The Lion, The Mouse and the Dawn Treader
I don’t know how old I was when I got my boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Sometime in early elementary school, I’m sure. The cover art is copyright 1975. When I got married, I found that my new husband had the exact same boxed set of paperbacks. We finally (after ten years or so?) agreed to keep only one set, and we decided which one based solely on the fact that his set was not falling apart as badly as mine.
I don’t know how many times I read and reread the books in my childhood. The ones I didn’t like as well, like The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, I probably only read three times. The Horse and His Boy is still my favorite. I’ve read it at least three times in the last five years.
But I certainly didn’t read any of them for religious purposes. I was a freshman in college the first time I heard someone claim they were Christian books and I hotly denied it. I have since re-read them with that lens and I can see how someone could
Despite all this disclaimer, Carl McColman has written a wonderful explanation of the religious themes to be found in the Chronicles and particularly in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. McColman says, “VDT directly maps out the contours of the Christian spiritual life.” (Here I just have to quibble for a minute and point out that I suspect most of these lessons are relevant in any mystical tradition. But McColman, and I, are navigating the waters of the Christian tradition and from here on in, I’m just going to accept that framework. Also, McColman always uses masculine language for God but we’re just going to accept that He is McColman’s preferred pronoun.)
The major theological lessons I took away from McColman’s interpretation of VDT:
- We don’t choose our mystical experiences – they come to the willing and the unwilling alike.
- Mysticism is not a worthy end in itself but it can get your attention to help you focus on true holiness.
- Three dramatic metaphors for sin: being sold into slavery, being turned into a dragon, and using magic to gain power over others.
- Both the storms and the doldrums of life get in the way of our journey.
- Be not afraid. [And isn’t this the big spiritual lesson from Jesus in any case?]
But whether or not we have great visions in meeting for worship, it is the path of holiness, as Carol Spencer writes about it, that we are traveling. (The link is to a post from last year’s Quaker Heritage Day. I’ll have more to write about this year’s QHD by the end of the week.) Quaker testimonies are all about translating the unseen into the seen. The outward expressions of our inward experiences become our efforts at holiness.
Quakers have long held that we can escape the bindings of sin and walk in the Light. But we are always being tempted. No matter how strong or well armed or well trained, we are always in danger through carelessness or weakness of being caught and dragged down in our greed, or desire for power or popularity, or of just giving in to the world’s marketplace of degradation and capitulation.
And in a tradition that doesn’t have a written creed or a liturgical year, we can be shipwrecked either by the storms of our inner spiritual lives or by conflicts in our meetings/churches. Just as easily, we can be grounded on a soft, sandy beach by complacency and letting someone else do the hard work. Whether we pay those people to do the work or we lean on burnt-out volunteers makes no difference.
George Fox was not afraid. Tom Fox was not afraid. Or maybe they were but they did the hard work, said the necessary things anyway. Reepicheep was brave to the point of foolishness. Caspian was brave enough to admit when he was wrong. Eustace discovered his own courage as he walked among people who were doing their own imperfect best. As we listen to our Inward Guide, we find the courage to be faithful.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a good enough story to hold both page-turning adventure and deep spiritual truths. You gotta love that. I thank Carl McColman for opening my eyes to more in the story.
The book is available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon. I was sent a free review copy by the Viral Bloggers program of The Ooze.
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