Puddleglum: Faithfulness (‘Following Jesus through Narnia’ #4)

From time to time Marci’s told me that of all the characters in ‘Winnie the Pooh’, the one I remind her of most is Eeyore. She seems to be implying that I tend to look on the dark side of things and don’t respond well and cheerfully to setbacks.

Well, I have to admit there may be some truth in what she says. And if there is, you might not be surprised to discover that in the entire seven books of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, my favourite character is Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle from The Silver Chair.

‘What on earth is a Marsh Wiggle?’, you may be asking (that is, if you haven’t read The Silver Chair!). Marsh Wiggles are strange creatures who inhabit the marshes to the north and east of Narnia. This is how C.S. Lewis describes Puddleglum:

As (Eustace and Jill) drew nearer, the figure turned its head and showed them a long thin face with rather sunken cheeks, a tightly shut mouth, a sharp nose, and no beard. It was wearing a high, pointed hat like a steeple, with an enormously wide flat brim. The hair, if it could be called hair, which hung over its ears was greeny-grey, and each lock was flat rather than round, so that they were like tiny reeds… The children sat down on each side of him. They now saw that he had very long arms and legs… The fingers of his hands were webbed like a frog’s, and so were his bare feet which dangled in the muddy water.

But even more striking than Puddleglum’s strange appearance is his attitude of stubborn pessimism. When he first meets the children and gives them a place to sleep in his wigwam, we see a good example of this. He says:

“There you are. Best we can do. You’ll lie cold and hard. Damp too, I shouldn’t wonder. Won’t sleep a wink, most likely; even if there isn’t a thunderstorm or a flood or the wigwam doesn’t fall down on top of us all, as I’ve known them to do. Must make the best of it.”

But despite Puddleglum’s strangeness and gloom, he’s one of the real heroes of the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’. This is because no matter how he feels, and no matter what the likely outcome may be, he’s resolutely committed to following Aslan and doing what Aslan says.

Most of you know we’ve been using C.S. Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ stories for children as our spiritual guide this Lent. We started out by thinking about Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure, to discover what he can teach us about Jesus. We found that Jesus is not tame or safe, but he’s good, and we should approach him with absolute confidence in his love for us and absolute obedience to his authority.

On the second Sunday of Lent we considered Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a boy whose selfishness turned him into a dragon. From him we discovered that sin is fundamentally selfishness and self-centredness, and only the power of Jesus can deliver us from it and transform us into the people he wants us to be.

Then last week we thought about two horses, Bree and Hwin, and the Tarkheena Aravis. From them we discovered that we need to turn from pride—whether it takes the form of trying to impress others, or of thinking only of ourselves and not the interests of others. Rather, we can learn to rest in our Father’s love for us, and give ourselves to loving others as our Father loves them.

This week, we’re going to think about the idea of faithfulness when the going gets tough, and Puddleglum is our role model.

As The Silver Chair begins we meet Eustace Scrubb again, and his friend Jill Pole. These two children are transported back to Narnia at the call of Aslan. Their mission is to search for a missing prince, Rilian, heir to the throne of Narnia. At the beginning of the story Aslan the Lion meets Jill and gives her four clues or signs to help her on the way. It’s very important for her to remember these signs. Aslan says to her:

“Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs”.

The two children and Puddleglum set off on their journey and for many weeks they trek through the northern wilderness. Eventually, when they’re very weary, they meet a beautiful woman dressed in green who directs them to Harfang, the city of the gentle giants, where she says they can expect warm hospitality. From then on the thought of that hospitality takes over their minds; they’re obsessed with the idea of baths and beds and hot meals, and they give up talking about Aslan and the lost prince and, above all, the signs Aslan gave them. Jill gives up her habit of repeating the signs to herself morning and night, but Puddleglum remembers how important they are:

      “Are you still sure of those signs, Pole? What’s the one we ought to be after now?”

      “Oh, come on! Bother the signs,” said Pole…

      Puddleglum’s question annoyed her because, deep down inside her, she was already annoyed with herself for not knowing the Lion’s lesson quite so well as she felt she ought to have known it.

