Driving a car full of kids home from some New Year’s Eve fun, against their noise from the back of the car, Andy points to the clock on the dash. There it is, in liquid crystal glow, 2014, the digital numerals of a shiny new year. And he laughs louder than the kids in the back when I say 2013 was one of the best and 2014 will be even better: laughs at my cynicism, sarcasm, my thankfulness and optimism, tightly rolled up as one God-trusting, faith-making, reality-breaking, hard leaned-upon grace. He knows I am a natural born pessimist and he knows how Jesus has changed me. I’m a glass half empty kind of girl who has brought hope into the balance this year: at the very least I know that in the glass there is always enough. Enough love, enough forgiveness, enough He-is-able and a vision for the possible that is bigger than my own thoughts and imagination. I’m choosing not to live with my eye on the glass. We both know this was the best of years and we know it was the worst of years and we believe in 2014.
Even so, some days start with an awful ache, an intense heart pain, right there with the warm comfort of the humming central heating and the cup of tea in bed. The day unrolls just as it should with the first slanting light in the slats of the blind and the creaking of the bunk bed ladder as little feet make there way to the bathroom. And in the kitchen there is plenty of breakfast food, cereal, toast and yesterday’s muffins with three types of jam. There is coffee brewing in the stove-top pot and the beans are freshly ground. No one is late and we all find matching socks; our bags are already packed and our lunches made. One of us leaves for the school bus and another for the car, still another fires up the laptop at an improvised kitchen table office where a good living will be made.
Right there as the radio news breaks through the hiss of steam and the good rich coffee is brewed: fighting in South Sudan and 2.3 million refugees from Syria, in all these conflicts there are unprecedented levels of violence against children, and in Africa, wars as old as me and older rumble on whilst I map a score of names made familiar by violence, terrorism, rape and starvation. There are Indian refuges displaced after riots between Hindus and Muslims, 34 people killed by bombs in Volgograd in the run up the the winter Olympic games, in El Salvador the poorest people are evacuated from the path of an erupting volcano, the Americans arrange talks to secure a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal and closer to home we are watching and discussing the increased use of food banks, human trafficking and the Christmas missing-feared-dead.
Can you see? I’m badly trouble by the presence of sin in this world but never troubled that God has not come. Advent passes with a new window each day and a little scripture on the inside of the flap that pushes us forwards through the story much faster than we wanted to go. In a doctor’s office somewhere a husband and wife bear bad news together, elsewhere another wife wonders if the marriage will last the Christmas holidays; Wednesday Christmas day through to Wednesday New Year, it seems like a long time to eek out what is left of the love. I have come to know, some days it’s just a dull ache and something not quite right and another day its a shard of raw pain that would break me in two with the weight of all that loss and and grief, like the whole universe is ready to cave in under the pressure of its own disappointment, loss and pain.
In the post Christmas lull, before we return to our work, I’m reading the C.S Lewis tales of Narnia and I’m finding some long awaited Immanuel hope in a little volume of story telling for children. For a moment I’m lost there with Lucy in the beautiful snow. There on the other side of the wardrobe door, under soft yellow lamp light and the deep forest pines I’m with her and Mr Tumnus in an imagined land where it is always winter and never Christmas and where the ground under foot is hard with ice, the spring flowers never come, the streams never flow and the day light hours are short. I feel something of what they feel when their friends are taken away as prisoners, when Edmund is deceived and falls into the grip of the Witch and one creature after another is turned to stone. I’m listening with the children when they first hear the name of Aslan and I feel the same hope and faith rise inside me as they feel. And I follow close behind the girls out to the stone table where the great lion is bound and tied. There in that clearing on that dark night I feel the same fear and disappointment that the one who should have won has been defeated and the witches words are sore in my ears,
Understand you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge despair and die.
Tim Winton, the Australian novelist, has a wonderful account of how he was re-telling the gospel story to his small son and as the crucifixion approached both story-teller and listener became increasingly sad and deflated: listener because he had never heard the end of the story, story-teller because he had somehow, in the passionate now of his own tale forgotten what happened to Jesus after He died on the cross. Father and Son weep together and then the father tells the Son the unbelievable ending to the story.
And so as the weight of the worlds problems break on my own tired back but I am sad , then remember through the Narnia story how it is not me who is broken, and this is not the end of the story,
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end: and there was no Aslan.
And they are sorely disappointed until Aslan appears with a shake of his mane and his huge strength returning, telling them of a deeper magic from before time itself and a way of undoing death and sin that is as real as the feel of his soft fur against their hands and his warm breath on their faces.
This is my long awaited Immanuel hope echoing back from the story book page to the gospels before it returns to me and my world, transformed, new and glistening with possibilities. I’m positioning myself to live life somewhere near to that broken stone table but within sight of Aslan returned and the final battle fields. In my own small corner, by the standard lamp and the book shelf with the poems and fiction, I can battle doubt, disappointment and the gaps in what I understand, and I can embrace hope, transformation and resurrection with a story book, a Bible and a pen.
Read more about the Christian imagery behind the stories of Narnia in this article by Alistair McGrath