Friday, 17 June 2011

On first meeting Aslan...

Musings from The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis (Part 1)

The Horse and His Boy is a unique book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. In this book, all four main characters (two children and two horses) have spent most of their lives in Calormen, the pagan land to the south of Narnia. As a result, they have grown up knowing very little, if anything, about Aslan. When each of them meet him, their response is different, and yet meaningful. These scenes shed light on who Aslan is, and by extension, on the One he represents.

1. Shasta
the meeting

Shasta is the first to meet Aslan. He has been sent alone on a mission to warn King Lune of Archenland that his a country is about to be attacked by the Calormen prince Rabadash. After meeting Lune on a hunting party and passing on the warning, he is separated from the party by a sudden mist. Left to wander alone through these foreign mountains, he suddenly realises that someone is walking beside him...

Terrified, he eventually plucks up the courage inquire who it is that is following him:
"Who are you?" [Shasta] said, scarcely above a whisper.
"One who has waited long for you to speak," said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep...

"You're not - not something dead, are you? Oh please - please do go away...Oh I am the unluckiest person in the world!"
...He felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. "There," it said, "that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows."
He goes on to tell the creature of all his adventures since he left Calormen. Of how he met Aravis, of the adventures in Tashbaan and the crossing of the desert. Of the numerous times they were chased by lions.
"I do not all you unfortunate," said the Large Voice.
"Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" said Shasta. 
"There was only one lion" said the Voice...but he was swift of foot...I was the lion. I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who gave the horses new strength of fear for the last mile so you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you."...

"Who are you?" asked Shasta.

"Myself," said the voice very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again "Myself," loud and clear and gay, and then a third time, "Myself," whispered so softly you could hardly hear it...
As they had been walking and talking, the mist had begun to rise. Shasta saw Aslan for the first time and was not afraid - or at least not afraid as one would be of a lion though he did experience the fear of another sort. Their eyes met for an instant, and then He was gone.

At first Shasta thought it was all a dream. But then he spotted a large deep paw-print in the ground. The paw-print began to full with water. The water overflowed from it and became a small and refreshing stream. Shasta drank from it and washed his face. He knew it was not a dream.

what we can learn
There are a number of things about this passage that remind us of our Lord.

When people first meet Him, they are not always sure what to make of Him. He can be something of an enigma. Like Shasta, the disciples, on seeing Jesus risen from the dead, were slow to believe it was really him. Some, like Shasta, feared that He was a ghost - something insubstantial and mysterious. Something not of this world, and perhaps even dangerous.

Jesus, like Aslan to Shasta, comforted them by showing them that he was Real. God though he was, he was still human - physically human; not some insubstantial spirit:
Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognised him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!
“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched. (Luke 24:35-41)
The second part that reminds us of our Lord, the the part where Shasta asks Aslan who he is. His triple reply, among other things, is a direct echo of what the Lord says to Moses, when he asks him his name:
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’ (Exodus 3:14-15)
Thirdly, the passage where the paw-print becomes a flowing stream, speaks to us of Jesus as our living water:
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water... Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14)
There is a similar scene when Jill Pole first meets Aslan in the Silver Chair.

Another beautiful link, which I happened to notice is the fact that before the mist lifts and Shasta sees who Aslan is, he refers to him as The Voice. This is not the only time this title is given to Aslan. It is the name by which he is called in the Magician's Nephew, when he is first heard singing the world into existence. I can't but help think of The Word, when I see this title.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)
But of all these little links and suggestions, there is one aspect of this scene, that above all others, speaks to us about who God is and how he works in our lives: It is the part where Aslan reveals that he was the only Lion in the whole story, and that he was there with Shasta throughout his journey, even though he did not realise it.

Everything that had happened in Shasta's journey, even some of the apparently bad things, was ordained and overseen by Aslan. Though they thought they were fleeing lions, Shasta and Aravis were brought together to accompany one another. Though they thought that they were running for their lives, the horses were actually being urged on to save the lives of the Archenland people.

I think this passage, and the story as a whole, reminds us that God is with us throughout life; every step of the way. And sometimes, what seems like the worst misfortune is actually a blessing of unmeasurable value (ask me, I know a little about that).

And it is not only for the important and scary events that the Lord is with us. Sometimes the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing, like a cat to comfort you when you are alone in a scary place, has been placed there by God to get you through the night.
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us... (Acts 17:26-27)
The more I dwell on this passage, the more I realise just how full of truth it is... soon I will post more about the other characters and their meetings with Aslan. I can't wait to see what we can learn from them...

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See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Bree)
On first meeting Aslan (Aravis) 

Summer Challenge 1 
Summer Challenge 2 

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