One of my great joys as a parent is sharing both my faith and my love of books with our daughter. She is eight this summer and we are now reading chapter books together. She reads widely but we make it a rule to always have a story at bedtime, always. This year, we are reading our way through the Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis. I am using the boxed set my uncle gave me when I was just a little older than her – the box is almost falling apart and the books themselves are fragile, 25 years old and hanging on just enough for us to read one more time. They were my almost constant companions in years gone by.
The first story (although written after The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) is The Magician’s Nephew, a kind of prequel which establishes the creation of Narnia, Aslan’s presence in the land and, sadly, that of The Neevil – the evil brought by the Son of Adam, Digory, from the dying world of Charn.
As we finished the book this morning, I was so moved that I cried. I’m not ashamed to cry in front of her because our emotions are powerful – we must not fear them, for they pass, but sharing them can bond us with others, in times of joy and sorrow. This morning, I was both joyful and sad at the same time, which seems very appropriate for the beginning of Lent. This children’s story gave me tears of repentance, and longing for that presence I once felt. I decided it was worth sharing with you all. It may not be iconographic but it is how I first heard of Christ outside the bible and it had an impact on my life which I think has now been passed on to my own child. Fr John (Maitland Moir) gave us the collected writings of C.S. Lewis for a wedding present in 2000, as he often read from him during his sermons. It seems appropriate to share with you now.
[Digory has approached Aslan to ask for help – his mother is dying and he believes, somehow, that Aslan could help.]
Digory kept his mouth very tight shut. He had been growing more and more uncomfortable. He hoped that, whatever happened, he wouldn’t blub or do anything ridiculous.
‘Son of Adam,’ said Aslan. ‘Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?’
‘Well, I don’t see what I can do,’ said Digory. ‘You see, the Queen ran away and -‘
‘I asked, are you ready?’ said the Lion.
‘Yes,’ said Digory. He had had for a second some wild idea of saying ‘I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help about my mother’, but he realised in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with. But when he had said ‘Yes’, he thought of his Mother, and he thought of all the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:
‘But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another. “
[Digory, Polly and Fledge have gone to find the apple which will protect Narnia from the Witch and he has been greatly tempted to eat the fruit, which would give him eternal life and save his Mother… but he resisted, and has handed the fruit to Aslan. He tells Aslan the Witch has eaten an apple and now has great power and eternal life.]
… ‘Child,’ he replied, ‘that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after.’
‘I – I nearly ate one myself, Aslan,’ said Digory. ‘Would I – ‘
‘You would, child,’ said Aslan. ‘For the fruit always works – it must work – but it does not work happily for any who pluck it at their own will. If any Narnian, unbidden, had stolen an apple and planted it here to protect Narnia, it would have protected Narnia. But it would have done so by making Narnia into another strong and cruel empire like Charn, not the kindly land I mean it to be. And the Witch tempted you to do another thing, my son, did she not?’
‘Yes, Aslan. She wanted me to take an apple home to Mother.’
‘Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.’
And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hope of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death. But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
‘That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal. Go. Pluck her an apple from the Tree.’
[Finally, Digory and Polly are returning to this world, with the healing apple, as Aslan sends them home.]
Both the children were looking up into the Lion’s face as he spoke these words. And all at once (they never knew exactly how it happened) the face seemed to be a sea of tossing gold in which they were floating, and such a sweetness and power rolled about them and over them and entered into them that they felt they had never really been happy or wise or good, or even alive and awake, before. And the memory of that moment stayed with them always, so that as long as they both lived, if ever they were sad or afraid or angry, the thought of all that golden goodness, and the feeling that it was still there, quite close, just round some corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well.
With the sincere hope that these words give you some comfort and hope, if it is needed right now.