When I was in early elementary school, I liked dandelions—or at least I thought my mother did. In our backyard—the same yard where the grass stubbornly refused to grow, the yard where a new crop of rocks appeared every spring, no matter how many we collected and threw into the gravel part of the driveway—dandelions grew by dozens. Or perhaps hundreds. In any case, there were too many for me to bother counting. I picked them, though—two or three big dandelion flowers at a time. I would take them inside and give them to my mother, who inevitably put them in little glass cups by the kitchen sink, where they wilted and died. She always said thank you.
As I grew older, I slowly learned that dandelions are considered weeds. When you’re being forced to dig dandelions out of garden beds (those roots! uggh), you’re less likely to view them kindly. I also have certain grim memories of a boring and slightly distasteful children’s book with the main character—a lion—was named Dandy Lion. Ha. Ha.
A few days ago I finished reading The Chestnut King, the conclusion to the 100 Cupboards trilogy by N.D. Wilson. I read the first two books in the series last January (I’ve re-read them several times since then), but I wasn’t able to get the third book from the library until this summer. As I read it, I thought about dandelions. And I realized, oddly, that I will never see them in the same way again. That’s not what I would typically carry away from a fantasy series.
Wilson tells the story of Henry York, born in another world and transported to Kansas by accident as a baby. Adopted by a pair of smothering but distant parents, Henry is protected from real life until his parents are kidnapped while traveling in South America. He returns to Kansas to stay with his Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty. Henry doesn’t know his true background. But he does know that he likes Uncle Frank’s house better than his usual boarding schools and nannies. And in that house is something special—cupboards in the attic, portals to other worlds.
Henry does not know it, but he is a seventh son, destined to understand the world’s inner life and to merge its green strength with his own. And when he sees the inside of a dandelion burning with life, his own life will never be the same. He will find his first home and his true family. And he will also find an old evil, deathless—unless Henry, through the life that is in him, can become its death.
Why dandelions? Wilson argues that people tend to ignore the ordinary magic of our own world. Dandelions multiply, and no one tends to pay a great deal of attention (except a few people chagrined about the state of their gardens). Dandelions are alive, and life is inherently magic. It comes directly from God, beyond our control or even our understanding.
Dandelions intruded into my prayers the other night. I was tired, emotionally and spiritually, and I told God that I needed some of Henry’s dandelion life. There’s some part of me that thinks it’s artistically bad to pray using metaphors from children’s fantasy novels, but I doubt that God (or Wilson, who is Reformed) minded. In any case, my mind turned from life in dandelions to life in something else—the Resurrection.
I’ve read, in passing, that the early church placed a greater emphasis on the Resurrection than the modern church does. And I typically do not think of it very often, aside from at Easter. I know what Christ’s suffering and death mean for me—how they affect my daily life. I participate in His death every time I take Communion. But the Resurrection is hardly mentioned between Easters, and I forget it. I have hardly thought about what it means.
Christ lives. He is the Life of the World. And I live, truly live, by drawing on that life. Henry becomes strong by relying on the strength of others, and particularly the life he sees blazing in one Kansas dandelion. But it is Christ’s life that is enlivening the world even now—his life that made dandelions, and his resurrected life that promises to resurrect dandelions, and the rest of creation. He is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Renewer. That is the promise of the Resurrection.
There’s a song I’ve seen in hymnbooks, but have never sung—“Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” It’s true enough, but incomplete. A better title might be “Jesus Lives, and So Do I.” Christ lives—now. His life turned death on its head. I don’t have the life of dandelions to draw on, but I do have the life of Christ, which pulses through the world—and through me.