Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Unnamed Group

I meet on Sunday evenings with a group of people at the local Presbyterian church. We started meeting over two years ago for a 21 week series called Living the Questions and then just kept on meeting. We've discussed Bonhoffer's classic The Cost of Discipleship and looked at spiritual implications in the children's classics of Dr. Seuss. The group wasn't a part of any real planned program, and so didn't start out with a name and somehow never acquired one. That's not really a problem except when someone asks me to do something on a Sunday night and my reason for not going is that I'll be with "my group that meets at the Presbyterian church." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? So anyway, the most recent study with my group that meets at the Presbyterian church is C.S. Lewis's treatise on heaven and hell, The Great Divorce. As a twist on our usual discussion, our group facilitator suggested that we somehow present our own take on Lewis's ideas. So with apologies to Jack up front, here's my chapter to insert in his classic work....

I stood like so many times before in my life - alone in a crowd. After exiting with a throng of folks from a most unusual bus I was reminded of a dream that had regularly visited my nights over the years.  I'm late and headed for a familiar destination. I'll be on my way, turn a corner, and suddenly realize that I'm in a different city hours away. I'm in the midst of an impossible journey. But for some reason, I don't stop. I keep driving, running, biking, moving somehow towards my target. I felt the same urgency now except that I had no real sense of where I was headed -- just that I should be getting there. One advantage of being a wallflower is that it's easy to slip away unnoticed. So I did. Slowly. Immediately into my escape I realized that the landscape before me was far more imposing than the time constraints I had encountered in my dream. Here, my very bodily form was ill suited to the reality around me. I looked at my hand and saw through it to the blindingly green grass below. Each step over the shards of grass was agonizing. As I looked toward the mountain ahead, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw the image of a bicycle propped against a tree. I could see through the bike to the tree bark, and so I thought that maybe my pitiful ghostly form would have the strength to lift it. A solid bike would have been out of the question. I gingerly made my way over and hopped onto the bike. It was a perfect replica of one that awaited me one childhood Christmas morning with a metallic blue frame tricked out with trendy butterfly handlebars and a banana seat.  As I pedaled away, the bike hovered erratically over the ground and I was reminded of another dream -- the one where I'm flying around (without an airplane) with minimal control over my altitude and course.  It occurred to me that maybe this wasn't a dream-like state, but an actual dream. I've never had the ability to recognize a dream while I'm in it, but maybe it's a first. Or maybe those past dreams were giving me hints of a reality that I wasn't mature enough to understand.  I've always rolled my eyes at people who said things like, "Suspend your disbelief" but cliche or not, that's exactly where I found myself. So, it was with interest instead of terror that I applied the foot brakes and stopped in front of an enormous lion who cocked his head and looked at me in amusement.
     "Hey." I offered in a greeting totally lacking in intellectual substance. I half expected him to reply that hay is for horses, but he seemed a little too classy for that go-to answer of elementary school teacher through the ages.
   "How'd you like the bike?" he asked.
   "Loved it. I don't know how I would've gotten here without it. It didn't always feel safe, but it sure was good to have."
   "Good, but not safe?" If lions can smile, then this one did.
   "Oh, I get it. Aslan! Very clever."
As I watched, the tawny fur turned to brown tweed and I found myself standing before C.S. Lewis. The groupie in me kicked in, and I gushed,
   "Mr. Lewis, I've read everything of yours I could find. Mere Christianity changed my life. I read The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughters while they were still infants because I couldn't wait for them to learn English."    
    "You definitely spent a lot of time with your nose in a book."
   "Are you here to help me like George Macdonald helped you? And were you serious that Phantastes changed your life? Honestly, I was assigned that book in college and I've tried to read it several times since based strictly on your recommendation, and it just does nothing for me."
  "I think you've just explained why you found yourself on the bus instead of on the mountain."
   "Come again?"
   "Reason is a gift of God, but not to the exclusion of His other methods of revelation. Just because an idea presents itself in a way that doesn't fit your strength doesn't mean that it's not from God. The best way to understand is to listen for God's truth openly and with humility. There's only so much to be learned from books."
  "I noticed in The Great Divorce you were pretty harsh on academic types in spite of being one."
  "Not nearly as harsh as you were on Baptists in spite of being one."
I had to laugh. And agree.
  "Ok, I took some shots that weren't exactly edifying."
   "Are you ready to understand the rest? We can head toward the mountain."
   "Can I keep the bike? Just kidding. Let's go."
Immediately I noticed that my skin had morphed from transparent to translucent.
   "That's a start. Every barrier that you remove brings you closer to God's reality."
   "How many other barriers are there?"
   "You have eternity to find out."

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