In The Magician’s Nephew—one of the Narnian chronicles by C.S. Lewis—there is a character called Uncle Andrew who is selfish, vain, and power hungry. He is man who, in the words of the psalmist, “flatters himself in his own eyes,” who, like those decried by the prophet Jeremiah, “is greedy for unjust gain.” One passage about Uncle Andrew stood out particularly to me, and today’s readings called it to mind again. In the passage, Aslan—the glorious and good lion, the Christ figure—is singing the world of Narnia into existence:
And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl.
Like the wicked man described in Psalm 36, Uncle Andrew allowed transgression and flattery and deceit to speak deep to his heart for so long, that when Aslan himself sang a love song over him, his ears could not hear it—or heard something frightening instead.
The interesting thing about our readings to me is what they suggest about how to avoid becoming like Uncle Andrew. Like me you might tend to think, depending on your own baggage when it comes to God, that the first defense against a hardened heart is to look inward—to examine, discipline, correct – to shore up one’s own righteousness. Yet when the Psalmist draws a contrast with the wicked, he paints a picture of one who knows that she is loved. More than that, he paints a picture of the one who freely gives love – a love described over and over in Psalm 36 as “steadfast”—that is to say, unwavering.
Paul too, when he prays for the church in Ephesus, points to this unwavering love as the source of spiritual strength, going so far as to say that it is only in being rooted and grounded in this love that one can be filled with the fullness of God.
This love—which we celebrate in its fleshy, incarnate glory this season—is what I will reflect on as I step away from these readings. How does it change my perspective to know that what my heart needs most is to know it is loved unwaveringly? How does it color the words I speak to others—maybe to those who, like Uncle Andrew, have ears that do not hear but for whom that unwavering song is still sung? How should it impact my priorities, my politics, my relationships, my theology? These are the questions I will sit with, as I hum along to so many of the love songs of this season.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
I am going on my third year in Boston/Brookline, and am still trying to figure out how to build community in a city that is so busy and difficult to navigate. If you can make your way to Coolidge Corner for pizza and a movie I’ll meet you there!