Walt Disney and the World of Wonder

Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”–Gilead 

When Billy Graham visited Disney Land in its early days he reportedly remarked to its founder, “Walt, you have a great fantasy land here.” To which Walt replied, “You preachers get it all wrong. This is reality in here—out there is fantasy.” I was blessed to experience a glimpse of that reality this past week when my wife and I took a vacation to Walt Disney World. The trip became more than a vacation for me; a childhood pilgrimage of sorts. I found myself thinking and thanking God, praying and praising him at times, for the joy and innocence of it all. But during that happiness there was a silent rebuke as well; a gentle admonition, reminding me of something I so easily and willingly relinquish in my daily life: wonder.

If you’ve visited Walt Disney World, then maybe you had this same experience. Even if you begin with a certain amount of hesitancy (as I did), you find yourself caught up in the magic (I know no better word to describe it) of it all. The crowds are intimidating, no doubt; the weather is oppressive at times (or depressing with the rain). Yet, somehow the wonder of it all breaks through those barriers, and you find yourself walking with a glimmer in your eye, wishing this was the way the real world worked. And, to a certain extent, it should.

The reality of which Disney spoke is one of innocence and joy; of peace, and even truth (surely, you’ve noticed the themes of good conquering evil in Disney movies, especially the classics). There is a certain Edenic flavor to it all, epitomized in Disney’s central character: Mickey Mouse. Tony Campolo once called Mickey “Adam before the fall. He’s a purely innocent creature. And he’s never done anything sinful in his life…Look at the fifth chapter of Galatians, where Paul talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are these: love and joy and peace and patience. All of these godly virtues are wrapped up in Mickey and his followers.” While we may not go that far, there is an undeniable innocence at the heart of this little rodent. He, and the other great Disney characters, unite to tell stories of love and hate, good and evil, joy and sorrow, loss and victory, etc. And all of it is sprinkled with a touch of pixie dust and a little bit of magic.

We sit at the feet of these stories and we learn to wonder again; to look at life with fresh eyes and to actually believe in something more than matter. It creates faith in the unexplainable; a mystery which we know works for good, that we can grasp to a certain degree, but to which we are content simply to rest in the shadow of its good grace. Even Epcot, which encourages the pursuit of science and technology, is placed under the banner of wonder’s ethic. Science, it seems to say, should be placed within the grander narrative of humanity’s story (visit Spaceship Earth for example) in which we learn to live with each other’s differences, and use technology to love/benefit our neighbor. And in this I see scripture.

Throughout this past week I kept remembering Jesus’ teaching on our acceptance and entrance into the kingdom of God:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

This scene has always fascinated (and rebuked) me. What does Jesus mean here? How do we accept the kingdom of God like a child? I imagine we could go back and forth on this, but it seems that Jesus uses a child’s inherent ability to accept some new discovery with wonder and joy as a means of teaching our grown-up hearts how to view things. Have you ever witnessed a child experience something for the first time? Even the most mundane elements are suddenly full of wonder. The mystery of how it works, and what it does, excites them. It seems that God wants us to see him, and his working in the world and his people, in a similar fashion. With wonder and excitement; grasping its truth, but standing in awe of the mystery.

Yet, this wonder is something Disney World inspires, but ultimately can’t satisfy. Eventually we must leave the park and the movies inevitably must end (happily, though they may be). We are left with aching hearts for another glimpse of magic; to be inspired by something mysterious and wonderful. We need to believe in a place where joy, innocence, unity, and peace are not only possible, but the law of the land. A place where laughter is as natural as breathing, and forgiveness is quickly, and freely, given. Where joy is the currency of daily living. Disney leaves us longing for more; it’s an echo of the greater awe which is only discovered in the presence of God. A God who reigns in unspeakable awesomeness. A God who inspires dreams that only He can fulfill, and hopes which only he can sustain. A God of joy, peace,  and unity. A God who will ultimately, and inevitably, bring all of creation toward his final purpose: a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Disney may inspire wonder, but God is its source. What a beautiful belief.

As our trip came to an end, we visited Disney Springs for a final souvenir excursion. I generally don’t buy such things for myself, but I felt pulled to a small, stuffed Mickey Mouse that was designed after the iconic Steamboat Willy. I purchased it as a reminder of the importance of daily wonder in my life (he sits on my shelf as I write this). You may think I’m going too far; maybe you’re right. But as I stared misty eyed at Magic Kingdom’s castle, with the fireworks slowly exploding in the summer evening sky, I couldn’t help but wish that I could bottle up that wonder and put it in my pocket. And maybe I can. Not because I wish upon a star, but because I worship their Maker.

Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, we stand in awe of you. As we look upon your beauty, our hearts are filled with unspeakable wonder. You have revealed your will to us, have shown yourself in your Son, and yet your ways are beyond comprehension. You dwell in Sovereign mystery, doing as you please. We pray Father that you will give us, by your grace, a heart full of wonder. That you break us and make us children of yours; fully enthralled by the beauty of your countenance. Rip away any remnant of the old world which clings so closely, and conform us to the image of your Son. Amen.

 

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