This week I read the story of a Benedictine monk who wound up at an evangelical seminary, Fuller in Pasadena, doing research on C.S. Lewis. I was a student at Fuller, and I always appreciated the amazing diversity there: over 70 different nations and over 70 different denominations represented on a single campus! But, back to the monk.
His name was Brother Peter, but he is now known as Paul Ford, the author of The Companion to Narnia. In an interview for Fuller, a seminary publication, Dr. Ford speaks of his great love for the Chronicles of Narnia, and for the thousands of metaphors in those stories connecting the life of the imagination to the life of spiritual formation. He mentions one of his favorite stories, which is also one of mine, The Horse and His Boy. In the book, Shasta, one of the main characters, is set on a life of adventure, complete with many disappointing and difficult events. In just one of these, he must spend the night alone, with the tombs of the city behind him and the desert ahead. Imagine that for a minute: death on one side, barrenness on the other. Alone.
In my journey of faith and in my journey as a pastor, I've come to recognize that place. I often experience or hear about it. A decision needs to be made, and no choice seems good. A burden needs to be carried, and there are no words to describe the weight. A relationship seems severed, and no surgeon can repair the wound. In our human experience, there are many dark nights with the tombs on one side and the desert on the other.
But Shasta, of course, is not alone. In fact, he is comforted through the night by a cat who just happens to be present. Shasta won't fully understand the reason for his solitude, or for his painful stories of life, until much later in the book. Neither will he understand the identity of the cat. His pain won't be magically removed, either. But, as you might imagine, there will be a great purpose to his life; and that purpose will be shaped and developed through every single experience.
Maybe I'm thinking about children's stories this week because the kids are here at the church building for the Heartland Day Camp. Their theme for the week is courage. I like that. We don't wish for any of them a single night between the tombs and the desert. We don't wish that for ourselves, either! But we know that such nights come. We trust that, somewhere between the tombs and the desert, we are never alone. We trust that, out there in the circumstances we do not wish, we are never apart from a greater purpose. We trust, and the great cat comes to our side, and keeps watch in the darkness.