I finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my two oldest tonight. “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be,” Aslan tells the children after they have run without tiring deeper and deeper and higher and higher into existence. What a line. The fourteenth century Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “God wants to see / More love and playfulness in your eyes / For that is your greatest witness to Him.” So happy as I mean you to be. Gentle Lucy replies, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.” Aslan says, smiling, “Have not you guessed? . . . The dream is ended. This is the morning.” The real story begins then, the undying story in which every chapter is better than the last, perhaps the story Lucy read a fragment of in that magician’s room in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the one she “never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.”
For the past year or so, we’ve been reading these books together. My children lose interest a lot, but when Aslan shows up, they are all attentiveness. They love that Lion. So do I. For weeks after I saw the film version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, I read my scriptures differently. I saw Jesus as the muscular, brawny, humble, gentle God-man that He is. I sensed His hidden, muted power.
When Lucy and Peter and Edmund and their friends ran up a waterfall at the speed of a unicorn without tiring, my kids’ thoughts turned to the resurrection. They trust absolutely and implicitly that death is not the end of life and that it’s not something to fear. They have been close to those close to death. When Julie’s grandfather died, Emerson was very small. For days after Sandy passed away, my small son would run into the room where he had stayed, calling, “Gampapa!” They know we’ll see him again. They sense the sense in that, the truth that life is too holy to ever really end. They often ask if we’ll see someone we know and haven’t seen for a while in the resurrection. Or someone from the scriptures. Or even from movies sometimes. “Does everything happen again in the resurrection?” Lydia asked one day. “What do you mean?” “I mean, like will I be a kid again? Or a baby?” “Well, I don’t know. . . . I think we’ll have a perfect knowledge and maybe a perfect memory. So maybe it’s something like that . . . .” When I was trying to teach Emerson to ride his bike without training wheels, he fell. “I don’t want everything to happen again in the resurrection!” he wailed, “Because I don’t want to fall off my bike again.” Well, if that’s the worst thing he’s experienced . . . .
As we were reading the last chapter of the series, Emerson said, “If I’m going to die, I just want to die soon. But if I’m not going to die, then I just want to not die.” I was a little confused, but Lydie caught his logic. “Yeah,” she said, “because I want to see what it’s like from Heaven, but I kind of want to stay here. Because Dylan’s here.” (Dylan’s the boy who almost kissed her once at lunch). They don’t fear death. It is another bright adventure, a foray into the radiant unknown. I’ve thought about this idea quite a lot myself—when I want to die and why. Because it’d be nice to be alive during the Millennium, but you’d miss out on the Spirit World completely. I’m not sure if this is really what I want, but it might be lovely to die with Julie two days before Jesus comes again in a cloud and in glory. We wouldn’t know the experience of being changed in the twinkling of an eye. But if our kids were still small, we’d be able to raise them in Millennial peace, we as glorified beings, and they as translated children. That is, if we died without them. We could be a whole glorified family. But I think it’d be nice for them to have some earthiness to them still. And then Julie and I would be able to experience disembodied-ness, to know what it feels like to have been physical and then to lose it. We’d be able to see what spirits see and know what they know. But the disembodied, they say, view death as a bondage. There are certain things that come with physicality. Like kissing. As I knelt across the altar at the temple the other day and heard words spoken of the morning of first resurrection, I imagined that bright morning enjoying the party but wanting to sneak off to some corner apart in this bright universe to be alone with Julie—to hold each other and kiss again like new lovers, like newlyweds. Yes, yes, the party is fine. Yes, yes. But that first resurrected kiss. Ah.
And then, we’d reunite with our kids in the air. They’d come flying to the beaming warmth descending from the east. Their bodies quivering with joy. The very air singing. We’d fall on each others’ necks and weep and kiss and join the dazzling song. Then we’d descend to the newly renewed earth and raise them in a world without sin. What will that look like? These are the sorts of questions Lewis gets at in these books. What will all this really look like?
