All, Bookworm, Faith

Musings on Narnia

NOTE: I wrote these reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I thought that they would possibly make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I decided that I would share with y’all.  Edits and additions have been made.  Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from a bookworm! 😉

I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings.  He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology), like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and enjoyable for both children and adults.

During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains.  When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous.  An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people.  They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.”  This is not intended as a compliment.  Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and arrogant.  He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts.  He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power.  They are politically correct, but they are insufferable.  It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong.  The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives.  Instead, they go along with the latest trends, whatever is in vogue at the moment.eustace

Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia.  Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.

Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only.  A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use  of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.)  Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.

How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace?  We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life.  Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.

We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.

The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon.  Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure.  During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”  His outside now reflected his interior disposition.

However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him.  He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader.  He also offers his services (the fire in his belly) as a source of warmth on cold nights.

Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism.  Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure,  appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.”  Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin.  Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath.  At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him.  When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] 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.”  Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”

One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely,  our sins and shortcomings through repentance.  However,  we cannot remove them ourselves.  If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure.  We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace.  We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”

Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts.  In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation.  Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person.  When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope rather than remaining in our mess.  Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.

Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia.  Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia.  This small event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization as well as the reality that both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking.  Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon.  Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak. He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends with his companions once more.  So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith.  We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.

These musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series.  If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!

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Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.

 

 

All, Culture/Life

Avoiding the Tyranny of Technology

It’s ubiquitous–ever encroaching into new aspects of our lives.  No, I’m not talking about politics and the presidential election.  I’m talking about technology, that blessing and scourge of modern society.  And yes, I realize the irony of using a computer and the internet to critique technology.  Clearly, I am not totally opposed to technology; one would be foolish not to recognize the benefits that it has brought to mankind.

However, so much of it nowadays truly seems to beg the question: “even though we can, should we?”  This question can refer to ethical dilemmas in medical technology or to the use of drones to deliver people’s packages.  Moreover, people’s lives seem to be increasingly revolving around screens–TV, phone, computer, iPad, etc., etc.  Obviously, many of these things are useful and one needs to make use of them, but it makes me sad when a back-to-school commercial has a mother talking about how her daughter spent the summer “binge-watching” TV or when a car commercial proudly displays kids being kept quiet by TV screens in the back of their parents’ seats.  Shoot, when I was a kid, we would read, play games, and sing to the radio or our cassette tapes and CDs on road trips.

Don’t get me wrong.  Everyone needs a good movie marathon now and again, and social media is a useful way to keep up-to-date with friends and family.  Nevertheless, I think if one stops for a moment and reflects, it becomes fairly clear that society is relying more and more on technology to think, communicate, entertain, and work for us and instead of us.

As technological “progress” appears to be interminable, we will have to make a concerted and purposeful effort to be in control of our use of technology and not let it control us.  Real reality, the people and places around us, will always be more interesting, challenging, lovable, and wonder-inspiring than virtual reality.

So while acknowledging technology’s place in our lives, here is a list of 11 activities that involve minimal or no technology.

1.) Write an old-fashioned snail mail letter to someone.   It’s more personal than an email or a text and you know that receiving something in the mail is always fun.  Plus, it gives a person a chance to work on his/her handwriting (another thing that has been lost thanks, in part, to technology).

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2.) Experiment in the kitchen.  Dig out an old family recipe or try a new recipe or come up with your own culinary concoction.  Try to avoid looking up directions online.

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3.)  Read–NOT on a kindle. Snuggle up under a blanket or lay outside in a hammock and get transported to another time and place.

old-books

4.) Play a  game.  Cards and Monopoly didn’t stop being fun just because you’re not a child anymore.

cards

5.) Outdoor activities. Go for a nature walk; go for a bike ride; play sports with friends.  It’s good for the body and the spirit.

forest-trail

6.) Explore your community. Visit a nearby museum or an historical landmark.  Go to an apple orchard or a farmers’ market.  It’s never a bad life decision to understand more fully the place you call home.

apple-orchard

7.) Take up a new hobby. Try your hand at gardening.  Learn a musical instrument.  Learn how to sew.  Make an attempt at painting or writing poetry.  In the words of C.S. Lewis:

c-s-lewis-quote-another-goal

8.)  Support live local theater. Go watch a play or a ballet or see a touring Broadway musical and be reminded of the beauty of the performing arts.

ballet

9.)  Listen to music.  Don’t just have it on in the background but really be still in listen, or put on music and have a spontaneous dance party with friends or by yourself. Attend a live concert and make memories with friends. (This does involve some use of technology, but the main point is that you are not staring at a screen).

turn-table

10.)  Truly be present to those around you. Converse with family and friends without obsessively checking your phone.  Or just simply be silent and enjoy each other’s company.

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11.) Pray – because the Good Lord would love to hear from you!!!

What are some of your favorite non-technological activities?

 

NOTE: pictures found through Bing Images.  They are either public domain or “free to share and use.”

