Children are naturally drawn to adventure stories. As kids, we could spend hours reading a good book or playing the newest video game, but as we grow older, we slowly lose the desire to play and step into the responsibility of adulthood. But do we ever lose the desire for adventure?
Looking at the latest blockbusters, it doesn’t seem like it. Although we grow up and into adult roles and responsibilities, we never fully grow out of our love of a good story—and a good story requires adventure. Looking at the success of the Marvel movies, it’s obvious that we’re drawn to thrills of epic story telling. Game of Thrones has been wildly successful, both as books and as a TV series, because of its sweeping narrative and engrossing action. Whether you prefer J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, their combined reach is undeniable. We crave the thrill of adventure.
Some would say that this craving is our attempt to escape the hard realities of life. It’s true that we can look to media and fiction as an unhealthy escape. As Catholics, we want to be discerning about the stories we consume and be honest in assessing the reason behind our desire to watch our favorite show. But is the human desire for adventure simply escapism? Or is it something more?
In The Adventure of Discipleship, Daniel Keating suggests that entering into an adventure story isn’t just an escape—it’s following the deepest desire of our lives. He says,
In one sense, the stories we listen to and the adventures we create provide an “escape” from our day-to-day lives. For some people this may simply be a way to medicate their pain and withdraw from the demands of life. But this is not necessarily so. The adventures that we love also help us to focus on what is truly real and important. They enable us to see what is good and true and beautiful in new ways. If the stories are full of upright and noble characters, they also encourage the growth of virtue in us: they are formative of superior character and habits of mind. Yes, we need catechetical instruction in the Ten Commandments and the cardinal and theological virtues. But we also need to see these commandments and virtues (and the corresponding vices) exemplified in real characters and stories so that we can be inspired to pursue what is good and avoid what is evil. The stories we love help us to see our own lives in a new perspective. They cast a light upon our time on earth that perhaps no other medium can achieve.
More than this, however, I believe that our natural love of adventure—as it develops and matures through life—reveals something important about us. We were made for an adventurous life. To say this differently, our lives are best understood as enclosed within a great tale. The adventures that we love are not false to reality but provide so many sketches of the real world in which we live—if we have eyes to see. This brings us to Jesus in the Gospels as the center and climax of the real adventure of our world.
How did we get from Marvel to Jesus in the Gospels? This is the central theme of The Adventure of Discipleship: we were made for an adventurous life. All good stories are reflections of the ultimate adventure, which is friendship with Jesus Christ.
Maybe friendship with Jesus doesn’t sound like much of an adventure to you. But think of Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, or James and John mending their nets on the shore. When Jesus walks past them and calls them to follow him—calls them into friendship—their lives are never the same (Matt 4:18-22). They gave up everything, and ultimately most of them gave up their very lives for Christ.
Now you might be thinking that friendship with Jesus sounds like too much of an adventure, the kind of adventure reserved for the Apostles and the saints. But that’s the magic of Keating’s book. He reminds us that discipleship isn’t an adventure reserved for the select few.
All too easily we bracket [the early disciples] off as exceptional and unique encounters with Jesus, fit only for the first generation. We do the same bracketing of the saints through the ages: these are the especially holy men and women who experienced a dramatic, life-changing encounter with Jesus. Yes, there is something exceptional about the first disciples and the saints throughout history. But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we recognize that the kind of experience they had is a model for us as well. You and I are also given a personal invitation to follow Jesus the Lord on a path of costly, adventurous discipleship.
This is why we’re drawn to powerful stories. They remind us of our own. Next time you watch your favorite action flick, think about the adventure you’re invited into each day.