Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letting the Lion Undress You

In his classic Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis captures beautifully so many elements of the Christian experience. Book 3 of the Chronicles introduces us to Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace was cousin to Edmund and Lucy, had no friends, and deep down enjoyed bullying and bossing everyone. In Edmund’s words, he became worse even when you tried to be nice to him.

One day Eustace stumbles across the entrance to a dark cave, which turned out to be a dragon’s lair. Once inside he discovers a treasure containing a bracelet, which he slips around his wrist. Soon after, he falls asleep and when he awakes he noticed a strange pain in his arm. Eustace had become something he was not before—he had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. The bracelet that had fitted very nicely on the upper arm of the boy was far too small for the thick, scaly foreleg of a dragon. At that moment Eustace realized he had become a monster, cut off from the whole human race and an “appalling loneliness came over him…and he began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed.”

When the dragon-that-had-been Eustace was reunited with his cousins, Edmund and Lucy, he began to make new discoveries about himself. When he flew over bodies of water and saw the reflection of himself he shuddered at his bat-like wings, the saw-edge ridge on his back and the curvature of his claws. It was dreary being a dragon. He wanted in the worst way to be a boy again.

One morning Eustace (the dragon) tells Edmund about a dream that he had had the night before. In his dream a huge lion approaches him and asks him to follow him to the top of a mountain where there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. And in the middle of the garden there was a well. The well was a big bubbling well with marble steps going down into it and Eustace thought he could slip into the well to soothe the pain in his leg caused by the under-sized bracelet. But the lion tells him he must undress himself. Confused by the lion’s instructions, Eustace said to himself,

"I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress myself because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.”

When the dragon-that-had-been Eustace steps into the water, he notices the reflection of himself once again. He saw that he was still hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as he had been before. There must be a smaller, scaly suit underneath and so he starts scratching and peeling this under skin too. He steps out of this layer of skin and goes down into the water again only to discover the same thing happened again. He thinks to himself, “Oh, dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.”

It was then that the lion said to him, "YOU WILL HAVE TO LET ME UNDRESS YOU." Even though Eustace was afraid of his claws—he was desperate. So he just laid flat on his back and let the lion do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away…He peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I had no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I had turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me.”

When I read and reflected on this scene from the Chronicles of Narnia, I couldn’t help but ponder and think about my own reality. I want to be different; I want to change. But do I really understand and grasp all that it involves? Am I really willing to undergo change, or do I merely want to engage in a bit of my own self-engineered reformation? Am I more of a monster than I’m willing to admit? Have I faced my own appalling loneliness? Do my most cherished relationships often bear the collateral damage of my dragon-like behavior? Have I really faced my own false self? Have I settled for a painless and pointless kind of change that demands very little and results in less?

Lord, inner, real, deep down change requires more than my obedience, it demands my surrender. Grant me grace to lie on my back and let the lion of Judah do it. Remove from me my scales of selfishness, my hideous habits, and my dragon-like disposition. Take me out and dress me in garments of grace. And in that delicious moment, help me to give you thanks that I’m truly different.

S t r e t c h e d