All, Art, Faith

Music and Life

Why is music so connected to the human experience? Minds greater than mine have pondered this question; yet, like the haunting notes of a stirring musical score, this inquiry is recurring and timeless.  Why is music so inextricably linked to humanity?  The harmonious and discordant sounds of the world as well as the notes of actual music greet us practically from the first moment of our existence in the wombs of our mothers.  Even if by some bizarre circumstance we somehow were to live our whole lives without hearing any man-made music, we would still be serenaded by nature’s music, so lauded by poets, namely, the whirring of the insects, the chirping of birds, and the roaring of the wind.

I daresay that the majority of people have an opinion on music; there are certainly differing viewpoints on what constitutes good music, on what music is appropriate for certain times and places, and, undoubtedly, there are extreme variances in musical preferences.

A myriad of musical genres exists, and it is a good trait to have a cultivated and eclectic taste in music.  There is no harm in enjoying classical, rock, country, and pop music.  Nevertheless, some music, arguably, is objectively superior to other music.  To paraphrase one of my former philosophy professors at Franciscan University, one can recognize the musical superiority of a Bach or a Beethoven and still simply prefer the music of the Beatles.

Yet all of this discussion still has not answered our initial question regarding music’s relationship to humanity.  It is a somewhat cliche saying that “music is a universal language.”  However, cliches become cliches because they are true, so what is it about music that makes it universal?

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, music is described as an attribute of heaven.  Ludwig von Beethoven, one of the greatest musical geniuses that the world has ever known, said the following statement: “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom

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Ludwig von Beethoven, From Bing Images

and philosophy.”  Hans Christian Andersen of fairy tale fame, said, “When words fail, music speaks.”

In each of these descriptions of music, there seems to be an appeal to a transcendent quality?  Is this the universal characteristic by which music is united with mankind?  Is it that music appeals to our higher nature, to the spiritual part of us that is connected with God?  And is this why even people who profess no formal religious beliefs sometimes claim to find spiritual expression through music?

Along with those who have considered these questions before me, I would answer with a strong affirmative.  Music can be a channel through we come to a greater self-discovery as well as to a deeper realization of the meaning of our lives.  Moreover, music relates to beauty, which leads to God; therefore, music is a vehicle by which we begin to discover our relationship to God.  Finally, music also has the ability to facilitate a greater understanding between persons.

Firstly, let us consider how music can lead us to a better knowledge of ourselves and of our lives.  St. John Paul the Great in his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” (which is a worthwhile read for everyone, no exclusively partakers in the arts) states,

“Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.  The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s  own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things.”

These eloquent words exemplify the truth that an artistic intuition, which includes musical intuition, is an encounter with beauty and a means of transcending the mere sensory world to see something mysterious and unifying about reality.

How often has someone listened to a particular song or musical composition that seemed to afford a release and an outlet to feelings that were inexpressible otherwise?  Music can be a catharsis and help a person to recognize pains or graces that were previously ignored or unnoticed.

Over and over again in this inspiring letter, our late pope speaks of beauty.  Beauty awakens a yearning within us.

“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence .  It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future.  That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy.  It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God…”

And God is beauty itself.

St. John Paul continues, “Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.  It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.”

Music is art, and, thus, it has the power to shed light on man and on the world, subsequently leading to the transcendent end of faith and of God for Whom man was made.  Certainly these are some of the reasons why music contains such potency and importance for mankind, why it is a universal language.  Music bespeaks of mankind’s Creator, Who knows how to speak to the hearts of each of His creatures through His creation.  God can use music as a means to call us to Himself.

Secondly, music can provide insight and understanding between persons.  In the “Letter to Artists,” St. John Paul writes,

“Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them.  The history of art, therefore, is not only a story of works produced but also a story of men  and women.  Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.”

Thus, this is also a way in which music is universal: we feel connected to one another through music because each composer, each singer/songwriter infuses some of his very self, his soul  into his art, and we cannot help but come to understand him better and to grasp more fully his view of the world than through listening to work.  This builds communion and unity with one another and preserves the story of the past for future generations.

Whether it is the Russian nationalist music of Tchaikovsky or songs from the 1960s and ’70s protesting the Vietnam War, we have a musical record of people’s feelings towards events  that were changing their personal worlds and the world at large.

Music is a wondrous thing.  Music has the ability to transcend, to lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of each other.  Music can be a meeting with beauty, which leads us to a meeting with God.  These qualities of music are, I think, solid answers to our initial queries.  Yet, there are many more answers that are just as worthy, so let us conclude as we began–with thought-provoking questions: How has music  been a part of your life? Have you felt the beauty of music?  Have you been drawn closer to God and to your fellow man through a musical composition?  How has the universal language of music influenced and changed the notes of your individual life’s song?

NOTE: This is a slightly edited version  of a piece that I originally wrote for The Gadfly, a student publication at Franciscan University of Steubenville,  in 2014.