MacDonald’s Demons

by Elouise

Life is dangerous. So is writing. The danger isn’t simply out there, but in here. Inside of me. This sonnet from George MacDonald caught my attention this past week. My comments follow.

May 12

Fair freshness of the God-breathed spirit air,
Pass through my soul, and make it strong to love;
Wither with gracious cold what demons dare
Shoot from my hell into my world above;
Let them drop down, like leaves the sun doth sear,
And flutter far into the inane and bare,
Leaving my middle-earth calm, wise, and clear.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

MacDonald’s demons attack his love, calmness, wisdom, and clarity. They don’t come from the outside; they ‘shoot up’ from a hellish place deep inside his personal world. They’re intrusive, uninvited, and not fit to dwell in MacDonald’s conscious, meaningful middle-earth.

Only God’s fresh breath of Spirit-air from above can destroy the fierce heat of his demons. Not by fighting fire with fire, but with “gracious cold” spirit air that infuses love while also sucking the life out of the demons. Sending them dropping down into their “inane and bare” netherworld.

MacDonald had a number of hellish spaces from which his demons could arise. They included, for example, his ongoing battle with consumption (tuberculosis); theological issues with the church in which he was ordained; and the deaths of four of his eleven children.

Another space might sometimes qualify as hellish. MacDonald was a prolific writer. We already know he struggled with his writing. I wonder what his demons were when he put his pen to paper? What kicked up in him before, during and after he wrote?

MacDonald’s writing was self-disclosive and honest without being preachy, even in his seemingly lighthearted fairy tales. Some might have preferred a different voice.

Writing is dangerous. So is faith, having children, and pastoring a church. So is life with its unforeseeable twists and turns. What better conditions for stirring up the ‘demons’ that rise up from within, trying to suck the life out of us.

My demons? Discouragement. Irrational fear. Doubt about myself. The desire to give up and go to sleep.

When I read this sonnet I think about MacDonald’s delightful fairy tale for children and adults, The Princess and the Goblin. The heroine is a young girl (the princess) who’s given a large task. I won’t say what it is, or who gives it to her.

I will, however, say that along with the task, she’s given a solution for fear that might rise up within her. Fear that would attack her middle-earth by destroying her love, calmness, wisdom and clarity about the task at hand.

The solution isn’t big, bold and visible. It’s almost invisible. As thin and as strong as one strand of a spider’s web. All the young princess has to do is remember to feel for it with her fingers and follow it wherever it leads. No matter what other people think, say or do in response to her or her actions, her feelings and her words.

Fair freshness of the God-breathed spirit air,
Pass through my soul, and make it strong to love….

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2015