Friday, September 26, 2008

Dragon skin

I wrestled an alligator this morning.  Right in my own bathtub.  At least it felt that way. My own little squirmy, stinky, paint-spattered black and white furred alligator.  And we both came out of it with water covering us from head to tail...not to mention hairy with dog fur.

During the house painting extravaganza that's been going on around here in fits and starts (depending on the weather and busy schedules), Jamaica has grown increasingly buff-colored on top of her long hair.  She just can't manage to stay away from the walls, the paint can, the roller.  A couple days ago, E made the brilliant decision to empty some painty water onto the back grass, right off the patio where both dogs tend to step.  Now our bruiser, Jackson, who always watches where he walks, cut a wide swath around that puddle, but Maica bounced right into it without a thought.  It was paw-painting after that, with the lawn as her canvas. 

Anyway, needless to say, she's really needed a bath. It, of course, wasn't her first bath.  That one was quite a memorable one.  When she was tiny, I bathed her in our deep kitchen sink, but finally the day came when she was too big to fit, so I filled the bathtub and set her in it.  What made it interesting was that Jackson, the Big Lug, was deeply engaged in the process, leaning over the tub beside me to try to understand what this new game was.  We've never bathed Jackson.  At least not in the house.  We hose him off out back, when we have to, but even that doesn't happen very often.  He's too finicky to get very dirty most of the time.  But that day, when I got Jamaica out of the tub, and dried her off, Jackson stood beside me, whining.  Finally I said, "OK, go ahead," and he stepped right into the tub, and plopped into a 'sit'.  So I gave him his first shampoo.  And his last!  Ever since then, he's shown no interest in the procedure.  He'd found out all he needed to know. 

But Jamaica just can't keep herself clean on her own.  She needs me to scrub her.  As I was bathing her this morning, I thought of one of my favorite passages in the Narnia Chronicles.  It's in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The boy Eustace--a really swarmy, boy of whom CS Lewis says in the opening sentence of the book, "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."--has become a dragon because of his greed.  He's stolen a bracelet from a dragon's lair and put it on his arm.  The next day, he awakens to discover he's become a dragon himself, and the bracelet is pinching his arm terribly.  It gets worse and worse--the pain, the sense of isolation, his desire to be a better boy--until he meets a lion who leads him to a pool, or bath, as he calls it.  Looking at the pool, he imagines how much better he might feel if the water can soothe his arm.  But the lion 'tells' him he must undress first, by which Eustace realizes means to de-scale his skin.  He manages to get a whole layer of scales off--like a snake-skin--but there are more scales beneath, and more beneath that layer, and more, and more...Finally, the lion tells him that he--the lion--must undress him. In Eustace's desperation, he allows this, even knowing how terrible the lion's claws might be.  So the dragon-boy lies down on the grass and lets the lion have his way with him.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  ANd when he began pullingthte skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling that stuff peel off...
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off--...and there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  THen he caught hold of me--I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming I found that all the pain had gone from my arm...I'd turned into a boy again."

I love this.  Because I've been covered with my own dragon skins once or twice...or make that too often to count.  I've done things, or haven't done things, so greedy, so selfish, so sinful, that my own human skin gets covered with hard ridges of scales.  And no matter what I do to try and rip those scales off, I can't.  I don't have the right claws for the job.  That moment when Eustace lies down, that surrender?  It's called repentance.  "Change me into what you made me to be.  Remove this skin--this sin--from me."  It's easy to say, "I'm sorry."  It's a whole lot harder to say, "Change me. Remake me into what I'm supposed to be."  It takes Him to do it.  Our own lion of Judah.  It takes him to throw us into a bath and make us clean and fresh and newly human.  And the pain we feel in confessing our sin, and asking Him to forgive us--and I honestly believe with real repentance, there is pain--is good.  It cost Him a lot to make us new, and, as Deitrich Bonhoeffer famously said, "What costs God much cannot be cheap to us." 

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