"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This week's thoughts.

A few thoughts:

I'm feeling homesick for a certain group of friends who have helped me through some hard times. They are precious to me and I miss them. I hope to see them this summer, but it can't come quickly enough...

Several times a week I turn to Clint and I say, "It just won't enter into my brain that I'm going to be finished teaching in _ class days (currently counted at 9), and I will probably never be a NYC public school teacher again. I can't even imagine being a full time student again." I am just in awe at how much these three years have changed me and how much I have come to identify myself as a teacher and how this is all about to change.

In the past few days I've seen three movies: 27 Dresses, which was cute and not as dismally bad as I have come to expect romantic comedies to be, and the two new Narnia movies. Even with all the changes that Hollywood has to make to bring a book to celluloid, I am in awe of the simplicity, complexity and beauty of the Narnia plotlines. Every line seemed to carry meaning and truth, such a contrast to the stupid jokes and gags included in most movies to entertain children today. It makes me want to read the books all over again, just to pick Lewis's brain as a writer and to enjoy a good, true and beautiful story. And this at a time when I long to read, but every book that I pick up seems somehow too emotionally difficult and involved to really be able to enjoy. Why is it that we are ashamed to tell stories to adults that have good and evil and happy endings and we reserve them only for children? And isn't it powerful that the Narnia endings aren't "happliy ever after" kind of happy endings, but are complex (e.g. Peter and Susan find out at the end of Prince Caspian that they will not be returning to Narnia, the children have to return to a war-ravaged England, the lessons they learn in their journeys are really painful questions of life and death, learned by "hard knocks," the humility and adulthood they carry back with them to the "real" world weighs heavily on their shoulders, just as it makes them glow with their king and queenship)? The cult of C.S. Lewis in America is a bit obnoxious, but he is my hero as a writer, and has been since I was small. Perhaps his books are not "literary" in the way we like to pile up prizes and agents and best-seller lists and literati, but they show a depth of knowlege and insight that makes Harry Potter and, indeed, a great majority of the books on the shelf in Barnes and Noble look silly and haphazard.

I think that Lewis's theology is incredibly deep, perhaps most because it is not just some theory derived by academics from years of dry study, it is deeply practical for the Christian believer in the modern world, and accessible even to small children. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe we see a clear story of grace. God has chosen us to be Kings and Queens, but sometimes we lose sight of that. Edmund is one of the most powerful characters in the book. Once he is restored, loved, forgiven for his trechery, he is completely changed and, as Aslan names him, truly just. This is a faith that truly deals with sin, not just brushing it under the rug and winking and stamping the passport to heaven, but a personal relationship of forgiveness that changes a boy from the inside out.

In Prince Caspian the children have new struggles, and they have to learn new lessons. Only Lucy is looking for Aslan. In this book, Peter brings his struggles with the helplessness of being a teenager in a wartorn world to Narnia, as Edmund brought his jealousy before. He abuses his power as High King of Narnia, and leads Narnians to their death. It is only when he realizes his own weakness (again), that he is able to work with the others for a victory.

Why blog about a children's book and movie as seriously as all this? Because I am struck by the "deep magic" of the story. It strikes me to the core. It powerfully translates the struggles of life, and, more than any other story I've read, the beauty of what we are becoming. When Peter makes the decision to go home, despite knowing he will never return to Narnia, he carries a strength that could only come from humbly walking with Aslan, talking to him, questioning him as a child, believing that he would never be the same.

Perhaps it's because I am just coming to understand that kind of faith, faith that has been knocked about painfully and defended to the death. Clint and I have been on a journey in the past few years to put together intellectually the theology we have learned in the school of hard knocks and compare it with the theology we were (and sometimes still are) explicitly taught, which was not wrong, but seemed strangely out of focus. A lot about Justification and such.

How boggling is it that a "children's fairy tale" makes these very adult questions more real and valid?


  1. Clint and I have been on a journey in the past few years to put together intellectually the theology we have learned in the school of hard knocks and compare it with the theology we were (and sometimes still are) explicitly taught, which was not wrong, but seemed strangely out of focus.

    What about the relationship between suffering and justification? I'm thinking of Romans 5:1-4.

  2. Oh, Laura, I'm so with you here -- it's hard to explain, but I feel this tension between different emphases in the theology I've been taught. Somehow it doesn't seem adequate. Does that make sense? But you're right, these beautifully simple narratives that we frequently reserve for children are actually very powerful.

    In this Catholic Modern Novel class I'm taking right now, we're focusing a lot on the concept of an analogical (catholic) imagination, recognizing similarity within difference (as opposed to the low-church protestant imagination that emphasizes humankind's difference from God, for instance, over any similarities). There are a lot of tensions at work here--and, I think, unfair charicatures--but I've really been struck by how narrow my scope of thinking is sometimes, and how diminished my hope and faith. It's so easy to lose the sense of wonder that many children possess and that's appealed to by stories like C.S. Lewis's.

    Do you think this is all indicating a deep need for Christian literature (by which I mean stories written by Christians, and perhaps especially Christians of both profound faith and action as well as theological awareness or training) now? (Flannery O'Connor, for instance, was admirably up on her Thomistic theology and read cutting-edge philosophy.) What do you think is the future of such a literature? What do you think it would look like?

    Are you up for the challenge? :o)