As a result of this forgetfulness and distraction, they walk right past the next clue in their hurry to get to Harfang. The giants welcome them, feed them, and give them warm beds to sleep in. But the next day when they get up, they look out of the window and see the clue they’ve missed. Eustace admits the truth—they were so keen to get to the comfort of Harfang that they forgot about the call of Aslan. They were given four signs, and they’ve missed the first three.

And it turns out Harfang isn’t such a wonderful place after all. In fact, it’s a death trap. The giants consider human beings a great delicacy to be put into pies for their traditional Autumn Feast. The lady in green who directed them there turns out to be the evil witch who abducted Prince Rilian in the first place. Her promise of luxury was a temptation to turn them away from following the hard road Aslan had set before them, but it turned out to be a lie.

The children and Puddleglum manage to escape from Harfang and find their way down into Underland, where they find Prince Rilian. It turns out he’s under an evil enchantment from the Green Witch. He tells them that each night a dangerous fit comes over him, and to protect the people around him he must be bound securely to a silver chair. He warns them they might be tempted to untie him while the fit is on him, but they should notdo so, because their lives would be in danger if he got loose. In fact the reverse is true; when the so-called ‘fit’ is on him, he actually remembers who he is and pleads with those around to release him. But of course the Green Witch doesn’t want him to be released, so she’s taught him this lie.

Prince Rilian is bound, and the children and Puddleglum watch. The prince becomes himself again, and he pleads for them to release him. When they don’t respond, he implores them ‘in the name of Aslan’. They gasp in surprise, because this is the fourth sign they’ve been waiting for. Aslan had said to Jill:

“You will know the lost prince…by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”.

The children are afraid, remembering how the prince had warned them that if he got free he could kill them. They wonder what they should do.

“Oh, if only we knew,” said Jill.

“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.

Puddleglum understands that the real choice isn’t between safety and danger. The real choice is between obedience and disobedience to Aslan. His next words are a classic, and they take us to the heart of what Lewis wants to teach us about following Jesus:

      “Do you mean everything will come right if we untie him?” said Scrubb.

      “I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

Puddleglum is a realist. He knows that obedience to Aslan is not a guarantee of safety. Nonetheless, it’s the right thing to do, whatever the outcome, because Aslan is their King. As it happens, their gamble pays off. They free Prince Rilian and they’re all able to get back to Narnia. But the lasting lesson still applies: obedience is right because of who gives the command, not because the outcome is certain. Prince Rilian has the same insight a little later on. He says to the children, “Whether we live or die, Aslan will be our good Lord’.

There are many other examples in The Silver Chair of Puddleglum’s steadfast obedience to Aslan. He’ll never win any points for charismatic joy, but he turns out over and over again to be the rock the children can always rely on, even if at times his words are unwelcome. I’d love to tell you more about him, but time is short—read the book yourselves! However, let me conclude by underlining one more time the lessons he teaches us about Christian discipleship. There are two of them.

First, remember the signs. As we saw at the beginning, Aslan gave Jill four signs. Remember what he said to her once more:

“Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs”.

This language is a deliberate echo of the words of Moses in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Moses is talking about the importance of remembering the Lord’s Law. This is what he says:

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

This passage is a reminder to us of the importance of reminding ourselves of what God has said to us. In The Silver Chair, Aslan warns Jill that appearances can be deceptive. The signs might not look as she’s expected them to look, and so it’s very important for her to keep on repeating them as a reminder to act on them when the time comes.

This is a lesson to us of the central importance of the scriptures in our Christian journey. They’re the story of God’s love and of the acts by which he’s saving the world from evil. We’re part of this story. It tells us who we are, what we’re here for, and what’s important in this life we’re living. Appearances can be deceptive. Remember the story of Harfang; it looked good, but it turned out to be a death trap. We run into many ‘Harfangs’—things that look good, but in the end do us no good at all. So remember the signs! Read the Scriptures, learn the story they tell, and live it out day by day. Puddleglum reminds us of how important this is.

