Remember The Beginning
Today's writer is a former Legislative Assistant for a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization.
“Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again: a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:
‘Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake.’” – The Magician’s Nephew, p.103
Here is Creation, exactly as I would imagine: a flash, an all-encompassing symphony of sounds, colors, light, and sensations, pulsing, overwhelming—each poignantly distinct but infinitely better and more beautiful in harmony. Until I read C. S. Lewis’s evocative description of the beginning of the world in The Magician’s Nephew, however, I may have thought that God spoke and light turned on, as with a switch-operated lightbulb, and that similarly trees and forests appeared, fully formed, like plastic props one places in a toy world. Yet, The Magician’s Nephew, chronologically the beginning of the Narnia series, invites us to remember Genesis as vividly as Digory and Polly do, when out of complete darkness they watched Aslan singing Narnia into creation; when God, in love, created this pure world and awoke us.
“The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose.” -The first sunrise, p.90
This call to remember the beginning and the beauty of the beginning could not be more timely for me. Exactly two months ago, I moved to Los Angeles to begin law school. Prior to that, I had worked on lobbying for various social justice issues with a non-profit organization in DC. It was the dream job: I had come to DC four years beforehand in order to be in the nation’s capital and to learn the inner workings of the federal government; this job gave me a front row seat to the lawmaking process, particularly as a tool for advancing justice for the most vulnerable. By the end of my four years, though, I felt more knowledgeable but also worn and somewhat disheartened by the political system. No amount of effort seemed to be enough; some hearts never seemed to soften. I sought a change in scenery, and I wanted time to rethink justice and its implications for a follower of Christ. So I left DC and started school.
“The earth was of many colours: they were fresh, hot and vivid.” -Earth unbroken, p.90
I think Lewis’s portrayal of the beginning of the world is an important reminder for many of us who have found ourselves at this point of world-weariness, whether or not we have worked in DC. As I have done on numerous occasions, we’ve skipped over The Magician’s Nephew and gone straight to the better recognized The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: humans are at war, and Narnia, now covered in snow, seems to have never known a time when it was not in a state of endless winter under the White Witch’s reign. As a result, we’re constantly searching for an end to the now and the start of a new beginning, perhaps as an escape. But The Magician’s Nephew, by drawing us back to the original beginning, does two things: First, it illustrates for us the life-filled, love-filled, perfect world God created—in Narnia’s case, a world where dropped toffees grow into a delicious toffee tree, not only because the earth itself is life-giving but because the loving Aslan foresaw how hungry two children would be after a long journey and made the earth life-giving. Second, it beautifully illustrates how the act of creation was real, and not just a fairy tale. Though we may not have been able to witness creation the way Digory and Polly did in the book, we can know Jesus Christ,* who came to restore the world back to the original and perfect purpose for which God created. Remembering the beginning, then, shows us what joy we can look forward to in the end because of Jesus’s sacrifice.
“Have you ever bathed in a mountain river that is rushing in shallow cataracts over red and blue and yellow stones with the sun on it?” -A rainbow river for my rainbow bath, p.138
Amidst the dazzling beauty in The Magician’s Nephew, though, was a warning that I could not ignore. Part of why I decided to go to law school is that I consider myself a knowledge-enthusiast and a sometimes greatness-enthusiast—I dream of doing things that could have a great impact on people’s lives, God-willing. Perhaps you feel the same. Thus, I was deeply struck by the portrayal of stubborn and cunning Uncle Andrew, a tree that would not grow. While everything else that was planted in Narnia grew magnificently, Uncle Andrew seemed to shrink, despite the Talking Beasts’ best efforts to plant, water, and feed him. And despite the overwhelming joy, richness, and power of Aslan’s song, Uncle Andrew was so viscerally opposed to the song that he willed himself to become deaf to it. Soon, he heard “nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song…. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, ‘Narnia awake,’ he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl” (pp.112-113). The irony of Uncle Andrew’s reaction, of course, is that he is a self-declared “great” Magician, who professes to “possess hidden wisdom” and conduct magic, but immediately crumbles at the sight of real power and rejects it. In the end, all of his self-gathered wisdom is revealed to be “great folly,” as Aslan puts it.
I, too, have been Uncle Andrew. My quest for wisdom has often started with myself, rather than with God. I have clung to my own strength and placed more weight on my own knowledge and judgment, rather than turning to God and relying on him. World-weariness naturally followed and became an easy way out in ignoring all that God has shown and promised, because I knew better. I have fed my own empty pride. I have sought exemptions for myself from God’s rules and rendered myself deaf to God’s voice. Am I stuck, then, as an Uncle Andrew?
“‘But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!” -Aslan gives Uncle Andrew what he desires, p.153
While The Magician’s Nephew does not provide any resolution for Uncle Andrew, I think that’s where the other books in the Narnia series come in. Just as we know that the series does not end with the first book nor the world’s story with creation, those of us who harbor Uncle Andrew tendencies know that our stories don’t end with our overwhelming sinfulness. Instead, because we have redemption in and through Jesus, we can grow, and we can hope for that time when the world will once again be as it had at creation.
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing….Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it….the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices….One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out.” -The beginning, pp.87-88
Weekly Action Item:
Re-reading The Magician’s Nephew blew my mind, and I would highly recommend that you read it or re-read it, too. Think about this as you do so: what is a beginning and the purpose of a beginning? How might that affect the way you view your work and the purpose of your work? Finally, I pray that you will be encouraged by one of my favorite passages from 1 John that both reflects the beginning and is its own beginning:
*“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4
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