Sunday, April 27, 2014

Narnian Training

[my last blog for the month of April for the Society for Christian Psychology]

I’ve been visiting Narnia frequently in recent weeks. Every few years I find myself drawn back into that world of talking beasts, epic battles and, of course, The Great Lion, Aslan. Each time I go through the stories I seem to find new inspiration and insight in my walk with Jesus. Attention paid to Aslan’s words and activities seems to help me see Jesus afresh, free from religious jargon and traditional Churchianity.

In fact, my last round through the series (December 2010), I wrote a blog entitled “Loving Aslan More Than Jesus.” I want to expand a bit on that idea, particularly how imaginatively spending time in Narnia can help many lost and broken souls (like myself!) find hope in reconnecting with the saving work of God through Jesus. Our western culture is riddled with corrupted ideas and practices surrounding the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and anything that helps us read the Gospels afresh is to be welcomed. Narnia does this for me.

There are two writings from C.S. Lewis that guide my thinking in this area. The first comes from a letter he wrote to Philinda Krieg and the second an excerpt from Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

9 year old Lawrence Krieg confessed to his mother, Philinda, that he loved Aslan the lion more than Jesus. Lawrence feared that this feeling made him an idolater. Philinda wrote to C.S. Lewis somewhere between 1955 and 1958, asking for his advice. Within 10 days they had their reply,

“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” Lewis wrote in a detailed letter, “ … [He] can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. … I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) … .”

Based on Lewis’ words and my own experience, I can say with some confidence that learning how Aslan works and speaks can help me understand and relate to how Jesus works and speaks. For me personally, the draw of Aslan has always been that he is free of religious rubble and the spiritual caricatures of Jesus that seem to litter my mind and feelings. Many good novels can do this for us, but the character of Aslan especially.

The second passage from Lewis comes from the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan reveals that Edmund and Lucy won’t be returning to Narnia.

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. 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.” Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of The Dawn Treader, HarperCollins Publishers, 1980: 269-70).

Time spent in Narnia with Aslan helps us know him here in our world, under a different name: Jesus. These stories are not just for kids but for all grown-ups who recognize their need to become children again (Matt 18:3-5). Few places teach us to become children again like the green grasses of Narnian hillsides. Every time Aslan roars or breathes on a statue to set it free we have fresh access to the heart and actions of God incarnate that opened blind eyes and overturned merchant tables. The utterly unique combination of kindness and strength that we find in Jesus is on display every time Aslan is on the move. We can become his disciples in Narnia and in our world. Pressing in to know Aslan can become pressing in to know Jesus Christ as we unite childlike faith and imagination. If we think ourselves beyond such training, too mature for Narnia, perhaps we are too mature for Jesus as well.

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