“Maurice Sendak,” says Russell D. Moore, “was, by all accounts, a lonely, misanthropic, cynical, homosexual atheist.” Yet, in an article he wrote shortly after Sendak’s death a few months ago for the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Touchstone, he praises him for ”all that he has to teach a church he never embraced.”
Sendak is the author of the well-known and beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. While some say the book is too dark, Moore believe that Sendak “had a more realistic view of evil than many Christians do, at least when it comes to our children.” The story’s protagonist Max is sent to his room after telling his mother that he will eat her up. His room then turns into a forest full of “wild things,” and he does not return to his room until he becomes “king of all of the wild things,” or until he gains self control over his own “wild things.” Moore says:
Sendak . . . at least in his artistic imagination, recognized something the Christian revelation tells us clearly. Worse than what’s “out there” is the uncontrollable “wildness” inside of us, those passions and desires and rages and longings and sorrows within our psyches that seem to be even scarier because they’re so hidden, so close, and so much at the core of who we are.
The “wildness without” we at least know we have little or no control over, which is scary enough, but the “wildness within,” we hope we to be able to control, and when faced with our human weakness it is often unbearable. I often think of Fr. Luigi Giussani‘s “disproportion before the total answer” (The Religious Sense): “The more an individual is implicated in an attempt to respond to these questions [about the core of our being and the need for a total answer], the more he perceives their power, and the more he discovers how disproportionate he is with respect to the total answer,” and how disproportionate any response of his would be in the face of the mystery.
Taking the scariness of the “wildness within” a step further than Sendak, Moore points out that the reason it scares us so is because even our own self-control is ultimately not full control and ultimately not ours, but only insomuch as God gives it to us by grace. We cannot save ourselves:
The problem is, our kids know there are monsters out there. God put that awareness in them. They’re looking for a sheep-herding dragon-slayer, for the One who can put all the wild things under his feet. Until we can address, with gospel honesty, what scares our children—and ourselves—we can never get to the joyous wild rumpus of gospel freedom.
“The Word came into the world, and the wildness did not overcome it.”