Tag Archives: Narnia

The Ring and The Cross

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“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.”  –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means.  It means something slightly different every year that passes.  In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before.  When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal.  The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year.  I mean something different. 

This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds.  The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence.  While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated.  I flashed back to my Senior year of college.  As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity.  The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me.  We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced.  I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it.  After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death.  It just sat entirely wrong with me.  Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different.  I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island.  Life is different this year.

Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays.  Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster.  All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King.  The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter.  As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art.  Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight.  He is similar to Jesus, but so different.  They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry.  They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.”  They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved.  Frodo is much more human, in some ways.  Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions.  When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind.  He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to.  We are weak.  No matter how noble the intent, people are frail.  Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road.  There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness. 

I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan.  As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me.  Lewis is brilliant.  The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table.  This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone.  The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught.  He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.”  This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus.  There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories.  As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me.  He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way.  It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest.  He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it.  He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious.  This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful.  He didn’t do something that was easy.  It was scary, and He wanted out.  He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting. 

I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history.  I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort.  I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body.  I know fear.  I know loneliness.  I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears.  I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost.  I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone.  Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel.  He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves.  He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain.  While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel. 

Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death.  He died.  A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died.  He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation.  He died.  He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me.  His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus. 

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”  –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring

Not-So-Small Talk

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“And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are–are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan.  “But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”  —C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately, but this short article I read tonight confirmed my instincts: shallow is unsatisfying. 

I have struggled since graduating college with making friends that I truly and deeply connect with.  The people I met in school were not superior or smarter or deeper because they were college kids.  They did tend to be people working at understanding and  living out their lives with God at the center.  They were struggling with doubts and insecurities and disappointments, but they had a certain lense that they saw the world through: Christ.  Even those who did not believe the same things I do seemed to be open to looking, to seeking to know what it is that gives this life meaning.  This is not to say that the people I’ve met since don’t have this same drive, because I think, deep down, we all do.  It simply doesn’t come up.

I love movies.  I love television.  I like to shop and am trying to learn how to cook.  I read the news on occasion and have minimal knowledge of video games, sports and geography.  This can make for conversations that stretch far beyond the weather, which is always gorgeous, but at some point they stop satisfying.  At some point, something about the talks I had with people about God and our purpose in life, justice and passion, doubt and excitement as we began to understand more, they seemed to leave me full.  I was grounded and stretched in my own ideas and thought, challenged to put what I learned and discovered into practice.  I spent four years thinking about who my Creator and Redeemer is, who I am, what we have to do with each other, and my place among the rest of the world.  Big stuff, at times, but the stuff that fuels me.

The people I enjoy spending time with the most are those who venture into these heavier realms.  I know that I won’t always agree with what others think, and that religion is a personal, sensitive subject.  But it’s not even all about doctrine and ritual.  It’s the core questions that stir deep in all of us: who am I, really?  What am I doing with my life?  What is the point of all of this?  Those are huge questions with a million smaller questions hiding inside them.  I don’t mean to say that every conversation needs to result in a complete examination of one’s soul, but at times, it’s nice to leave the world of gossip and pleasantries behind.

I miss the talks that I used to have.  Very few people today talk with me about my passions, my gifts.  No one really asks what I have and want to offer the world.  No one asks my thoughts on social justice or forgiveness or joy.  I miss those times of really being asked questions, of dialogue that made me see myself and the other person in bigger ways.  As I think about this longing for deep conversation, I realize that the talks aren’t  necessarily even what I miss.

I miss God.  I miss having people share in my journey to know Him.  I miss being asked how I feel about Him and reminded how He feels about me.  I know that I can and should go to church to fill this void.  It somehow does not feel the same, though, without those close friends who knew me well enough to really dig into my life.  I just know that I love my friends from high school and my childhood.  No one will know me in quite the same way as those people who watched me learn ride a bike and drive, read and wear makeup.  I love the friends I have made recently.  They remind me what it is to have fun and enjoy living in the moment.  However, I haven’t loved people, loved God, loved myself, the way that I did in college.  I haven’t known what it is to be truly happy, loving, passionate, peaceful and generous like I did then.  I miss those days of seeking God’s intentions and desires for me and my life.  I recently have felt, as strong as the sun on my shoulders, the call of God to know Him again.  It may be sparked by the books I have read or the music I have played, but I feel a slow fire starting to kindle the passion I had for scripture, for prayer and for God’s heart for this world.  My heart has ached for the discipline of learning about Him, loving Him and others.  I want to be the person I was when I cared more about ministry than school or social status.  It’s scary when I think of how far I have pulled from that life, how little I think about the one who constantly seeks me.  It’s also a relief to know that at my core, in the deepest, most authentic part of me, I am still seeking Him.

