CS Lewis is a great story teller and there is much in his story telling that can, and should, provoke deeper thought. Lately I’ve been thinking about an incident in Prince Caspian, one of the Chronicles of Narnia books by CS Lewis. In this story Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy have returned to Narnia. They are making their way to the Stone Table Hill along with the dwarf Trumpkin. But Narnia has changed and directions are unclear, and they are struggling to find the right path to follow. (excerpted from pp. 131-134)
“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.
“Where? What?” asked everyone.
“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.
“Do you really mean -?” began Peter.
“Where do you think you saw him?” asked Susan.
“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”
“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.
“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No this side of the gorge. And up not down. Just opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was – up there.”
Aslan, for those who don’t know the story, is the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia. Well, no one else saw Aslan – and there was no reason to think that the direction Lucy was suggesting was right. If Lucy actually saw a lion they weren’t really sure it was Aslan – it might have been just a lion, and if that was the case they certainly didn’t want to go toward the lion, if there was a lion. Putting the matter to a vote the decision came down to the Peter, the High King. Lucy and Edmund were voting for up, Susan and Trumpkin for down.
“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”
So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.
This kind of story plays out many times in our church – everyone is working toward the same goal, everyone wants to get to the finish line faithful to Christ. But there are multiple possible paths and no clear direction. What may be the right move in one situation may be the wrong move in another. What works in one town or with one group may not work with another. Playing the the “divine leading” trump card is viewed with skepticism. After all how do I know that you really did “see Aslan”? Or how do you know that I did – that it is not wishful thinking or selfish motivation?
Peter puts it bluntly – he can’t please everyone, but he has to do something, so he must do as he sees best. This is leadership.
How is anyone to know what to do in such a situation?
The story continues … the five of them, Peter, Susan, Lucy, Edmund, and Trumpkin waste a day working hard and wandering about, hitting dead ends, getting shot at, and eventually winding up back where they started. In the middle of the night Lucy is awakened by a voice calling her name and makes her way through the woods. (pp. 148-149)
“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.
“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”
“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so – “
From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.
“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”
“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”
Aslan said nothing.
Lucy goes back, wakes the others, and forces them to follow. Of course, she can’t really force them. She only does what she can and must do. She tells them what she saw, what she was told, and that, whatever they do, she must follow. Eventually Edmund sees Aslan, then Peter, then Susan, and finally Trumpkin.
This is a story, a fictional story, a children’s story. We can’t take the analogy with real life too far. Yet CS Lewis has a point, and he is trying to teach something about the Christian life and what it means to follow Christ. This example isn’t wrestling with what it means to follow Christ in the world, surrounded by unbelievers. Here I think, we would all agree – we should follow Christ whatever ” the world” may think. But this example should get us thinking about what it means to follow Christ within the church, with ordained authority (Peter) and well meaning people aiming for the same ultimate goal.
The message isn’t to follow authority, obey direction, move with the group consensus. In the words of CS Lewis through the character of Aslan (pp. 151):
“Now, child,” said Aslan, when they had left the trees behind them, “I will wait here. Go and wake the others and tell them to follow. If they will not, then you at least must follow me alone.”
Lucy is to follow Aslan – if Peter comes, if the others agree, great. But she is to follow Aslan and is without excuse if she does not follow.
Does God speak to and call people in the church individually?
What role does authority and leadership play?
There was a column awhile ago in one of the Christianity Today blogs that discussed leadership and authority (link here). The young member of the staff of a large church was leading an initiative on small groups, training people in a particular method and curriculum. One of the lay leaders felt that the method was not appropriate or not ideal and she could not follow it. As a result she started her own independent group. This undermined the authority of the leader, and caused friction and strife. The point of view of the writer, and the commenters was that, of course, the leader was right and the lay person wrong. I struggle with this though because the implication is that the leadership is by definition right, and only they “see Aslan” and can see the path that should be taken.
Now I know that humans are fallible and fallen. The fractious nature of many people is a real problem – the incident above is one that can not be judged on a short excerpt. Conflict in church is a real and devastating problem. But it brings up for me a much bigger question.
How can we know who is Peter and who is Lucy, seeing Aslan with a command to follow?
More importantly how are we to know if we are Lucy, seeing Aslan or Susan, wanting to take what appears the easier and more comfortable route?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.