Friday, October 3, 2008

Pascal and Puddleglum

I've been thinking about the Narnia Chronicles a lot lately.  About how those books clarify our situation as believers, about the theology submerged in story that works in us as we read.  Today the episode that is working in me, illuminating my day, is contained in The Silver Chair. One of my favorite Narnians is Puddleglum, a marshwiggle--which is a creature with "very long legs and arms...fingers that are webbed like a, if it could be called that, which hung over his ears, [that] was greeny-grey, and each lock was flat rather than round so that they were like tiny reeds."  Puddleglum is the ultimate pessimist, always certain that even if it's nice weather today, a rainshower is right over the horizon, that every choice made will result in catastrophe.  But for all that, he's a champion of Narnia, and is the true hero of this story. 

Puddleglum, and two children, Eustace and Jill, are given the charge (by a lion Jill meets but doesn't recognize) to find the kidnapped Narnian prince, Rilian.  Many wrong turns, poor choices and misreading of signs dog their steps, but ultimately, they find themselves far under the earth, in a place called Underland, facing the tyrant witch holding the prince hostage, whom they rescue from the witch's enchantment. The witch is cunning and manipulative, and the children and Puddleglum are practically sucked in.  But Puddleglum, in the last moment, steps on fire--gives himself a jolt of pain, in order to think clearly,  "There's nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic," Lewis says.

The fire--and resulting pain--allows Puddleglum to know exactly what he really believes:
"All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder.  I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it...But there's one thing more to be said, even so.  Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We're just babies playing a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.  That's why I'm going ot stand by the play world.  I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it.  I'm going to live like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So...we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for [it]." 

Profound.  What Lewis is getting to here is Blaise Pascal's wager:
"You must wager; it is not optional...Let us weigh the gain and loss in wagering that God exists...If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that he exists." 

Sometimes, in our darkest hours, it feels like we're in the Underland, a world where there is no light, no joy, only drudgery and dullness.  And in truth, this earth on which we live, has elements of such a place.  Enemy-territory, in fact.  And our faith gets dull as well. Until fire hurts us and we have a moment of truth. Interesting, isn't it, that pain is the vehicle through which clarity comes.  I have often found this to be the case.  Pain in this life makes us recognize that we aren't completely at home here. As the  writer of Hebrews tells us: we are living in a country not our own, looking all the time for our true home.  Our heavenly home. The 'Overland', as Lewis calls it.

Pascal and Puddleglum remind me to choose.  Remind me that living like a disciple of Jesus gives me nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, even doubt-laced, I make the choice, again and again, to live like a citizen of Heaven.  I make the choice for Jesus Christ.  I will live this life staked on His promise.  Because my life is more plumb, more square, more true, for living this way.  Living as a slave to righteousness, in enemy-held territory.

Once such words of Faith are spoken, I feel a clearing of the cobwebs, a lightening of the weight of doubt.  He is.  HE is. HE IS..

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