The second thing Puddleglum teaches us is not exactly rocket science: Do what Jesus tells us.As John Bowen comments, Puddleglum understands that we obey because of who gives the command, not because the outcome is sure. For example, loving our enemies may well lead to our death, but we do it nonetheless, because Jesus said it, not because it’s been proved to be a successful strategy. We may not always understand the reasons for Jesus’ commands, but, to slightly misquote Prince Rilian, we’re called to trust that ‘whether we live or die, Jesus will be our good Lord’.

John Bowen has a wonderful quote about this:

These seem to be the two fundamental principles of living in Narnia: trust and obey. They sound simple, even simplistic. And obedience in particular has a bad press in our world: to obey someone is to lose your independence and your individuality. We associate it with policemen and wicked dictators. Yet most of us have actually experienced a positive side to obedience: perhaps in a teacher who really cared for us and wanted to bring out the best in us, and whom we loved to obey, even when it was difficult. This is the kind of obedience that operates in Narnia: to trust and obey Aslan (Jesus), who knows all things, who made you, loves you and desires the best for you, is actually liberating, whereas “doing your own thing” is what leads to trouble. To trust and obey will lead you through all sorts of adventures, help you become who you are meant to be, and bring you joy.

‘Trust and obey’ our good Lord Jesus—in the end, that’s the most important lesson we learn from Puddleglum.

Advertisements

Wandering in the dark and walking in the light

‘Once again Jesus addressed the people: “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life.’” (John 8.12 New English Bible).

The REB revisers changed this NEB translation to the more common ‘no follower of mine shall walk in darkness’, but I’m struck by the vividness of the NEB rendering: ‘wander in the dark’. I’ve done a lot of that wandering in the dark, trying to find the right way forward. It might be a relational issue with a friend or loved one, or a problem in my parish that I need to find a solution for, or a time when my relationship with God seems to have gone dry and barren, or my struggles with my own sins and weaknesses. I seem to spend a lot of time wandering in the dark.

Today’s psalm includes the familiar verse ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119.105 REB). What the psalmist says about the Torah, or Law of God, John’s gospel applies to Jesus: he is the Word of God, so he is the light of the world. His light shines in the dark places and shows us how to live, how to love, how to serve God, how to be a blessing. The opposite of ‘wandering in the dark’ is following Jesus. Lord Jesus, help us today to intentionally shape our lives after your teaching and example. You have shown us the way, so now help us to follow it—to follow you—so that we may have the light of life. Amen.

Bree and Hwin: ‘It’s Not About You!’ (Following Jesus through Narnia #3)

Today I want to tell you a story about two horses.

As we’ve been going through Lent this year, we’ve been taking C.S. Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ stories as our spiritual guide. These stories weren’t written as textbooks about following Jesus, but they’re full of insight into what it means to be Christian disciples. Each week we’re taking one or more characters from the Narnia books and asking ‘What do these characters have to teach us about following Jesus?’

We began on the first Sunday in Lent with Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure from Narnia. We learned that he’s not a tame lion and he’s definitely not safe, but he’s good. Aslan shows us what Jesus is like and teaches us to approach him with absolute confidence in his love for us, but also absolute obedience to his authority.

Then last week we thought about Eustace Scrubb. He was a boy who became a dragon because of his selfishness and greed, and he could only be changed back into a boy by the power of Aslan. Eustace taught us that only the power of Christ can transform us into the people God wants us to be.

This week our characters are two talking horses from the book The Horse and His Boy. Their names are ‘Bree’ and ‘Hwin’. Hwin is a gentle mare, and Bree is a proud and fierce war horse. His full name is actually ‘Breehy-Hinny-Hooey-Hah’ but we won’t mention that again! The title of the book, The Horse and His Boy, comes from something Bree says in the story. He points out that in Narnia talking horses are free and not slaves of humans, so he’s not Shasta’s horse. You might just as well say that Shasta is ‘his’ boy!

The Horse and His Boy opens in Calormen, a huge land south of Narnia. There we meet a boy called Shasta, who is the adopted son of a poor fisherman. One night a great Tarkaan, or noble lord, demands to spend the night at their house. Later in the evening Shasta overhears him talking with the fisherman about how much he’ll pay to buy the boy as a slave.

