Confession of a Marshwiggle or Living as a Narnian: Whitterings, February 2008

"I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

I was recently discussing with a friend some of our fears. I was saying how I sometimes fear looking back on my ministry and regretting lost opportunities that I would be able to see so clearly in hindsight but was blind to now. He spoke about the fear of one day losing his faith and thereby making his life a bit of a joke. This last fear really struck a chord in me and made me think.

Of all the things that I fear losing, my faith has never been one of them. I think this is because I do not see that faith is a set of beliefs or a code of practice but rather a way of being. I think faith is analogous to intuition. Although we do not know exactly how intuition works, many believe that it works in a way similar to the normal mode of using our five senses only on the unconscious level. The senses only work consciously when things are obvious enough to make us take notice of them. If someone using only their senses walked into a room after a couple had been fighting, and then that couple pretended everything was fine, there would need to be blood or broken glass for the newcomer to know that the couple had just been fighting. However someone using intuition in the same situation would know instantly without any obvious clues. There would be a huge amount of information flowing through the brain from the senses but all of it too subtle to register consciously: the level of testosterone and adrenalin in the air, the dilated pupils of the eyes, the flush of the skin, and the subtle defensive and aggressive movement of the bodies. All of this information would be flowing through the unconscious mind the same way the grosser senses flow through the conscious mind. The unconscious mind then throws this information upstairs to the conscious mind as a knowing feeling. The intuitive ‘knows’ in a similar but different way from the sensor. The sensor can tell you why they have come to the conclusion about their interpretation of reality that they have. An intuitive will not, even though they may know a great deal more about the scene than the sensor. The sensor is to belief as the intuitive is to faith.

Faith is basically the trusting of the universe, an openness to God and His creation On a basic level having faith is about letting go of control and letting God step in. As St Julian of Norwich told us “All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Nietzsche’s nihilistic view of reality led him to conclude that all man can do in the face of the overwhelming emptiness and meaninglessness of the universe is to look into it’s great abyss and then dance upon the edge of it. Kierkegaard’s Christian answer to Nietzsche is that one must make the next step of faith and instead of dancing on the edge of the void one must rather jump into it. Only then will God appear and catch you.

I have also taken great comfort from the example of Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. The climax of the book takes place in the underground kingdom of the evil Green Witch. She takes the heroes of the story, including Puddleglum, prisoner and is casts a spell on them using magical smoke from a fire and soothing words to make them believe that Narnia and Aslan, and everything they have known are all just figments of their colourful imaginations. It is, of course, Plato’s cave in reverse. The characters are taken from the light of day into the cave and made to believe that the shadows are real and not the things casting them. The witch just about wins when the Marsh Wiggle Puddleglum, a curmudgeonly pessimist amphibious creature, rouses himself at the last second and throws himself into the fire. The dampening effect of his froglike skin on the fire dispel the smoke and the pain from being burned brings him back to his full mind. The short statement that he gave to the Witch at that moment is the best answer to classical atheism I have ever come across. To me he gives an assurance to us Christians that the path of faith is the only possible way forward in our lives.

"One word, Ma'am," Puddleglum said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worse and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up thing seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

So for me faith is not really about belief or consciously knowing it is more about moving steadinly forwards with trust. Faith is following in the footsteps of the disciples, sometiimes blindly but still with certainty. One step in front of the other. John Henry Candinal Newman, our dear friend who caused those of us who are Anglicans such lingering pain, sums it up in his famous hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’. This song was reportedly sung on the Titanic by Marion Wright just before it sank in a service led by The Reverend Fr Ernest Courtenay Carter, Vicar of St Jude’s Whitechapel. It was also sung by Betsie ten Boom on her way to a German concentration camp in WWII.

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I Have loved long since, and lost awhile!