Thursday, 23 June 2011

On first meeting Aslan...

Musings from The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis (Part 2)

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.

2. Bree (Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah)
the meeting

Unlike Shasta, Bree has some knowledge of Narnia and Aslan, having been brought from Narnia to Calormen when he was still a young horse. He knows the name Aslan, and thinks he knows who he is, but is largely mistaken in his understanding. A meeting with Aslan reveals to him just how little he understands and humbles his misplaced pride in his knowledge.

Aravis asks Bree why it is that he swears "by the Lion" and "by the Lion's Mane" when in fact he hates lions. Bree replies:
"So I do...but when I speak of the Lion, of course I mean Aslan, the great deliverer of Narnia who drove away the Witch and the Winter. All Narnians swear by him".
"But is he a lion?" [asks Aravis]
"No, no, of course not," said Bree in a rather shocked voice.
"All the stories about him in Tashbaan say he is," replied Aravis. "And if he isn't a lion, why do you call him a lion?"
"Well, you'd hardly understand that at your age...
While Bree is speaking, a large lion, Aslan himself, appears from behind. Bree cannot see him, but Aravis and Hwin do.
"No doubt," continued Bree, "when they speak of him as a lion, they only mean he's as strong as a lion or (to our enemies) as fierce as a lion. Or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed, it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion, he'd have to be a beast, just like the rest of us. Why!" (and here Bree began to laugh) "If he was a lion he'd have four paws, and a tail and Whiskers!...Aie, ooh, hoo-hoo! Help!"
For just as he said the word Whiskers one of Aslan's had actually tickled his ear...
Bree got such a fright he ran quickly as far away from him as he could, till he was stopped by a high wall. Hwin was the first to address Aslan, whose conversation I will discuss in a later post. After that, Aslan turned to Bree.
"Now Bree," he said, "you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true beast."
"Aslan," said Bree in a shaken voice, "I'm afraid I must be rather a fool."
"Happy the Horse who knows that while he is still young. Or the Human either."
what we can learn
There are a couple lessons we can learn from Bree. To begin with, we like Bree often have our own ideas of who God is and what he is like. These may be based on half-memories of things we've heard about him. Or, like Aravis, they may be based on rumours we have heard (the rumours of Aslan in Tashbaan of which she speaks make him out to be a dangerous demon in the shape of a lion).

When we come face to face with the truth about God, as revealed in his Word, and as we experience Him in our lives, we learn that most of what we thought we knew or assumed about him is untrue or only half true. He is something much greater, wilder, safer and more wonderful than we ever imagined.

When we realise this, we, along with Bree can only confess: "I'm afraid I must be rather a fool."

Aslan's reply to that is equally revealing. It echoes the words of Scripture that speak of foolishness and wisdom.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:27-31)
Happy the human who realises their foolishness in the eyes of an all wise God while he or she is still young.

The other thing this passage points to and reminds us of is what, from a human point of view, is the most foolish thing God could have done. And yet "the foolishness of God is wiser than the greatest wisdom of men". Like Bree, we would never have guessed it, but like Bree it is because we don't really understand God.

For Bree, it was unthinkable that the Lord of all Narnia could be a beast like him. For us, it is unthinkable that God would leave his power and throne in heaven, and come to earth as a mortal man. But that is exactly what he did. Jesus put of all his godhead, and put on full flesh and mortality, knowing he would suffer the most brutal form of suffering in that flesh.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
I mentioned in the post on Shasta the scene where Jesus appeared resurrected to his disciples. They doubted that it was really him risen in a new human body. But he convinced them that he was not a ghost or some insubstantial human-like spirit. He proved this to them by eating food in front of them.

Thomas was missing from that reunion. In the same way that Bree refused to believe that Aslan was a real Lion, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was really risen. I'm fairly sure CS Lewis had this passage in mind when he wrote the words "Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true beast."
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)
See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
On first meeting Aslan (Aravis) 

Summer Challenge 1 
Summer Challenge 2 

1 comment:

Swanwhite said...

Bravo! Very insightful. I enjoyed your thoughts on this.