That same night Shasta discovers by accident that the Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, is a talking horse. Talking animals are completely unknown in Calormen, although they’re common up north in Narnia. Shasta and Bree decide to escape together to Narnia and freedom, and they manage to pull it off. When they’ve been on their way for a few days, they’re pursued by hunting lions and are forced into the company of another talking horse—the mare Hwin and her rider, a young and proud daughter of a Lord, the Tarkheena Aravis. The book goes on to tell of the adventures the two horses and the two children have on their way to Narnia.

Bree explains that he was stolen from the land of Narnia while he was a foal, and has lived in Calormen for years, ‘hiding my true nature and pretending to be dumb and witless like their horses’. Along the way he’s become very proud of himself. He’s often concerned about how he appears to others, and even though he wants to get back to Narnia, he has worries about it, too. He’s been away for a long time and he’s afraid he might not know the proper protocol! For instance, one of the things Bree really loves is getting down on his back and having a good roll. Shasta sees him doing it one day and bursts out laughing. Immediately Bree gets worried:

“You don’t think, do you,” said Bree, “that it might be a thing talking horses never do—a silly, clownish trick I’ve learned from the dumb ones? It would be dreadful to find, when I get back to Narnia, that I’ve picked up a lot of low, bad habits.”

A little later on the journey the horses and their humans have to go through the huge city of Tashbaan. They’re worried it’ll be obvious to everyone who looks at them that the horses have come from rich houses, and everyone will think Shasta and Aravis are horse thieves. So they decide the horses will have to be made muddy and bedraggled, with their tails cut short and ragged. When he hears about this plan, Bree objects strenuously:

      “My dear madam,” said Bree. “Have you pictured to yourself how very disagreeable it would be to arrive in Narnia in that condition?”

      “Well,” said Hwin humbly (she was a very sensible mare), “the main thing is to get there.”

For Bree, arriving in Narnia in a bedraggled condition would give a bad first impression, and he wants to be seen by everyone as the fine stallion he believes he is. In contrast, Hwin speaks humbly and modestly. For C.S. Lewis, to be humble is to be sensible and to have a realistic view of yourself.

When I read about Bree he shows me some very unwelcome truths about myself. I realize in many ways I’m like him. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. I’d like to be able to say, “I don’t really care what other people think of me”, but in fact I care a great deal. I notice there are many times when I do things or say things or wear things or join things, not because I like them or because I think they’re what God wants for me, but because I think they’ll make a good impression on other people. People will be impressed, and if they give me the right amount of respect and attention, I’ll be able to feel that I’m somebody after all. Perhaps I’m the only one who does this, but I don’t think so. I expect we’ve all done it from time to time.

In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul says: ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’Bree’s pride takes the form of ‘conceit’, but there’s another proud character in The Horse and His Boy—the Tarkheena Aravis, the young noblewoman who is escaping to Narnia with Hwin to get away from a forced marriage. Aravis’ pride takes the form of ‘looking to her own interests and forgetting the interests of others’—especially people of a lower social class than her. For instance, she tells how, when she was escaping from her home, she drugged her stepmother’s maidservant so she wouldn’t prevent her escape. Shasta asks what happened to the maidservant.

“Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late,” said Aravis coolly. “But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother’s. I am very glad they should beat her.”

Aravis sees her maidservant as inferior and doesn’t care about her suffering; she’s just a tool. But to Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure in the Narnia stories, this incident is very important. Later in the story he pursues Aravis and strikes her across the back with his claws. When he explains to her why this happened, this is what he says:

‘The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like’.

Bree needs to learn not to think of himself as better than others, but Aravis needs to learn to think of others and not just herself. We’ve seen how Aravis learns her lesson, but Bree’s lesson is interesting, too. He likes to come across as a big brave stallion, but there’s one chink in his armour: he’s terrified of lions. We first see this the night he and Shasta meet Hwin and Aravis. They hear the roar of a lion, and Bree runs in terror. Later on he says to Shasta:

“Shasta, I’m ashamed of myself. I’m just as frightened as a common, dumb Calormene horse… I don’t feel like a talking horse at all. I don’t mind swords and lances and arrows but I can’t bear – those creatures.

