Posts Tagged With: Narnia

Moving Out From the Antechamber of God’s Kingdom

IMG_3044Stained glass images in walls of stone reached the heights of the vaulted ceiling, holding my gaze; while, at eye level, Ruben’s painting of The Adoration of the Magi behind the altar moved me into a posture of humility. Sitting down, I touched the worn, dark wood of the choir stalls that carried memories of the centuries of fellows and students who have rested here for worship. The scents of wax from rows of burning candles and of stones from taken from the ground centuries before filled the space. Soon organ and choral music added to the tapestry of this space as voices affirmed the age-old creeds and prayers, and the words of scripture and the sermon spoke of a marvelous story – The Story. Finally, I tasted the bread and wine – the body and blood – that drew together the people in community here at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England.

For an hour and a half heaven met earth here, a safe place to encounter the King and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But these walls of the chapel weren’t the limit of his Kingdom. At the end of the service, ushered back through the choir stalls and under the organ, I looked up. Directly in front of the line of worshippers, immense doors at the end of the nave were open. The light of the evening sun filled the frame and I was drawn to leave this place, this antechamber. These past moments, together with the previous week, had been only preparation to enter the wider kingdom of God – the entire world.

When I stepped onto the grounds of Keble College in Oxford last July to start the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute, I entered a world apart from my normal life of work and family back in Kentucky. A walking tour of Oxford immersed me in college grounds and buildings that were built to inspire and for reflection. The tour ended at Addison’s Walk in Magdalen College. On this circular path C. S. Lewis spent an evening in conversation with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien that drew him closer to seeing Jesus as God’s Son, the historical reality of the dying god myth. As I walked along the paved path, under the trees, and along the River Cherwell I slowed down, moved to reconsider my calling, to break from constraints, and to meet new friends. This felt like a safe place to think dig more deeply into what the Kingdom of God really is.

During the next days I encountered a vibrant infusion of talks, art, and food, pointing to the reality of God’s presence in all of life through the focused prism of the conference proceedings. Worship services in the Anglican tradition brought us through God’s story – creation, fall, redemption – as we repeated prayers and verses that others have said for centuries. Speakers challenged us on living the dance of the virtues – courage, self-control, wisdom, justice , faith, hope, and love – by practicing intellectual hospitality in our world, listening to and speaking for those who have no voice, and challenging the status quo. Moreover, they encouraged us to cultivate a renewed culture, a culture grounded in the world changing reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Arts surrounded us through musical performances, dance, and visual arts. I even took the opportunity personally to dive into the art world by taking a workshop on sketching.

Within these places and conversations I became engaged in the community around me, communitas in pilgrimage parlance. Community formed around meals in the dining halls and pubs and over scones in cafes; in workshops and between plenary sessions; even while punting on the Cam. One of the first evenings I sat outside in a courtyard of Keble College with a small group of writers – the Sprinklings. Most of us had only just met. Even so, there was a level of trust that allowed us to read pieces of our writings and provide encouragement to continue. One participant, the head master of a school, shared the stories he used to tell his son, who is now in college. A woman who had only started writing a few years ago is now a frequent blogger and is writing her second novel. Two other women engaged with ideas of pilgrimage in their novels. We were all seeking ways to express meaning through our words of story and felt safe to do so here.

All of these elements – the places, content, and people – wove together a rich time in which to imagine God’s Kingdom. But more importantly to remember that this kingdom is near and now – as Jesus himself emphasizes.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Luke 17: 20-21

And not here as in Oxbridge – those ten days outside of ordinary life – but here as in our every day world. The renewed inspiration from these days away were not to be locked away, but to be shared beyond the safety of worship services and plenary sessions. This time of concentrated richness reminded me that as Christians we have a compelling story to tell. I had walked into a story in which I found great comfort and felt at home. But, like the worship service at King’s College Chapel, it soon came time to leave.

It would have been easy to mourn leaving the place and seek another safe area back in Kentucky. But we aren’t called to remain in the antechamber. C. S. Lewis himself reminds us many times of this, probably most familiarly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Places such as conferences, churches, even our homes are places to start growing, as seedlings in a greenhouse; but as with seeds, our growth as followers of Jesus needs to be planted in the world where it’s not likely to be safe.