 

“But everything inside you knows/ There’s more than what you’ve heard/ There’s so much more than empty conversations/ Filled with empty words/ And you’re on fire/ When He’s near you/ You’re on fire/ When He speaks/ You’re on fire/ Burning at these mysteries…”  –Switchfoot, “On Fire”

To Trust Or Not To Trust, That Is the Question…

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“But the lion told me I must undress first… So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place.  And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully… It was a most lovely feeling.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Lately I have thought a lot about trusting other people.  The nightly news would have us believe that no one can be trusted.  Ever.  I do not think that I am nearly that cynical, but I have realized that I am perhaps not as quick to trust others as I once thought.  I lend quickly and easily.  I do not worry too much about being repaid or having items returned to me, which at times leads to losses.  But as soon as I am asked to trust another person with more than the material, with something deeper, it takes a lot for me to have faith in others. 

Much of my fears stem from personal insecurity and self-consciousness.  That is a given.  I realized this in college.  While involved in ministry, we talked about being open and honest a lot.  In order to have a relationship with God, while He does not need us to tell Him anything, we have to be willing to open up about everything.  We have to bring Him our fears and shortcomings and all the dark things we work hard to hide from everyone, perhaps even ourselves.  This openness with an invisible God is difficult enough, but it extends to our community as well.  It is impossible to be authentic, to work through faith and doubt together without honesty.  We cannot help each other through struggles without being open about our own.  There is truth to all of this, and a freedom too.  Secrets, shame, hidden fears weigh us down in ways we cannot understand until we release them.  However, there is also a huge danger.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if he spoke– ‘You will have to let me undress you.’  I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now…  The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This image of Eustace being cleaned by Aslan is one of the most remarkable, salient descriptions of a baptism.  I was reading it recently and was reminded of the tradition of washing feet.  When Jesus does this for His disciples, it is far more than an act of cleanliness.  We talked many times of the symbolism, of the Teacher and Savior stooping down to do servants’ work.  He lowered Himself to serve His followers, literally touching the dirtiest, roughest parts of them and washing it clean.  When done well, the act of following in His footsteps and washing each others’ feet is one of the most touching, beautiful things I’ve witnessed.

I have no issues with washing the feet of another.  I do not hesitate to serve, to cleanse the feet of those I lead.  I don’t mind talking with people about their struggles or hardships, reserving judgement and keeping an open heart and mind.  But I have always been far harder on myself than others.  I hate allowing others to touch my feet.  I know that they are ugly and rough and cringe at the idea of someone touching them.  I feel wholly unworthy.  I talked about this intense discomfort with a friend one night when we were discussing the story in scripture.  It is so hard for me to imagine someone seeing how bad my feet can get, how dark my thoughts can be, how hateful my heart has been, and not reject me.  Letting someone into those ugly dirty places is showing them every reason they should reject me.   I simply cannot do it.

I can talk superficially about struggles I may have.  I do not feign perfection.  I can scrape away some of my own facade and shed a few layers of skin.  I admit that I struggle with insecurity, that I have a hard time really even understanding the meaning of “self-esteem.”  I worry about my family and the struggles that seemed to emerge as I grew older.  I constantly fight a deep feeling of loneliness.  But the real demons I fight, the dark things that haunt me, those are the ones that lay deep beneath layers that I don’t know if I’ll ever peel back.  I may want to, and try to, but the fear of being that vulnerable and open is too great.  I do plenty of things that make it hard for me to make friends without showing people the really damaged parts of me.  There is just too much risk involved in honesty sometimes.

I hope that I can work on this.  I hope someday that I am comfortable in knowing that, no matter who rejects me, I am loved beyond comprehension by my Creator.  I hope that that knowledge is enough.  I hope that I can trust people as much as they deserve.  A part of me thinks that what I have to share is not as messy as I think, that my friends can handle the truth.  A bigger part of me is scared to find out if that’s true.  I’ve come close to complete openness, with a very few people.  Close isn’t quite there, but someday, with someone, I hope that I’ll get there.  Perhaps it will take God’s grace to peel it all away, to get back to the real me inside.  I can only take comfort in knowing that, when I eventually give in, when I let it all go, the pain will be liberating enough to be bearable.

“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.”  –Lemony Snicket