fellow comic lover and survivor of the Bridgewater College Philosophy and Religion department. I bought the first issue online and lost myself in the world of Morpheus, the lord of dreaming.
One of my favorite Sandman stories is in issue 4. After an occult leader imprisons him for 70 years (as depicted in issue #1), Morpheus/Dream escapes and begins searching the world for his lost totems of power. One of these totems is a helmet, which a demon is Hell withholds from him. Dream enters hell and finds the demon, and the demon agrees to hand over the helmet only if Dream defeats him in a battle of wits, or what they call the “oldest game.” They start with small forms (hunter defeats wolf, hunter defeated by horsefly which harms his horse, etc.) and begin building until the demon declares himself as the form Anti-Life, “the dark at the end of everything.”
Everyone in hell thinks Dream is beaten. After all, what can defeat the Beast of Judgment, “the end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything?”
After a brief pause, in which all the demons of hell wait with baited breath, Dream replies, “I am hope.”
And the demon has no retort.
Dream leaves Hell with his helmet and a little more power, and I move on with the flicker of faith within me burning a bit stronger than before.
This small line has saved my faith more times than I can count. I am anxious and pessimistic about the world around me and the Church to which I pledge my allegiance. It is easy for me to look at world and Church and lose hope in them. In these times, I tell myself to look into the Story which I say I am a part of, but all I see are stories retold so often and in such dry ways that I see little life remaining in them.
Yet this one line, this tiny sentence, written by a man who many in the Body of Christ would claim is not “one of us,” is sometimes the spark which keeps my faith alive.
Why, when I claim to be part of the Greatest Story Ever, is this story the one which keeps me going? What has happened to our Story, and how can it come back to life?