IMG_3050Little did I know that I would be forced into a place that was not safe and comfortable once I returned home – the final weeks of my mom’s life. However, the weeks in England helped to prepare the soil for this desperate time. I realized that God’s kingdom was present in the hospital and at her bedside.  Now, as I begin this new year without either of my parents, a part of me is fearful. Nevertheless, I continue to walk towards that open door and hold on to the gift of this time. It is part of God’s kingdom. Even though I’m tempted, I don’t need to hide myself in another antechamber for safety. I can follow Jesus into the world as I “taste and see” that he is the One who is truly good.

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O Santa in the Highest: Heresy or Insight?

When I was a child I always looked forward to singing “O, Santa in the highest” on Sunday mornings.  It was a highlight of my week.  Standing between my parents, seeing the sun streaming in from the windows, and holding the hymnal – I thought it quite natural to be singing to a gift-giver my five-year old self loved, Santa Claus.  Though I look back at this child’s error in embarrassment, I’m also aware at how freeing it was to sing without abandon at church.  Somehow God and Santa were connected.  Though not theologically correct, I was pointing in the right direction imaging a loving being as the focus of these words.  It wasn’t that big of a change when I started to sing “Hosanna in the highest” in later years.

Was this a form of heresy?  An idea that if my parents would have been aware should have fervently cut out of my imagination?  Or, was it something else?

Recently after I shared this story in a group, one of the participants said that she had just had the talk about Santa Claus with her daughter who now felt that she had been lied to for ten years. I can understand where this mother and daughter are coming from.  The attempt to live out a lie in our lives can lead us away from reality and cause us to feel a sense of diminished trust – whether that lie is Santa Claus or of being a concert pianist when you’ve never practiced a day in your life (or published author when you don’t sit and write).  When fantasy overtakes reality, it can lead to demolished relationships, bad career choices, and great stress.  In the case of Santa Claus, one may even argue that this fantasy is turning people away from actual stories – Jesus’ birth and the life of St. Nicolas – and to the life claiming calls of marketers.

But, could such fantasies also be a gift in our lives?  Something we should desire to share with our children, and even encourage.  The error I inserted into the church liturgy didn’t take me away from God’s reality, but drove me to it.  The picture I had of Santa Claus was of a gift giver, of love.  It pointed in the direction of the ultimate gift giver.

FatherChristmasC. S. Lewis even includes him in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  As Narnia begins to thaw from winter, hope arises when the children and beavers are met by Father Christmas – “Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door.” Now because everyone knew and were positively drawn to him they were open to what he had to say  “Aslan is on the move. . . . Merry Christmas!  Long live the true King!”  Such fantasies can truly direct us to greater stories.

Furthermore, the gifts Father Christmas gives Peter, Susan, and Lucy prepare them for the battles and challenges to come – sword, shield, bow and arrows, horn, dagger, and healing cordial.  At the time they didn’t know what to do with them, but they trusted they would use them because they trusted the giver.  He was preparing them to meet Aslan.

Things not factually true within the material world do not need to be termed lies.  Then all of the great literature would have to be viewed as lies as well.  Well, maybe not if we’re not enacting them in our lives.  But this desire to bring Santa Claus and other fantasy figures into this world is not necessarily a lie.  It depends on how the story is presented – as with any story.  Bringing him into this world may be a way of longing for the ultimate insertion of fantasy into the world – that of God’s incarnation.

In his essay On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien writes:

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small.  Redeemed Man is still man.  Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.  The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’

 Tolkien was not a fan of Lewis including Father Christmas in Narnia.  For him it wasn’t well conceived fantasy writing.  But I would like to imagine the he supported the reasoning behind including Santa – that this figure well known to the children would be a means of pointing to the unknown goodness they would meet in Aslan.

Everyone doesn’t have to redeem the fantasy of Santa Claus in their and their children’s lives.  There are many other stories that people can bring into the world and I would encourage us all to be careful about disregarding fantasy and imagination too quickly.  I’m for bringing Santa and elves, mischievous rabbits and small orange bears stuffed with fluff into our lives to give us a wider view of the world – and perhaps even a better view into God.

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