But Bree isn’t really brought face to face with the truth about himself until we get toward the end of the story. The children and the horses are approaching the land of Narnia, just ahead of Prince Rabadash who is bringing an invading army. A lion pursues them—it later turns out to be Aslan, who wants to give them the extra speed of fear so that they can warn people in time about the invaders. The lion leaps at Aravis, and Bree runs away in terror, but little Shasta jumps off and runs back to help Aravis. The lion runs away, and the four of them all reach safety in the home of a Hermit, but the experience has been a revelation for them all. Bree finally sees the truth about himself, and later he says to the Hermit:

“I who called myself a war-horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!”

Proud Bree finds this truth devastating. He feels he’s lost everything, and he talks of going back to Calormen. But the Hermit of the Southern March is a wise man, and he sees the reality of the situation. He says to Bree:

“My good horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit…If you are really as 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”.

Bree’s problem has been that he thinks he’s more than he really is. He believed a lie about himself, and now he’s been forced to accept the truth. The truth isn’t that he’s a bad horse; it’s just that he’s not quite the star of the show he believed he was. Humility means accepting the truth about ourselves—that like every other person in this fallen world, we’re a combination of strengths and weaknesses, no more or less important than anyone else.

A moment ago I referred to two verses from Philippians chapter two. In many ways, the story of The Horse and His Boy could be a commentary on this chapter. Let me read to you the first five verses:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Bree needs to learn the truth of verse 3. He acts out of conceit and sees himself as better than others. But we also get the sense that there’s a basic insecurity in him; he’s always wondering what others think of him and he’s terrified they might not think well of him. That rings true to me, because I’ve noticed that many people who come across as proud and arrogant actually have a deep insecurity inside. They have an inner need for attention and praise, and that’s why they want people to look up to them.

Aravis, on the other hand, needs to learn the truth of verse 4. She grew up thinking only of her own interests and not the interests of others—especially the ‘others’ in a lower social class than her. She doesn’t worry about her maid’s sufferings; all she cares about is getting away. She’s not being intentionally malicious. This is just the way she’s been taught to think, and she needs to be retrained to see others as equally important and significant as her.

The solution to both these forms of pride is in the rest of the passage:

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus is the one who has the highest claim on a position of respect and importance. And yet he humbled himself, became one of us human beings, and went so far as to die on the Cross for us. Can you ever imagine Jesus asking the question, “Is anyone noticing me?” Jesus didn’t need to ask that question. At his baptism he’d heard the voice of his Father in heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Once he knew that truth about himself, it didn’t matter whether people noticed him or not.

This is the secret of true humility: coming to believe the truth about yourself as God sees you. All of us are children in the Father’s family, no more and no less.  Each of us is no more important and no less important than any of God’s other children. So the important thing is not that the other children admire you, but that the Father loves you. Once you believe that, you can put your mental mirrors away and stop worrying about how you look and what sort of impression you’re making on others. Instead of looking to others to bolster our low self-esteem, we can concentrate on loving them, because God loves them, and we’re the children of God, and it’s in the nature of the children of God to imitate what their Father is doing.

A Remote Place

‘But the talk about Jesus spread ever wider, so that great crowds kept gathering to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.’ (Luke 5.15-16 REB)

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been guilty of being far too impressed with the first sentence above, and completely neglectful of the second.

I imagine Jesus going out to the remote place. No Bible, no liturgy, no retreat centre, no one else with him—just the presence of God and whatever scriptures he had memorized (including probably a lot of psalms). This was such a vital feature of his ministry, a refreshment for his spirit, a deepening of his sense of fellowship with God.

Lord, thanks for the opportunities we have to love our neighbours, and give us strength to grasp them with both hands. But also, help us not to neglect the call of the ‘remote place’. Without you we can do nothing, so help us make the time we need to draw closer to you. Amen.

