The City of Ember, by Jeanne Duprau (2003)

The City of Ember is a young adult novel that is a fantastic allegory for spiritual awakening, though I have no idea if it was intended as such. The story is of a girl who lives in an underground and completely self-contained city created by the “Builders.” The population of the city knows of nothing outside the city, in fact, though they speak English many of the words in it like “sky” are not understood in any terms but metaphorically. The problem is that the city is falling apart, the lights are going out, the vast stores of supplies of light bulbs, canned food, and vitamins are running out. The reader is in on a worse calamity, namely, that a secret message in a timed lock box that was left by the Builders, which was meant to be handed down from mayor to mayor and that would open just in time to explain to the city dwellers how to get out of the city, was lost many generations back. Well, being a young adult novel it’s pretty predictable in that the box is in our hero’s closet, but a nice turn of events it is found by our hero’s baby sister who chews on it for a while before our hero gets her hands on it leaving the message is only partially legible. So the bulk of the story is the deciphering of the message, followed by the experience of trying to communicate its contents to the adults, who of course don’t accept the message (where else is there but here?) which is the equivalent of all prophets experiences of rejection by the status-quo. And finally, there is the adventure of eventual escape.
This book reworks the universal theme of Plato’s cave, and of all mysticism. What we think of as the whole universe is but shadow, and further, that to enter that “kingdom of heaven” you must be like a child. The insight that this version of that universal story led me to is part of the answer to why childishness is a necessary component of the transformation. Children haven’t yet become someone. Which means who they are is not yet at stake. For some reason our culture has this question “what are you going to be when you grow up?” Think about the hidden structures and assumptions in that question. Who are you? Have you figured it out yet? Is what you do, who you are? Is what you believe who you are? Is who you associate with who you are? I write these questions myself in shadow not in the condition of childishness, and with all of this, as Quaker’s say, “a notion,” i.e. not something that I have experienced, but rather something I think. But this thing that is mostly a notion for me, that the distinction between notional and experiential living is key to awakening, I am begining in small ways to actually experience.

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