I took a camping trip earlier this week and actually had time to read fiction. The older a get, the more of a treat novels are. Curled up in a hammock, underneath the warm Missouri sun filtered through frolicking oak leaves, I turned my way through the pages of two books in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series: The Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair.
I had never read either of them before. I know, I know — I really ought to be ashamed. I’m doing my best to catch up, though. The only Narnia book left on my un-read list is The Last Battle, which I plan to start promptly after finishing this blog post and putting some baked oatmeal in the fridge to soak overnight. (I’ll post the recipe one of these days. It’s a family standby.)
Lewis is a genius. Really. I wish I could have met him. I wonder how many times I’ve said that? Well, I’ll say it again.
Among all the thoughts that I thought and felt while reading my way through his stories, one that struck the greatest cord in me came near the end of The Horse and His Boy.
The little band of two horses and two children are nearing the Hermit’s home when they are attacked by a lion (who turns out to be Aslan, but you don’t know that until later). While they all begin by running away, Shasta (the boy) turns back to help the others, while Bree (the supposedly brave war horse) runs away, faster than anyone, leaving them all behind.
The event causes Bree to see himself differently. A talking Narnian horse who was captured and enslaved with regular horses in a foreign country, Bree has been trying to find his way home. After his act of cowardice, he now considers returning to slavery, saying he has disgraced himself and lost everything. The old Hermit overhears Bree’s self-depreciation and offers some very wise words.
“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.” (Lewis 151-152)
Mmm…so like Lewis, to teach a very grown up lesson in a child’s tale.
In an increasingly post-Christian society, how very easy it is for Christians to pat themselves on the back for being “counter cultural” and “holy.” Turn on the news. Scroll through your Facebook feed. It isn’t hard to be doing better than most.
Look at me…
I don’t lie.
I don’t steal.
I’m in my twenties and still a virgin.
I only wear modest clothes.
I have a quiet time every morning.
I read the Bible through every year.
I go to Church every Sunday.
I vote for the correct political party.
I’m going to a better school than he is.
I chose a more meaningful career than she did.
I’m actively involved in ministry.
If you make a reasonable effort, it’s not hard to do better than the masses.
But I wonder what the Hermit would say to us?
“Of course you are more holy than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in the Kingdom.”
The Kingdom. The Cloud of Witnesses. The Old Testament fathers and New Testament apostles. The martyrs who died keeping the faith alive. The saints who gathered in councils and argued until they agreed on truth. The Catholic priests and Reformed pilgrims. The monks and nuns who shut out the world for the love of God. The missionaries who traveled the world for the same passion. And the countless quiet witnesses who brought the presence of God into their communities with their simple words and deeds.
And then, of course, there is the King Himself – the standard by which we are lead and measured.
Look at me…
I am nothing.
I think the Hermit would smile and nod.
“But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.”