Trust in Him

‘For God alone I wait silently;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock of deliverance,
my strong tower, so that I am unshaken.
On God my safety and my honour depend,
God who is my rock of refuge and my shelter.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him;
God is our shelter.’ (Psalm 62.5-8 REB)

I love the balance between silence and speaking in these verses. ‘For God alone my soul waits silently; my hope comes from him’ (v.5). ‘Trust in him at all times, you people’ pour out your hearts before him; God is our shelter’ (v.8). Pouring out our hearts to God—a torrent of words describing to God exactly how we feel—seems to be the exact opposite of waiting in silence for him. But in reality, both are essential features of a healthy prayer life.

What unites them is trust. ‘Trust in him at all times, you people.’ The psalmist has experienced God as a refuge and a rock of deliverance. Past experience leads him too continue to trust that God—‘God alone’—is his shelter.

God our refuge, help us to trust in you, to wait on you in silence, and to pour out our hearts to you. Thank you that you are our rock of refuge and our shelter. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible daily readings are Numbers 28:16-29:40, Luke 3:23-38, Psalm 62, and Proverbs 11:18-19)

Wisdom

‘The child (Jesus) grew big and strong and full of wisdom; and God’s favour was upon him.’ (Luke 2.36 REB)

‘As Jesus grew he advanced in wisdom and in favour with God and men.’ (Luke 2.52 REB)

As I get older, I find that wisdom is a gift I prize more and more highly. Wisdom means knowing how to live and what to do in all the situations life throws at us. Heavenly wisdom is informed and shaped by faith in God and God’s will for us. Several Old Testament texts tell us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (fear, not in the sense of terror, but in the sense of a proper awe and reverence for God as our Creator).

Lord Jesus, as you were guided by your Father, so guide us today in the way of wisdom. Amen.

Eustace: Changed by the Power of Aslan (Following Jesus through Narnia #2)

C.S. Lewis’ Narnia story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read in a children’s book, or in any other book for that matter: ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb—and he almost deserved it.’

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a wonderful story that works on at least two levels. On the surface, we have a classic tale about a sea voyage and the adventures of the sailors along the way. But on a deeper level we have a story about the transformation of Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace starts off as a thoroughly self-centred and unpleasant character, but as the story progresses, he’s gradually changed into a person who thinks of others and has a more realistic view of himself. And this transformation is accomplished through the power of Aslan the Lion.

This is a very important theme for us as we continue our journey through Lent.  C.S. Lewis is our guide, and especially his Narnia stories. Last week we thought about the character of Aslan the Lion. We discovered he’s definitely not a tame lion, and neither is he safe: “Course he isn’t safe!” Mr. Beaver exclaimed, “But he’s good!” Aslan helps us understand our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us with a love that’s absolute and uncompromising. His love isn’t just about being nice to us. It’s about telling us the truth about ourselves and helping us become more than we are right now, even when that growth is hard and unpleasant. We approach this Jesus with absolute confidence in his love for us, but also in absolute obedience to his authority.

This week we have to grapple with the subject of change, and how change takes place. We have to look at the reality of sin, and how sin has a literally monstrous effect on us. We have to realize how hard it is for us to change—in fact, unless we have the help of Christ, change isn’t going to happen. And we have to look at some of the effects of that change when it finally comes about.

So—back to Eustace. Eustace is the cousin of the four Pevensie children we met last week: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Chronologically, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  is the fifth of the seven Narnia stories, and by this time Edmund and Lucy have a lot of experience with Narnia. Now, however, they’re back in ourworld, and they find they have to spend their summer with their cousin Eustace. Lewis lets us know right from the start what sort of person Eustace is:

Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card…Deep down inside him he liked bossing and bullying…He knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators.

In other words Eustace is a thoroughly selfish person, intensely practical, with absolutely no imagination—which, for Lewis, was one of the worst things you could say about someone. He also enjoys inflicting misery on other people, and he’s gotten quite good at it.

In the first couple of chapters of the book the three children are transported magically back to the land of Narnia. There they find themselves on the Dawn Treader, a Narnian ship on which King Caspian is on a voyage into unknown seas to find seven lost lords. The Dawn Treader is a sailing ship, and Eustace loses no time in starting to criticize it. He ‘kept on boasting about liners and motor boats and aeroplanes and submarines.’ Of course, boasting is all about trying to seem better and more important than other people.

