18 – The Poet’s Homecoming

Published in 1990 as Introduction to The Poet’s Homecoming, the Bethany House edition of George MacDonald’s Home Again

            During the first years of our reading of George MacDonald’s books, my wife and I fairly devoured everything we could lay our hands on. After a year or two, the realization suddenly broke upon me that if we continued at such a pace the supply would exhaust itself within a very short time. One of the great regrets of my life is that I will never again be able to read Narnia for the first time. Rereading a favorite book is a good thing, but certain literary first loves are never the same the second time around!

            Therefore, I made a determined effort to slow the pace, saying to myself that I wanted to reserve some of MacDonald’s books for later, so that, even in my old age, there would still be a few treasures I could bring out of my storehouse and look forward to with that relish of discovery only a new book can bring.

            This adventure of editing and reissuing MacDonald’s books, however, proved a turn in my life I hadn’t foreseen, and both publication necessity and the desire to share his books with others have served to accelerate the strategy I had established for myself. Thus, before launching into this present book, I found myself, with mingled anticipation and regret, facing the last of MacDonald’s adult novels I had not yet read. It represented almost the end of a very personal odyssey of discovery that was tinged with sadness. I had not “planned” to allow myself to dive into this book till I was sixty at least! Consequently, as I went through this volume, I found myself relishing the words and sentences and ideas–I can’t say more, but certainly with a reinvigorated sense of awe–as I beheld anew the wisdom to which God opened  this man, his servant. And when I reached the last page, a quiet sense of completion came over me. In nineteen years I have read thirty-five works of George MacDonald’s fiction, finishing them perhaps sooner than I had hoped, yet with an abiding thankfulness to God for the opportunities that have arisen to share these treasures with you.

            And now I have the opportunity to spend the next twenty years not only rereading but also learning more deeply to live the spiritual principles of practical faith about which George MacDonald wrote. For those truths are ever new–whether I be in my 20’s, my 40’s, or my 60’s. Age and familiarity bring no loss to their immediacy!

            So while the plots may never be new again, perhaps that is fitting. Because the plots are not that for which MacDonald wrote, but rather for the living truths which undergird them. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to be carried away mentally with MacDonald’s insights and little “gems” of truth. I run around excitedly, fluttering here and there like poor Mrs. Evermore on the lookout for fanciful notions, thinking in vain I can bottle up MacDonald’s perceptions, to reread and underline and put down in my notebook as particularly quotable. Thus I must make it my constant prayer that I will resist this all-too-human tendency, and will become more and more keenly conscious as I read that the truths to which he points are things I must do.

            Of course that process is a continually unfolding one, as I’m sure you find it in your life too. After all these years reading and working with the books and ideas of George MacDonald, I feel I am just beginning to get the picture of God he was attempting to convey. Working recently on the two books Discovering the Character of God and Knowing the Heart of God has opened huge new vistas in my spiritual being. Having read over thirty of MacDonald’s novels, and being, as I thought, somewhat familiar with his fiction, it was not until I began these two works (taken predominately from his written sermons) that a number of inner lights began to explode within me.

            “I can’t believe it!” I found myself saying any number of times. “So that’s what you’ve been trying to get through to me! But … but … this is astonishing! Do you mean to say God is really that loving … that wonderful … that involved in the tiniest detail of my life and in the myriad forces of nature all about me! It’s too huge … it’s more than my brain can comprehend!”

            Over and over I found myself breaking one moment into laughter, another into tears, another into prayers of conviction over my own shallowness–brought painfully face to face with how far I yet have to go before I really “know” God as He desires me to know him. Once I simply turned off my typewriter, got up, and went immediately home, sat my family down, and confessed my need of their prayers. We then went before the Lord together, my wife and three sons laying their hands on me and praying for this man who was supposed to be their spiritual guide, but who was at that moment feeling a million miles off from the inner Christlikeness which was his heart’s desire. In short, it’s impossible to convey the extent to which those two books (and indeed all the MacDonald books I have read and worked on) have impacted my whole outlook on God’s being and his remaking work in my life!

            This present volume, The Poet’s Homecoming, is an intrinsic part of that learning process. As I said, reaching the end of a long list of “stories,” I am realizing anew my need, not for new plots, but for deeper levels of obedience in my attitudes and behavior and relationships. After many years of scratching away through surface concerns and appearances, it is my prayer that perhaps now God can penetrate to serious levels of self-denial in my spirit. Such remains my prayer.

            Like The Landlady’s Master, The Poet’s Homecoming is an extremely rare title to locate in its original (Home Again), and one of MacDonald’s later (1887) and more obscure titles. It is not a long book, nor a particularly detailed one. Yet perhaps because of that, the radiance of the message shines through with unclouded clarity–the message that, as MacDonald himself says, obedience is the opener of eyes. And some of the specifics of that message as it emerges through the characters of this story are particularly meaningful to me in light of my relationships with my own sons and my own father. This book was written at a time when five of MacDonald’s six sons were in their early to mid-twenties, and he himself was no doubt at the time pondering many of the parental struggles involved in watching one’s children grow and stumble and mature into adulthood. Many times as I read I found myself filled anew with gratitude to both my fathers, for indeed my heavenly Father has given me an earthly father not unlike Richard Colman of Home Again.

            No, this story is not a complicated one. Yet sometimes the profoundest truths come wrapped in the humblest garb. When first told by the Master in Luke 10, this tale was not noteworthy for its complexity but for its disarming simplicity. And it thus remains one of the Lord’s most striking teachings. MacDonald, too, when attempting to convey the magnificence of God’s Fatherhood, does so with acuity of vision and simplicity of word. For to MacDonald that truth was the first truth, the foundational truth, the most vital truth for man and woman to apprehend. It is a truth to be seen at root in every story, every sermon, every poem he wrote, and here he makes it the core of his message.

            Michael Phillips