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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Lion, The Mouse and the Dawn Treader - a review

Over the break I was given a book: The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader by Carl McColman. Sad to say, I was more than prepared to not like it. I'm still not real fond of the cover, and it struck me as some cheesy knockoff that was cranked out to take advantage of the release of the third Narnia film.

But for whatever reason, as I was looking at it, turning it over in my hands and trying to decide whether to put it in the thrift store pile, I saw the website address for the author. My computer was open, so I checked out the site. Unexpectedly, I was drawn in by its layout and a quick scan of some of the authors he quoted -- authors like Evelyn Underhill, Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross -- told me this book wasn't perhaps what I assumed.

It was Saturday night and I wanted to read anyway, so I sat down on the couch and opened up the book. Immediately I liked it. I read at least a quarter of it; the next night another half, and then finished it off a few nights later.

What drew me in? Perhaps this sentence in the opening chapter:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not directly related to any stories of the Bible. Even so, it may be the most useful of the seven Narnia books, for it is the one that most directly maps out the contours of the Christian spiritual life.

A good subtitle for this book would be Mysticism 101. McColman, whom I found out later has written a book titled, aptly enough, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, does a tremendous job breaking down, in manageable steps, the process of pursuing spiritual mysticism. This is something I find surprisingly difficult to explain concisely, and I was humbled by McColman's nimble approach.

In this book he "translates" C.S. Lewis' third book in his seven-book series The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a book that can be understood as containing
...much of the wisdom and insight about spiritual living that has come down to us over the centuries from the great mystics and saints of the Christian world.

At the same time, McColman respects Lewis' claims that the books were never to be taken as direct allegories. He simply chooses to look at its symbolism and story as a platform to guide the reader into an understanding of spiritual mysticism.

What am I talking about? McColman tells us that much of the conflict that we face in life is not so much the battle between good and evil as it is the conflict within ourselves. Put another way, do I want to live life on the surface, reacting to the highs and lows of daily life, or do I want to dive below and engage with the deeper, bigger, harder issues and questions that flirt along the edges of our existence? More importantly, do I want to find God in the midst of that?

McColman, in describing Eustace's resistance to the voyage he eventually finds himself on with Caspian, Reepicheep and the Pevensies, connects that with our own determinations about spiritual journey. We are faced with deciding whether or not we are willing to pursue a life based on conscious communion with God (quoting Evelyn Underhill). Here McColman gives us a definition for mysticism as simply a can't-miss-it experience of God's presence in our lives, even to the point of feeling at one with God. He then spends the rest of the book showing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a wonderful, enchanting description of the various aspects of Christian spirituality.

Brilliant! THIS gives a great definition of much of the content I post on this blog (once you weed through the organic recipes and ramblings about green living, that is...)

So if you are saying to yourself, I think I know what Kelly is referring to regarding this Christian mysticism stuff, but I am not completely sure I get it (or necessarily want to!) I say, buy this book. It never condescends. But like Lewis did throughout the Chronicles, it uses the childhood experiences and perspectives to tap into far deeper, eternal truths. And it walks the reader into a journey of spiritual disciplines that I believe we each deeply hunger for -- a journey of mystery, nurture, unknowing, and occasional, breathtaking a-ha's.

This would also be a great book for a group committed to Bible study, prayer, discipleship, or even just spiritual exploration. Reading it together would prompt tremendous conversation, questions and spiritual experience.

A couple of days ago, I read this from Henri Nouwen:
Choices. Choices make the difference. Two people are in the same accident and severely wounded. They did not choose to be in the accident. It happened to them. But one of them chose to live the experience in bitterness, the other in gratitude. These choices radically influenced their lives and the lives of their families and friends. We have very little control over what happens in our lives, but we have a lot of control over how we integrate and remember what happens. It is precisely these spiritual choices that determine whether we live our lives with dignity.

Spiritual mysticism helps me make the choice of gratitude, even in deep pain and disappointment, and certainly in great joy. It helps me know Christ intimately, in real relationship, and not merely in philosophical premises and theological pronouncements. My faith moves from my head, where it still needs to have traction, into my heart as well.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great review Kelly! Heading off to see if I can get this on my Kindle now :-)