Those of you who know me well understand that C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien are my favorite authors. I was introduced to both authors while a student in college at a time when I was struggling with Christian faith and the pursuit of knowledge. Lewis and Tolkien provided examples of academics who were recognized for scholarly work and also for the fact that they were Christians.
This past July I was able to participate in a seminar sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Foundation and held at the restored home of C. S. Lewis (the Kilns) in Oxford, England. Kim Gilnet, an administrator at Seattle Pacific University, and Earl Palmer, former pastor of University Presbyterian Berkeley for more than 20 years, led the seminar. Seven of us participated in the seminar and were privileged to stay in one of the bedrooms in the Lewis home in addition to reflecting on Lewis’ work throughout the week (and yes there was a very nice wardrobe). In addition to the home, Shot Over Park lay just behind the Kilns and provided an extensive wood with hills, wildlife and ponds to run and walk in every morning.
On our first night together Kim Gilnett began with a reading from The Silver Chair. When I talk to parents about the college experience one of their greatest desires is for their children to be safe. I know that they often mean “physical safety,” but there is also a sense that we all want our children to remain safely within the bounds of what we have taught them. In the Narnia series, Lewis often dealt with this concern in conversations with one of the children and the Lion. Kim noted to us that Lewis believed that meeting Christ is always a good meeting, but it is rarely safe. In this passage, Jill Pole, who is very thirsty, meets the lion guarding a stream (keep in mind that Lewis thought of the lions on Trafalgar square when he envisioned Aslan):
The lion speaks: “If you are thirsty, you may drink.”
They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.
I love this passage for the same reason that Kim used it in our meeting; we do not come to Christ under our own conditions. Our hearts are in much need of change. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: Jesus bids a man, come and die. It is only in our willingness to humbly submit to God and place our lives in His hand that we experience the “water” that brings life. Jill asked for the Lion to turn away, to promise not to “hurt” her (bring change), and even to seek another stream. And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
At George Fox, we take seriously the academic and vocational preparation for life. In Parker Palmer’s book, To Know as We Are Known, he writes that “we want a kind of knowledge that eliminates mystery and puts us in charge of an object-world. Above all, we want to avoid a knowledge that calls for our own conversion. We want to know in ways that allow us to convert the world–but we do not want to be known in ways that require us to change as well. To learn is to face transformation.” Parker Palmer effectively describes what we seek to do at George Fox. It is our promise that students will be prepared well, but that they will also be introduced to the “stream of life” centered in the person of Jesus Christ that will change them forever.