Reading the Signs of Ordinary Times

The cover of The Silver Chair from the boxed set I received in High School (c. 1980)

JMJ

The Readings for the 1st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Hebrews 4:12, Mark 2:14

I‘VE BEEN REREADING THE Chronicles of Narnia in the canonical order. Actually, I’m using a very enjoyable audio series with Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, and Derick Jacobi, among others. It’s easily the best set of recordings out there, but a bit pricy unless you find it on sale. Anyway… I’m on Book Four, The Silver Chair, just now. It’s my least favorite one. I can only handle it for a few (audible) pages at a time. It gets tedious after that.

Don’t get me wrong: the story is good enough. Two children from our world rescue a prince of Narnia from an enchantment and restore him to his throne. Magic and whatall, of course, and talking animals. There are surprises and twists. But everything is so dark and, well, boring. Colorless. Especially when compared to all of the other books, this one is drab.

I suddenly think that’s the point.

There is a discussion in another post about how Lewis plays with Time and what I think that might mean. These are stories for children, yes, but they are not children’s stories. They are very adult stories told for children: there are things you can see only as you meditate on them. The three middle books, Voyage of the Dawntreader, The Silver Chair, and A Horse and His Boy, are conversion stories. The first and the third are painful stories about children going through rather adult conversions: they have to leave behind all they know to understand Narnia. The middle one, which concerns us in this post, is about the interior conversion that a “cradle” must undergo. The “cradle Narnian” is Prince Caspian XI. Eustace is a convert – and indeed Jill as well – but since they are coming to rescue the Prince it’s his story they are a part of. (No one is in a story alone, of course, he is also part of their stories.) The Prince, however, has gone astray in his grief for his dead Mother. He’s been led away by a foreign power, the Green Witch, and needs to come home.

Aslan sends two converted missionaries, Jill and Eustace, to rescue the lost Cradle Narnian. Jesus, calling to Matthew the Tax Collector, the Cradle Jew, who sold himself to the Romans.

Like any Narnian – or Cradle Catholic or Cradle Orthodox – Caspian knows he’s doing things right. The Green Witch has convinced him he’s fine. He’s really a Narnian, everything will be ok. Just trust her and she will get things back in line. And, like any Cultural Orthodox, Cultural Catholic, or even Cultural Jew, or Cultural Whatever, they miss the point of their religion, only getting the barest hints of the echoes from Childhood Memories. Caspian is Narnian in Name Only. He needs rescuing from the vestiges of Narnia in his own life enabling the Witch to continue to hold him back from his true life.

By vestiges I mean those shreds of cultural religion that are on unconnected to any living relationship: they form a sort of innoculation. Billy Graham refered to people who were “innoculated against” any real relationship with Christ by their cultural Christianity. Prince Caspian is in the same boat. The Green Witch has convinced him to stay put and she will make him a True King. Really she is only enslaving him to her more and more each day.

In order to guide these converted Missionaries to penetrate “even between soul and spirit” in the Prince’s life, Aslan gives four Signs. Each one they seemingly mess up – even to their own eyes – and yet each one works out in the course of their lives. In the end, it’s not by following the Signs that they save the Prince, but rather by saving the Prince, they discover they have followed the Signs. It is their growing relationship with Aslan that has drawn them forward.

Most of life plays out that way: one thing in front of another. Do them one after another. And you’ll discover you’re working out your salvation. We make much of the signs, or even the Signs of the Times but they’re not intended as prophetic way-showers, but rather as markers on the way. Prophecy is not about “What comes next?” in the timeline, but rather, “you are here”. The vestiges of religion and cultural laws fall away and you are left with a living relationship to the Word of God, the one and only word that God has spoken through all time and eternity, in text and in life: Jesus.

Before enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water.

In the end, you will discover that Jesus has called you out of yourself, and out of your enslavement to the world. Follow him.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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