Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dragons We Are

C.S. Lewis illustrates a person "losing themselves" in an inventive manner in one of his early books. Some of you know it because it comes from his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. In the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is the story of a boy named Eustace. Early on we meet Eustace, but there is something different about him compared to the other children—he’s very selfish, often complaining and overall bothersome to the others. There’s something missing for him and you see that piece of him clearly in comparison to the other children.  Simply put, Eustace is a broken soul.
Through a selfish adventure in which he goes off by himself, he learns a difficult lesson. One evening he wanders off and he comes upon a dragon's lair. In the cave, he finds a treasure guarded by a dragon. As he sits there staring at this treasure, he begins to devise ways in which he can steal these riches for his own. He accomplishes his task, and as he slips on a stolen bracelet, he slips off to sleep. As he awakes, he discovers a surprise:

He was surprised at the size of his tears. They also seemed strangely hot; steam it went up from them. But just as he reached the edge of the pool two things happened. First of all, it came over him like a thunderclap that he had been running on all fours—and why on earth had he been doing that? And secondly, as he bent towards the water, he thought for a second that yet another dragon was staring up at him out of the pool. But in an instant he realized the truth. The dragon face in the pool was his own reflection.

Amazingly, because of his wayward actions, he had become a dragon and as he lived in this new skin, he began to detest this strange life. Overtime, he began to realize some things about himself. He began to discover how harsh and cruel he was and had become. He was not a friend to his friends and as he walked around in these dragon scales, he wanted a change. Slowly but surely, he began to realize that he acted like a beastly dragon when he once was human. The curse he was, he had now become.

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

But this is not the end of the story. Eustace has a remarkable transformation in which parallels what needs to happen to each of us. In his frustration, he longs to be himself again, a newer self, more friendly and caring of others. The central character in the Chronicles of Narnia is Aslan the Lion. He is the figure of Jesus in the the Narnia books. In his great tale The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes the first time the children hear about this Aslan, the Great Lion, who is the Christ figure in the book. The children are at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who have had dealings with Aslan.They tell the children about this Aslan, the Lion:

"Is---is he a man? Asked Lucy.
"Aslan, a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor beyond the sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-the lion—the great Lion."

Ooh!" said Susan. "I'd rather thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

In this story of Eustace, this great lion Alsan intervenes and goes to the young boy who has been transformed into a dragon. Almost as if playing a trick on him, Aslan tells Eustace to scratch off his skin, perhaps then he can become a boy again. Eustace begins to tear away at his scales and even though it feels good like itching a scratch, as the skin comes off, it quickly reappears. He does this three different times and Eustace soon realizes that his skin is impossible for him to remove. In frustration this boy-dragon demands of Aslan in how many times he must attempt to tear this skin away and become the boy he once was.
However, Eustace soon realizes that it is only Aslan who has the ability to change him. The only way in which he can ever be himself is to let Aslan remove the scales. It is a perfect picture of what we must all undergo to overcome our own selfish and sinful bent. Only Jesus can do that work for us.

The very first tear he made it was so deep that I thought it had gone right in to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh, but it is such fun to see it coming away. He peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been… and then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.

This deep tear in the heart is what we all need to happen and only Jesus can wrench out from our hearts that selfish impulse which lies there. To genuinely be unselfish is innately unnatural for all of us, and it is only Jesus, who just as with Eustace, can turn us from dragon to child. As St. Augustine pointed out: Man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible. This is the life of the dragon. We must all go through such a transformation and if we don’t we will continue living as dragons—truly alone and with only thoughts for ourselves and living in genuine unhappiness. No different than what Jesus demands, we must all become like children again:

For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

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