One Saturday I was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids. I would usually read at night to Em but we were getting to the part in which the White Witch kills Aslan, and I wanted to read it in the daytime. So Lydie joined us. She had read part of it before with Julie but couldn’t remember much, so Em and I caught her up. I was impressed with how much my golden-haired boy had retained. (Tonight as we finished the last chapter, we read about how they approached the green hill and saw the tops of trees whose leaves were silver and whose fruit was golden. Emerson told me, “Silver is kind of like gray, but it almost has sparkles in it.” Lydia asked, “Dad, do you like silver or gold better?” I told her I like silver because it is the color of my wedding ring and my ring reminds me that mom and I will be married forever. Emerson told me he likes gold better because his hair is golden.)
Emerson could tell his sister the whole story. And they get the idea that Aslan is a symbol for the Savior. Anyway, I was reading the part where Aslan goes to be sacrificed, and I was telling them that Aslan was stronger than the White Witch and stronger than the giants and dwarves and hags and cruels and spectres and everything there. I wanted them to know that Aslan only got killed because he let them kill him, just like Jesus. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels.” A Roman legion was six thousand soldiers. That would have been something to see: seventy-two thousand angels against a few men and boys with swords and staves. But the gentle, compassionate, powerful Son of God walked into their violent embrace. But as I was telling the kids all the people that Aslan was stronger than, Emerson looked at me wide-eyed and asked, “Is he even stronger than you?” Good to know that in his misperceptions, I am strong. (A sidenote on that note: One night I was reading the Sermon on the Mount to my kids, and I was telling them that I think Jesus is the best teacher who has ever lived, that I love the way He teaches. Emerson looked at me in wonder and asked, “Is he even a better teacher than you?” Oh, yes. Almost as strong as Aslan, and almost as good a teacher as Jesus. That’s me, Emerson’s dad. I love the misperceived world from his good son’s eyes.)
I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader a few months ago to Lydia and Emerson. It was a holy experience. I started crying as soon as Reepicheep throws away his sword, and I pretty much didn’t stop until several minutes after we finished the last page. While I was reading, Emerson sat up suddenly and pointed excitedly at the ceiling. “I see a cliff that the people jump off onto a bridge! And a penguin going off the bridge!” Lydie examined the ceiling and declared that she saw the same thing, except the cliff. Emerson clarified that the cliff went all the way up to the wall. Then she saw it. And another penguin. When we got to the part in the book where Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund they will not return to Narnia but will come to know him, Aslan, by another name in their own world, I turned with tears running down my cheeks to Lydia and asked, “Do you know what that name is?” All choked up, she replied, “Yes. Jesus.” Then she started to sob. When we closed the book, she curled into me and shook with sobs. Emerson stood up and looked at the two of us in tears. “I’m the only one who doesn’t have to cry for joy,” he said, and he ran downstairs to find The Silver Chair. Lydie and I lay snuggling each other and sniffling a little. I kissed her forehead and told her, “I love you.” She choked back in a small voice, “I love you, too.” Then, to make sure I heard it, she said it again, this time a little louder. A holy experience.
We watched Prince Caspian one night when Julie had to work. You remember how it ends with that sad, lovely song by Regina Spektor as Susan and Peter tell the Narnians goodbye for the last time—Aslan has told them they will not return. It’s a wonderful sadness captured in song and story. Just the right sadness. Well, as we were walking upstairs to brush our teeth, Emerson, all choked up says, “I’m just so sad that Susan and Peter will never go back to Narnia.” “I know,” I tell him, and he begins to sob, a heartfelt, sympathetic, wonderful, cathartic cry. I look at my small, sensitive child and my heart dances with gratitude. He is a boy after his father’s heart. How I love him.
I have loved reading these books with my children. The process was an exercise in waiting for Aslan. So many apparently mundane moments. And then the arrival of the Lion. A glint of mane, a scent, a sense. I think our lives are like that—we live sensing there is always something more, waiting for Aslan to breathe on us, to sing, to roar. We hurt inside and hurt each other and hurt ourselves, but then the Lion comes and none of that matters. Our broken pieces are picked up and somehow, miraculously mended. We follow Him, a parade of joy into a city of light. This is the morning.