Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Reaching Aslan's Country

Sometimes kids ask ridiculous questions. Sometimes they ask the same question again and again and... again (why? why? why?). And sometimes they ask a question that is so perceptive, so thought-provoking, that it reminds you how complex, unique, and in tune with the whispers of God these small people are.

Anne and I have been making our way through the audiobook versions of the Chronicles of Narnia. I read the first couple to her aloud, but after several failures to launch into Prince Caspian, we switched the audios, and my goodness. There is a reason why some people deserve to be paid to do a job. Not only can you easily tell when a Mouse is talking, you can also tell without any mental effort when it's Lucy and not Susan. That's talent.

We reached the end of The Silver Chair on our way home from playing with friends at a great park in the suburbs the other day, and in the silence afterward, the story began to settle in our hearts and we began to talk about it.

In the story, King Caspian is an old man, and just at the end of the book, he dies. After he dies, a great mourning cry and funeral music rise in Narnia, and then Aslan brings the children back to his country. Rather than ruining this part by paraphrasing, I'll just quote C.S. Lewis:

Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like waterweed. And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great Lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond. And Jill noticed that Eustace looked neither like a child crying, nor like a boy crying and wanting to hide it, but like a grown-up crying. At least, that is the nearest she could get to it; but really, as she said, people don't seem to have any particular ages on that mountain.

"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "Go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and bring it to me."

Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.

"Drive it into my paw, Son of Adam," said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw and spreading out the great pads towards Eustace.

"Must I?" said Eustace.

"Yes," said Aslan.

Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion's pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment the doleful music stopped. And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them -- a very young man, or a boy. (Jill couldn't say which, because of people having no particular ages in Aslan's country. Even in this world, of course, it is the stupidest children who are most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are most grown-up.) And he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go round the huge neck; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a King, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion.

At last Caspian turned to the others. He gave a great laugh of astonished joy.

"Why! Eustace!" he said. "Eustace! So you did reach the end of the world after all! What about my second best sword that you broke on the sea-serpent?" 

Eustace made a step towards him with both hands out, but then drew back with a startled expression.

"Look here! I say," he stammered. "It's all very well. But aren't you?-- I mean didn't you--?"

"Oh don't be such an ass," said Caspian.

"But," said Eustace, looking at Aslan. "Hasn't he--er--died?"

"Yes," said the Lion in a very quiet voice, almost (Jill thought) as if he were laughing. "He has died. Most people have, you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven't."

An incredible scene. And as we rode along in the car, discussing favorite parts and favorite characters, and just sitting silently sometimes, soaking in that golden glow of a good story, Anne asked this question:

"Is it good to die?"

The conversation that followed this question was a great one, about what happens when we die and why that's something to look forward to, how our perspective on Earth is different because we don't experience Time the same way God does, and how our earthly lives are just a brief separation from God. But it was the question that floored me. That is the magic of good stories. They teach eternal truths and help us to plumb the depths of human experience without much effort on our part, beyond using our imaginations.

We've had a lot of experiences with death this year. My grandmother passed away in the fall, at the age of 96. She was my last living grandparent, and it was hard to say goodbye to her - I felt as though my ties to the past had been cut and I was just drifting out to sea. Back in September, we talked a bit about how Bajee was happier now, how she wasn't suffering and she was glad to be face-to-face with Jesus, whom she had loved for so many years. 

Then earlier this year, we found out we were expecting a baby - a new, much-anticipated addition to our family. And then about a month later we found out the baby had died - no more heartbeat, no more growth. Just pain and suffering and the heart-wrenching truth that half of our children are waiting for us in Heaven. We mourned. It was awful.

But is it good to die? It has been immensely comforting to me to realize that no matter how I feel, no matter how much I wish we could have held and loved that baby, I know that he is safe, loved, and happy in the presence of God forever. And the suffering brought our family together in ways we would not have chosen and could not have predicted. So was it good? Yes. But it was not easy. Good things seldom are.

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