Now, my funky spiritual conspiracy theory about why that happened can perhaps be saved for another time. But let's turn to the source material. Helen and I are reading it together at the moment; I haven't read it since I was a teenager, and it's the only Narnia book of which that's true. (I somehow didn't own it where I owned the other 6, but found it as part of a set on sale for charity in Sherburn's Co-Operative supermarket. Someone called “Chelsey” had donated the set; I felt horrendously guilty for breaking up the set and only buying the one I needed.)
Today (3rd September) we read Chapter Fourteen – The Beginning of the End of the World. In this chapter, the questing crew of the Dawn Treader discover (from a retired star) that to break an enchantment on the Narnian Lords they have been searching for, they must travel to the very edge of the world.
“Sir”, said Caspian, “will you tell us how to undo the enchantment which holds these three Narnian Lords asleep.”
“I will gladly tell you that, my son,” said the Old Man. “To break this enchantment you must sail to the World's End, or as near as you can come to it, and you must come back having left at least one of your company behind.”
“And what must happen to that one?” asked Reepicheep.
“He must go on into the utter east and never return into the world.”
“That is my heart's desire,” said Reepicheep.
And that is what Reep desires.
Why? Because Reepicheep (head of the Talking Mice of Narnia) is a knight errant, a paragon of courage; he has seen all, accomplished all, toppled tyrants, fought sea serpents, liberated slaves, seen great magic done; and, above all else, he has loved Aslan. There is no great adventure left for him now except to accomplish that exploration each of us must one day undertake. His goal, his love, his desire is now all beyond this shadowy fore-imaging of the truest world.
That passage sent a chill down my spine; it is the first beat upon the drum. Reepicheep's story only ends one way now. Now the story rushes headlong to – death. But surely that is no happy ending?
To die is gain. Why? Paul continues “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you” (Philippians 1.23-14). Dying is gain because it is far better to dwell with Aslan in his Country. Paul resolves to continue living for the sake of his congregants, though a year or two later he declares that he has finally “run the race” to completion (2 Timothy 4.6-8). Reepicheep has already completed his race; he has nothing left to keep him.
But do I feel the same way? Do I know that to die would be the best thing for me? As I look at the ruins of my flesh, strewn with the leavings of my emotional dependency and manipulation, of my arrogance and wrong ambition, I am shocked to discover that part of me desires to stay. Not for the sake of those I minister to, or for the sake of my wife; perhaps there is some of that in there, but the chief motive for my desire to stay in this world is entirely self-serving. Part of me loves that ruination.
It is safe – disastrous, but safely and securely so. It is mine. It is the only thing I can truly claim to have made. What insanity bids me stay? Then I think of the baby being birthed; of course it is best that the child be born, but ask any mother and you'll discover that many had to make a great effort in labour to persuade the child of this.
Paul also spoke of this, of course. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8.22-23). This world will soon enough finish the lengthy and painful process of labour and come to full fruition. It will become one with Aslan's Country. The Lion Himself will reign there, we are told elsewhere; He will be our light (Revelation 21).
And so with me. It may seem safer to remain in the womb – but I see increasingly that the beauty of this Creation is simply the sketch of the Creation to come. I see increasingly that no human repair plan can fix what has happened here. I see that the inevitable honest result of the groaning within me to pursue honour and courage has little to do with the recognition or respect my flesh desires; honour and courage don't simply kill the dragon and then rest on the plaudits gained. They restlessly continue to seek a dragon they cannot kill. They seek not simply to be lion-hearted; they seek to have a heart for the Lion of Judah, who placed that living heart within them.
During the debate about whether to continue to the End of the World, Lucy asks Reep if he is going to contribute.
“No. Why should your Majesty expect it?” answered Reepicheep in a voice that most people heard. “My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”