Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Thoughts

I have always loved C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

As a child, there was a little pigsty left over from Howard County's farming years that had become hidden and overrun with thorn bushes. The area was nestled behind an apple tree and pushed up against a newly erected chain link fence. The sty had been partly pulled down by mother nature, and wasn't easy to get to. In fact, I think you probably had to be under 10 years old to be able to squeeze through a small animal trail beneath some prickly undergrowth. If you could squeeze through the small tunnel underneath the stickerbushes you'd arrive in a small secure dome of imagination which was held together by the crumbling construct of the sty. I remember making it inside and feeling the soft powdery dirt that lined the floor of the place. The wooden beams were held together by old rusted pieces of metal, and termites had completely eaten through a lot of the roofing. As a result the ground was littered with fine leftover remnants of the soft wood, and the roof was half man-made and half mother nature. 

This was the place I called Narnia.

At the time I had only read the first couple of books, and I didn't understand all the Christian allegorical meaning behind all of the passages. All I knew was that the Narnia world sounded wonderful, and the imagery of kids escaping their parents into a secret land was perfect for my imagination. For many months I ruled the inside of this hidden sty as a King, and the myriad of my action figures we're the players in my kingdom.

As an adult, I have recently begun rereading the Narnia Books. And I agree with the sentiment that "Aslan grows bigger as I grow older" (from Prince Caspian). I recently finished reading the fourth book in the series, The Silver Chair. I've noticed so many things in the series that mean so much more to me now. In The Silver Chair, Aslan the Great Lion, sends two children from our world, Jill and Eustace, to find Narnia’s lost Prince Rilian. Their companion on the quest is the ever-serious Narnian Marshwiggle Puddleglum. The apex of The Silver Chair provides a very moving debate, one which I have found myself struggling with throughout my adult life and also as a topic amongst some of my closest friends. The debate comes to a head after the following set up:

After a long and dangerous journey, Puddleglum and the children have found the lost Prince and freed him from the enchantment that bound him to the Green Witch and her dark underground realm. Before they can escape, though, the Witch appears - determined stop them. She uses her powers to try and persuade the children that all the things they believe in - the sun, sky, their own world, the land of Narnia, and even Aslan - are nothing more than an old dream, a game of imagination, a children’s story - while her cold, lightless, joyless kingdom of Underland is the only real world. She laughs at them for only being able to vaguely describe the memory they were introduced to in their own world. She mocked..."you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun . . . you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion." 

In response, Puddleglum gives one of the best speeches in the book, and it was something I really responded to last night as I read it. I had been contemplating the world a couple millennia ago as Christ lay silent in the tomb and his disciples were on the run...hiding and afraid. I thought what many Christians probably think when they're being honest with themselves. Is it really possible? Was he real? Did this really happen? Did he defeat death and rise? Can I live my life according to this truth? What about all those 'free thinkers' who say I'm crazy, that anyone that believes in this stuff is living in a fantasy land. The witch was trying to convince me that my memory of truth was a mirage created by my false hopes.

Here's Puddleglum's response to the evil Queen of the underworld:

‘One word, Ma’am . . . All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst of things and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. . .Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only real world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just four babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. So . . . we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think, but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.’ 

I'm with Puddleglum. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. But I have a strong inclination to know that it's real. Not Narnia of course, but what Narnia stands for in it's allegorical way. I'm going to be a follower of Christ, even when I have doubts about what happened on this day two thousand plus years ago. Because I've seen the reality of the resurrection even in my own life. I've been given opportunities that my decision making should have squelched out a long time ago. I've been rescued time and time again when I hide in the truth of that unseen reality. And why should I yearn for Christ's world so dearly (The Kingdom of Heaven aka Overland) if it doesn't exist? Why would my heart tell me otherwise?

In Easter service this morning, it was stated that 'the search for something more describes the arc of our human existence.' I think that's true. It's the reason I was thrilled about the Narnia series as a young was the reason I crawled through a fortress of thorns to seeking a safe haven for my imagination, and it's the reason we all wonder at times why we feel unsatisfied with the things of this world.  So the question that Jesus asked Mary Magdeline when she arrived at the empty tomb a couple thousand years ago should be posited to all of us today. Why are you crying and who are you looking for? The answer, as our pastor John Yates said all hangs on Easter. Christ can't be who we're looking for unless he dealt with death once and for all on Easter morning all those Sunday's ago. Easter is the day that the little escape tunnel through the undergrowth becomes a four lane highway to freedom. It means that we don't have to cry or search anymore.

For me, and for all of us, the answer is found in the risen Christ. I don't have to crawl through the undergrowth to find a magical escape. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed at hand. Happy Easter!