When I was in fifth grade, my class read a novel called Bridge to Terabithia. It has since been made into a movie so that today’s children can also be traumatized by its tragic ending, just one more in a long list of painful life lessons branded into our collective subconscious. For my generation, there was also the episode of Punky Brewster where we learned that you should never play in abandoned refrigerators, and the scene in The Neverending Story where we learned that you can literally drown in sorrow – especially if you’re a horse named Artax. Then there was the My Little Pony movie where the Smooze taught us… something? I’m not sure what but I know that it terrifies me to think about to this day. And the list continues.
Traumatic 80’s children’s programming isn’t actually my point at all, although it might make for an interesting discussion in the future. What I wanted to talk about is what I took away from Bridge to Terabithia once I stopped being distraught. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie, the story is about a boy named Jess Aarons and his friendship with the new girl in school, Leslie. Both are outcasts, and form a fast friendship that leads them to create an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia, which is only accessible by swinging a rope across a creek into a nearby forest.
If you know me at all, you probably won’t be surprised that I was captivated by the idea of an imaginary kingdom in the woods, and suggested to my best friend Alexis (who was also new to the school district that year!) that we should create our own imaginary kingdom. We called it Terabridge Falls and it existed in a patch of trees up a small embankment behind the school playground. In order to enter the land of Terabridge Falls, you had to pass between two swings and follow an exact sequence of steps up the embankment. You needed to leave by following the exact process in reverse, too – otherwise you would end up in one of three other lands: one a land of lava and fire, one of ghosts, and one a land of forgetting, where if you didn’t make the correct choice out of three doors within 24 hours, you would forget about Terabridge forever. We didn’t mess around with our imagining.
In Terabridge, we were royalty – princesses before being a Disney Princess was the craze it is today. A rotting stump served as both our throne and treasure stash (which consisted of marbles, erasers shaped like basketballs or ice cream cones, and pieces of quartz). We also had helpers, like the mysterious and handsome Blue Prince who lived in the woods beyond, and the Prophecy Tree. In the normal world, we didn’t fit – the tomboy new girl and the weird, quiet girl who always had her nose in a book. In Terabridge, we didn’t passively wait for a prince to rescue us – we were in charge.
Until, that is, the school principal announced one morning that the hill behind the playground was off limits for students. Not to be deterred, we moved Terabridge to an out-of-the-way section of the soccer field with an old dirt pile and a drainage ditch. Until the soccer field closed for re-seeding. By that point, Alexis had discovered that she enjoyed playing Four Square more than she enjoyed playing make-believe, so I went solo and tried a third time, claiming a section of woods just off the parking lot. Which led to another announcement from the principal (who, by the way, was a wonderful lady who I loved, lest you think otherwise). At the time, I thought I was being targeted. Now I’m surprised that none of my teachers ever approached me in person to ask me to just please, for the love of God, stay on the playground with the other children.
I was reminded of Terabridge at worship this Sunday morning during my friend Michael’s sermon on the Ascension. He started by asking us the leading question: Where are we? Yes, we’re here in Masschusetts, in the USA, on planet Earth, orbiting a sun which is in the Milky Way. But in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that when Jesus ascended to heaven, God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6-8).” Michael then went on to explore a somewhat “simpler” question: “What do we mean when we say that Christ has ascended and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father?” I won’t reproduce his sermon here, but a statement he made at the end was what launched me back in time and space to my fifth grade playground: “We are subjects of an already-but-not-yet Kingdom.” In other words, we are seated with Christ in those heavenly places, and we are also here on earth in our troubled bodies and broken existence.
Long before I was a Christian, there was a deep longing in me for something beyond visible reality. I saw magic and wonder in the world and when my peers rejected me, I found a way to belong elsewhere. When I later as a young adult discovered Wicca and declared myself a witch and a priestess, it was an expression of this same urge for something deeper than a sterile, routine existence where logic and practicality were the only truth. For as long as I can remember, I’ve rebelled against that version of reality in one way or another. In the end, the reality I was looking for had been chasing after me all along.