We get more opportunities to find out what a self-centred character Eustace is as the story continues. One of the finest characters in the entire Narnian series is Reepicheep, a valiant and chivalrous talking mouse who comes across as a sort of ‘D’Artagnan’ figure from The Three Musketeers. One day Eustace finds Reepicheep perched on the figurehead of the ship:

As soon as (Eustace) saw the long tail hanging down…he thought it would be delightful to catch hold of it, swing Reepicheep round by it once or twice upside down, then run away and laugh.

Unfortunately things don’t quite work out the way Eustace thinks they will, as Reepicheep is just as good with his sword upside down as he is right way up! On another occasion, when the ship is becalmed and the water is running low, Eustace makes excuses to try to get more than his fair share of the water supply. In these and many other ways Eustace makes a thorough nuisance of himself through his selfishness and self-centredness.

Eventually, after a severe storm, the Dawn Treader arrives at an island where they can get fresh water and repair the ship. Eustace slips off into the hills by himself, and comes by chance to the cave of a dragon. Of course, he finds the cave filled with treasure. I say ‘of course’, because you’re all very imaginative people, and so you know that treasure is exactlywhat you expect to find in a dragon’s cave! But Eustace doesn’t know this, and so he doesn’t suspect that he’s stumbled on a dragon’s lair. All he sees is the treasure, and his mind immediately begins to play on what it could do for him. Eventually he falls asleep on the pile of treasure with his mind still full of greedy and selfish thoughts. But when he wakes up, he discovers to his horror that in his sleep he has been transformed into a dragon himself. As Lewis puts it, ‘Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard, with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.’

This is what sin does to us: it reduces our humanity. Romans 3:23 says ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ John Bowen says, ‘Sin may tempt us to try to become more than we were made to be, but its effect is ultimately to make us less than we were made to be.’

Eustace chose long ago to be a selfish and self-centred person. The dragon he has now become is just an outward expression of the inner state of his heart. This forces him to begin to face the truth about himself. He realizes he doesn’t like the person he has become. Lewis spells this out for us:

He wanted to be among friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things. He realized he was a monster cut off from the whole human race. An appalling loneliness came over him. He began to see that the others had not really been fiends. He began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed. He longed for their voices.

So he goes back to join the others, and succeeds in letting them know that even though outwardly he’s a dragon, inwardly he’s Eustace. They want to receive him back but they can’t decide how they can possibly take him along on the ship in his dragon form. For Eustace, this just shows up the fact that all along he’s chosen to be a misfit. As Lewis puts it,

Poor Eustace realized more and more that since the first day he came on board he had been an unmitigated nuisance and that he was now a greater nuisance still.

There’s nothing Eustace can do to change himself back into human form, and things seen hopeless for him. But then one night he has a mysterious meeting with a lion. We, the readers, know who that lion is – the Great Lion, Aslan himself, the Christ figure in the Narnia stories. Aslan leads Eustace to a well of water. Eustace wants to bathe, but Aslan tells him he must undress first. Eustace remembers that dragons can shed their skin, so he scratches and scratches and eventually the dragon skin comes off. Underneath, however, he finds another dragon skin, and then another, and another. He eventually despairs, and then Aslan says to him, “You will have to let me undress you.” Aslan uses his lion claws, tearing the dragon skin away completely, tearing so deeply that Eustace feels as if it has gone straight through his heart. It hurts him worse than anything he has ever felt, but the next thing he knows Aslan is throwing him into the water, and then he finds to his great joy that he’s been turned into a boy again.

Eustace then goes back to join the others. He knows Aslan’s power has changed him, but he also knows he’s got some things to put right with the others. He meets his cousin Edmund, and he says, “By the way, I’d like to apologise. I’ve been pretty beastly.” He’s now on the way to becoming a much less selfish and unpleasant human being. But the change is not instant. Lewis is far too honest about our Christian experience to pretend this can happen. He says, ‘It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that, “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he beganto be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of these I shall not notice. The cure had begun.’

