Sometimes we're asked to make sacrifices not of our own choosing
A group of friends and I are rereading C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and one of the most delightful things to discover, reading as an adult, is the smallness of Lewis’s moral instruction. As far as I can tell, his most repeated explicit instruction is, “It is very silly to shut oneself in a wardrobe.”
The exact patterns of cut and parry in battle are seldom reported (when Peter slays the wolf Maugrim, it all happens so fast that “he found that the monster lay dead”), but Lewis carefully illustrates the forces at war in Edmund’s soul when he betrays Lucy. After all, the readers of Lewis’s book are unlikely to be beset by a wolf but quite likely to need to take up arms against spite.
Still, I found one of the most fruitful passages on this reread in one of the more fantastical and farcical moments. After Aslan is resurrected, he travels to the witch’s castle and frees the animals she had turned to stone. A lion he rescues is so overwhelmed by this grace that he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself.
The most pleased of the lot was the other lion, who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy in order to say to everyone he met, “Did you hear what he said? Us lions. That means him and me. Us lions. That’s what I like about Aslan. No side, no standoffishness. Us lions. That meant him and me.” He went on saying this until Aslan loaded him up with three dwarfs, one dryad, two rabbits and a hedgehog. That steadied him a bit.
The lion’s exuberance isn’t a mistake (though it is mischanneled), and all the people he is given to carry aren’t a punishment, but a gift — a chance to take his joy and let it lead to service and greater joy.
But what I love best of all is the wide range of people it takes for him to be steadied. The lion isn’t simply loaded up with as many dwarves or dryads as he can bear. Instead, I have the delightful mental image of Aslan looking him over, and saying, “Ok, he can’t take any more dwarves, but he still needs a hedgehog’s worth of gravity to be properly grounded.”
I’m fairly often in need of a hedgehog, but it’s hard for me to notice it myself. I fall into the same trap as Sheldon Vanauken, who notes in his memoir A Severe Mercy that, after he and his wife converted: “Davy was simply living up to her commitment, wherever it led. For me, that was the trouble: where it led. I was ready to play in a match, Christians v. Atheists. I was ready to level my lance and charge under the Cross of Gold. I was ready to follow the King into battle. But — Sunday school? Where was the glory?”
Gamboling around and awaiting glory tends not to do much for my sanctification or anyone else’s. Like that second lion, my challenge is to let my joy be fruitful, even if that means it bears a different kind of fruit than the kind I imagined.
Because this tends to be a challenge to my pride, I like having the option that Lewis’s second lion gives me to laugh gently at myself. When I’m asked to make a sacrifice that wasn’t quite the kind I wanted to be asked for (cleaning, patient silence while someone else is talking, etc.), it’s a little helpful to imagine God looking down at me and saying, “Leah, I think you may need a small hedgehog. Will you carry this for me?”
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll — Do You Need a Hedgehog’s Worth of Grounding?]
Leah Libresco is the author of Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer and blogs at Unequally Yoked.