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To See The Lion

Posted by Matt Thomas on

Although I am a very big fan of C.S. Lewis, I had not, until recently, read any of his books from the Chronicles of Narnia series. Many of you will no doubt click away at this admission, rightly suspicious by this fact that I am not actually a believer of any sort. For those of you who are left, however, I hope to share a thought from the books which has remained with me since going through them.

One of the characters in Lewis’ series is Reepicheep, a brave and noble little mouse who very much wants to travel past the edge of the world to the place where Aslan, the great lion, is said to live. This is the very task Reepicheep sets out for in one of the books, and as Lewis places equally strong emphasis on the love and complete terror that this lion evokes in those who encounter it, this struck me as sort of a frightful ambition. I would, I imagine, very much like to obey such a lion, and certainly to serve it—productive things, of course—but to seek it out, like a mouse hunting a cat, only just to see it?

I might have ignored the ambition of Reepicheep more easily if it did not bring back to mind the work of a professor I’ve worked for in seminary, who is now developing a seminar based on the beatific (or blessed) vision. This is the idea that the goal and climax of all human existence is to behold God, the source of all beauty and joy, and that this is what is granted without end to the saints in heaven. While Thomas Aquinas is particularly known for having explored the doctrine, it has been testified to by faithful believers across the centuries, and the correspondence between this testimony and example of a noble (if fictional) mouse challenged me: what if, instead of seeking to obey or serve the lion, my highest ambition was to behold him?

These ideas happened to be running through my head as I was at a weekend function with a large group of friends, and I thought I would try to keep Reepicheep’s ambition—to see the lion—at the front of my mind. I cannot say exhaustively what the result was, but at least two things stood out very clearly. First, I noticed that in my interactions with our friends (most of whom are not believers), the disposition I carried was somehow lighter, freer, more hopeful and full of grace than it has been in other times. I think I can see at least one reason for this: if my foremost hope is to serve or obey God, this naturally becomes the hope I have for others as well, which quickly becomes discouraging when obedience and servitude soon appear as very remote interests. However, the disposition that one has after seeing something truly beautiful is free and joyful; one does not hope to compel another to do anything, but only wishes to point towards that same beauty, knowing that it will draw the other to itself.

HE HAS LOVED THE GREATEST FEARS: AS SUCH, THERE SIMPLY ISN'T ANYTHING LEFT TO BE AFRAID OF.

The second thing I noticed was even more striking. This desire to see the lion brought with it a quality of boldness—a noble sort of Reepicheepiness—and an almost-complete absence of fear, such that I found myself doing and saying things that I sensed were right with far less hesitation or wrestling that I would have otherwise. In seeing this in myself, I believe I gained a bit of insight into how Reepicheep is constituted. This brave mouse has no fear of anything at all, because that which would reasonably be his greatest imaginable terror—to be in the presence of the lion—has instead become his greatest desire. He has loved the greatest of fears; as such, there simply isn’t anything left to be afraid of. I found a small bit of this quality in myself, and I believe I can attribute it to the same cause.

While such reflections have been helpful for me, I would not hope to be silly and prescribe my talking animal friend as completely necessary for others (or even myself, if tomorrow there were something else God would have me focus on). Even so, I have been shown grace through the example of Reepicheep, along with the testimony of believers through the centuries, to have as my ambition the blessed vision of the lion himself—and this not just as the climax of my life, but as the desire to carry with me in each moment. Nor have I experienced this as an idle, private grace, but one which brought more to others than my hopes of service and obedience had done. I thus commend to the reader the example of Lewis’ saintly mouse, along with the petition of St. Thomas, who prays:

Jesus, whom now veiled, I by faith descry,

What my soul doth thirst for, do not, Lord, deny,

That thy face unveiled, I at last may see,

With the blissful vision blest, my God, of Thee. Amen.