This story of Eustace has a lot to teach us about transformation. Transformation is what the Christian message is all about. The Greek word is ‘metanoia’, which means change—deep, lasting change. It’s sometimes translated as ‘conversion’; in one place Jesus uses the image of a new birth, which is about as powerful a change as you can imagine. But transformation isn’t a one time only event for us Christians. It’s a process that continues throughout our Christian life.

The story of Eustace tells us what sin is all about. In the Bible, sin is essentially selfishness or self-centredness. It’s rejecting the rule of the one true God and claiming the right to be God for ourselves. It’s a happy coincidence in the English language that the word ‘sin’ has an ‘I’ in the centre of it. This reminds us that when I put myself at the centre of my life, and see everyone else—even God—as just there for my convenience, then I’m in a state of sin. That’s what Eustace does. He lives a totally self-centred life.

The story of Eustace shows us what sin does to us.I said at the beginning that sin has a literally monstrous effect on us. Sin transformed Eustace into a monster, but the monstrous form was simply a reflection of his monstrous heart. Sin makes us something hideous, something far less than the fully human persons God wants us to be. And sin spoils our relationships, too, isolating us from others. Even Lucy, the youngest Pevensie, who has the kindest heart of anyone in the Narnia series, finds it hard to put up with Eustace. Her brother Edmund, who usually calls a spade a spade, simply calls him a ‘record stinker’!

The story of Eustace shows us that transformation starts by facing the truth about ourselves.The Letter of James, in the New Testament, tells us God’s law is like a mirror that shows us what we are really like. But some people don’t want to face that truth: ‘They look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they are like.’ (James 1:24) But after his dragon experience Eustace can’t do that anymore. He realizes he’s been a thoroughly unpleasant person, he accepts that truth, and he longs more than anything else to change.

The story of Eustace shows us that we can’t change ourselves.Eustace gets to the point where he longs to change. He hates what he’s become, and he wants more than anything else to be just a boy again. That’s a moment we all have to come to. We choose to change direction, to repent of our sins, to learn a new way of life. We read the story of Jesus, we’re inspired by his teaching, and we think, “This is what I want!” So we make some resolutions, plan to make some changes, and off we go.

Crash! It might take twelve hours or twelve days, but sooner or later we come face to face with our human weakness. Sinfulness goes far deeper in us than we thought. Some people say that Christianity is difficult. The truth is far worse than that: Christianity isn’t difficult, it’s impossible! All Eustace can do is make himself into a slightly less wrinkly dragon. He can’t make himself into a boy again.

The story of Eustace shows us that we can only be changed by the power of Christ.Aslan is the only one who can rip the dragon skin off Eustace, and the first tear pierces Eustace all the way to the heart. His problem started with his self-centred heart, you see. Superficial solutions can’t accomplish anything.

Over and over again, Christian people have discovered that only the power of Jesus can help them become different. We come to the point where we cry out desperately: “I’ve tried, I really have, but I just can’t change myself.” So we call out for his help. Often the help is painful to receive. Eustace said it hurt more than anything he’d ever felt in his life. Things happen to us, or we find ourselves asked to do things, that we shrink from because they seem too painful. But, as the Twelve Steps of A.A. say, ‘Half measures availed us nothing.’ If we’re going to be changed, it will have to be with the help of Christ.

Finally, the story of Eustace shows us that transformation is gradual.The mountaintop experience with Aslan leads down to the daily decision to follow him. And this daily decision, too, is made with the help of Christ. Often it feels like two steps forward and one step back—or on some days, one step forward and two steps back! But the Christian disciple is wiser now. She realizes self-confidence is a dead end, so each day she looks to Jesus for guidance and strength to take the next step.

Let’s sum up. Lent is about change, and change is difficult. We’d like to think we can change ourselves, but all our failed attempts only show us how weak we really are. By ourselves, we’re stuck.

But the gospel tells us we don’t have to be stuck. By the power of Aslan, Eustace can be changed from a dragon to a boy, and then he can go on to live like a boy and not a dragon. And by the power of Jesus, I can be changed into a child of God, and then I can go on to learn to live like a child of God. It’s impossible for a human, but with Christ all things are possible. So let’s put ourselves in the hands of Christ and ask him to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.