We have finished the Chronicles of Narnia. They are one of our families "comfort reads" and it has been good to turn to these beloved characters and stories though this season of upheaval and change. The final book in the series, The Last Battle, is one of my very favorite. In it, Narnia is imperiled by Shift, a banana grubbing monkey, and Puzzle, the witless donkey who hides behind self imposed stupidity; both case studies for the scripture that exhorts us to think neither better or worse of ourselves than we are. King Tirian and his faithful unicorn, Jewel, come upon the deception too late even with the help of Pole and Scrub and it is a battle to the bitter and sorrowful end. I find myself getting all choked up as I read. The kids totally understand; they are managing their own sadness at the inevitable destruction of one of our very favorite places, Narnia. Last night at Bible Study we read Exodus 27; more details about the Tabernacle. On first site not a particularly inspiring chapter and I wondered at the beginning if any of us would be able to pull an application from it [this is a Beit Midrash study (what is the Word of the Lord saying to us today?) following the Navigator's approach (observe, interpret, apply)]. As always, the applications were varied and rich. God's Word is alive and full of details to train and teach us! One of the observations about this whole section of Scripture is the visual and physical way in which the deeper and more treasured places of God are nested within a framework that increasingly demands that we become more focused on righteousness (less defiled) as we approach God's holiness (the Holy of Holies).
This year has been full of the bittersweet. Giving up what's familiar for what's next. Like entering into a relationship with the One True Living God. We leave behind the comforts of the world to follow the One who created both the world and all comfort. And then our life becomes one of devotion; finding peace and joy in the good we've been given but constantly being called to and drawn in closer and closer still. Like entering the temple. We begin in the outer court and believe, "This is good." But somehow we are drawn closer in and we feel a sense of loss over what we are leaving behind. Until we get to the next court- one even closer and more intimately connected to Him, and we believe, "Ah, now this is good!" And so it goes.
Perhaps that's why I love The Last Battle so much. It captures the bitter sweetness of foregoing the good, the resolve to get through the tough stuff, the joy eperienced when those who have died with nothing are finally reunited and refreshed in Aslan's country. It captures the bittersweet journey of following through, at times to the bitter end, the path that is laid before us. The path, if we are following Truth, which brings us closer and closer to Him.
Along the way, Lewis paints beautiful pictures. The brotherly love of Jewel and Tirian and their gratitude at the life they've been allowed. The flippancy with which many call on gods of their own making and the terrible consequences that await those who worship anything or anyone who is not Truth (His name is Jesus). The resolve to walk the path set before one, regardless of the pain, misery, hardship or death that path might demand. So many character studies lie within!
And while this book is full of chivalry, honor, courage and the divine it also touches on greed (Shift), belittling our own talents (Puzzle), selfish futility (the Dwarfs), proud arrogance (The Calormanes), and evil (Tash). Lewis invites us into this world called Narnia, where the ultimate battle is really, as it always is, about Truth (His name is Love) or Deceit and when all seems hopeless and Narnia is lost, we are invited farther up and further in.
The pattern laid out in The Last Battle is a familiar one:
Sacrifice. Tirian is called on to sacrifice all he holds most dear, his loyal friends, beloved kingdom, his own life.
Destruction. Friends are cut down, subjects enslaved, even one's hope of all things good destroyed.
Renewal. The shed becomes a point of entry rather than a place of terror, a beginning, not an ending. Sorrow dances, ashes turn to beauty, death is conquered. And yet so many stop here, outer courts and renewal all they desire. Wading in refreshment rather than plunging in.
Profound Blessing. For those willing to go beyond the entrance, dive into the deep, venture farther into the temple courts, choose a life of rash obedience rather than safety, not held back by perceptions or self or shame or guilt. Longing for more than all of that. Longing for Him.
This week as we studied the Temple, and as we read Narnia, this song played through my head:
Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place,
Past the brazen alter Lord, I long to see your face.
Pass me by the crowds of people, the priest who sings your praise,
I hunger and thirst for your righteousness but it's only found in one place.
Take me into the Holy of Holies.
Take me in by the blood of your Lamb.
Take me into the Holy of Holies,
Take the coal, touch my lips, here I am.
(Kutless: Take Me In by Dave Browning)
And in the end, well into Aslan's country, the Pevensies, Tirian and all of those seeking Truth willingly, longingly, relinquished their lives for the hope of living eternally with Him. In the inner courts. In the Holy of Holies. Righteousness found (His name is Jesus).
We say good-bye again beloved Narnia and hello to sweet and pure Aslan's country, the inner courts, a place of praise and profound blessing. God is inviting us ever closer, into His Holy of Holies. The cost is great, the battle fierce, yet glory awaits. Do you hear the wind words?