Thursday, December 4, 2014

Aslan and Advent

As a child I watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe probably a billion times (the BBC version aka the only version). I loved the story and the landscapes and the lamppost. I grew up in Los Angeles and we were definitely lacking the snowy, wooded, lamppost aesthetic. I desperately wanted Father Christmas to bring me the little vial of fire flower medicine that he bestows on Lucy and I spent a ridiculous amount of time pretending it was winter and I was hidden with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in their little house. It didn't matter that it was 85 degrees outside and the palm trees were blowing in the warm Santa Ana winds, I was deep in the winter of Narnia awaiting Aslan. 

photo from austenitis blog

It escaped me until a later age that this story has clear parallels with the Christian narrative. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Narnia is stuck in an eternal winter (with no Christmas!) and then Aslan comes, with the help of four human children from another realm, to breathe life back into Narnia and rewrite the laws of the land through a sacrifice of his own life, which is then redeemed. I’m sure my parents mentioned it, but the idea that Aslan is Jesus  didn’t really hold muster as a concept when there were lampposts and fawns and sleighs to daydream about. That was an idea that took hold in later years. Honestly, when I first fully recognized the direct link between the Christian story and C.S. Lewis' classic I was kind of bummed. I thought it somehow made the story less interesting and less relatable for my friends who did not grow up in Christian families. I thought it made this very dear story to me something that was mockable. I wanted Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to be edgier. Clearly, spiritual immaturity was a theme in my life. 

I started thinking about rewatching the movie today, as I always do around the Christmas season,and the image of Aslan hit me in a new way, much to the chagrin of my oh so edgy younger self. I think what bothered me, and honestly has bothered me about the overall Christian narrative is that the story of Jesus coming to model a new way and then dying so that we can have new life is kind of a hard story to swallow. Jesus' teachings are profound, his way of living inspiring, but the whole "I came to bring you new life through my death and Resurrection" has often left me feeling a little bit embarrassed about my faith tradition. It's not easy to explain to other people. It's not easy to explain to myself. This particular teaching when taken out of its proper context has been used to spiritually abuse people and make them feel less whole rather than healed. It's a tricky theology. 

So today as I thought about watching one of my old faithful Christmas movie classics I was surprised when I realized the story of Aslan is the story of Advent. Advent is the season of the Christian calendar that we're in right now. It's the season where we await and prepare our hearts and our lives for Jesus, new life. Not surprisingly, in younger years, I was also a little embarrassed about the idea of Advent. I would think, "Historically Jesus wasn't even born in December. I love Christmas, but really? Gawh, how do I explain Christianity to a scientific world (because clearly that's my role...translator of Christianity?!)" 

I now think Advent is beautiful. I think it serves a really critical function in reminding us of how we take new life into ourselves. Communion does this same thing. The story is Narnia is about how all the creatures faithfully awaited new life and they participated in this season of waiting by readying themselves to step into something new. It wasn't just a story of delightful creatures in a delightful land triumphing over something. It was the story that we as humans, in my mind, all experience regardless of whether or not we are Christians. We await growth, we await something new (like the birth of a child, or the start of a new job or career, or a new city, or a healing) and we participate in that season of waiting. We, ideally, prepare ourselves. We find value in the gift in part because we've been waiting for it and we've been part of ushering it in. 

The Narnia story and the Christian story don't make sense to me or many people when taken outside of the context of how rebirth actually happens in each of our lives. It's this idea that someone died for your sins and thus you must repent. I don't think that's believable or reassuring for many. As a theology on a macro-level it has many holes, but as a lived reality it's pretty profound. This year I have been moving out of some unhelpful ways of thinking that I've picked up along the way on this little life journey of mine. This is pretty par for the course human stuff. We miss the mark in our thinking or behavior, in my mind that is what sin is, missing the mark. The mark is the central way we wish to live and show up in this world. We realize we'd like to let a paradigm of thought go and we surrender to that process and begin rewriting the way we think. However, the actual daily process of this can be arduous. It can feel like a bit of a death as we clear room for a new way of thinking. This is where the Aslan journey, the Christian journey is most visceral for me. It's in the recognition that all of our lives are framed by journeys of preparation, surrender, and then acceptance and/or celebration when the new, awaited gift, fully takes root. It's in the recognition, that I for one, need new life, again and again. 

So as we embark into the Advent season, this Christmas season, and I wax melodramatic about my particular journey with Aslan and God, I feel very grateful for the story of Narnia. I feel very grateful for the Christian narrative in so much as it mirrors and facilitates the very vital act in my life of growth. So although I will always be pretty romantic about the whole Narnia aesthetic, I now, decades after I was first introduced to this magical world of talking beasts and kings and queens and nymphs and fawns, actually have a felt experience of the spiritual expression that is Narnia. 

So enjoy your holidays, have some tea. Pet some lions. Ride in a sleigh. Maybe Father Christmas will pay you a visit. 

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