Paschal Reflections – Deeper Magic

This week has been Holy Week for millions around the world who are part of the Orthodox Church. It is the final week before we celebrate Pascha and the world changing resurrection of Christ.

It is my custom to write a reflection before Pascha. Our service begins at midnight, but we generally try and arrive by 11pm to get a seat. We enter into the nave in darkness with only a few candles burning and someone chanting the Psalms. Just before midnight, the bells begin to ring, and the room goes completely dark. At midnight, our priests begin to chant “Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing. Enable us on Earth to Glorify Thee in Purity of Heart.” The senior priest then comes out, a candle in hand and says “Come! Receive the light!” The people surge to the front, candles in hand, and receive the light either from the priest or from each other. It is glorious! It gets even better, but I’ve described this before in this space, so I won’t go into detail other than to say that there is an enormous amount of joy, hundreds of “Christ is Risens” in every language that is present in our parish, and it all ends with a huge feast at 4am.

So now, at 7 pm with several hours to go, I enter my reflective space.

During these last weeks of Lent, I have been listening to the audio version of the Narnia series – specifically The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy.

My connection to Narnia started in childhood when my mom would read to us during the evenings when we were on vacation from boarding school. Dressed in pajamas and curled comfortably in the living room or on my parents’ bed we would listen to tales of an enchantress, winter, and a lion who was not safe but was good. We heard stories of talking horses and boys turned into dragons, of Puddleglum and a giant mouse called Reepicheep, and finally of a poor donkey manipulated by an evil and cunning ape into dressing as a lion and a final battle that opened the door to a new world “farther up and farther in.” These stories captured my imagination, and I would dream of doors in our world that led to worlds beyond like Narnia.

As a teenager and then adult, I began reading the series on my own, never growing tired of the stories and metaphors, the word pictures and wisdom that the Narnia series offered.

As I have listened to this during Holy Week, the author’s brilliance in capturing this timeless story has struck me anew. It has been profound to listen to this during this time of the year.

On this eve before Pascha, I think about the climactic event from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Aslan, innocent of any wrongdoing, took on the punishment of Edmund, and was brutally killed at the hand of the White Witch.

But that wasn’t the true climax or the end of the story. The story was bigger, deeper, and more powerful than the White Witch could ever know. And the gift of understanding this was first given to Susan and Lucy by Aslan as he conquered death.

Consider these words:

At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“There is a magic deeper still”,,, I don’t for a moment believe that my faith is magic, but I do believe in my deepest soul that there is a mystery so big and so deep that I will never fully understand it in this life, that the greatest love imaginable in heaven or on earth has been given to us through the Resurrection. I do believe that before time dawned Christ “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages” the Redeemer knew what was to be. This is one of the glories of Pascha, that I get to both experience and bear witness to a collective, community gathering of celebration, entering into the timeless truth of Christ’s resurrection and what it means for the human race.

“Looking back into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned…” As I enter into the wee hours of the morning, I will once again reflect on this mystery and what it means for me and millions of others around the globe.

And with that, I will say:

Xristos Anesti! Χριστός ανέστη
المسيح قام Al Masih Qam
Khristos Voskres!
Hristos a Inviat!
Christo Ressuscitou!
Christ is Risen!

Indeed, He is Risen!


Image – Coptic Cairo, 2016

Waiting for Aslan

“WHAT an extraordinary place!” cried Lucy. “All those stone animals – and people too! It’s – it’s like a museum.”

“Hush,” said Susan, “Aslan’s doing something.”

…..Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colours; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.” from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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On our weekend walks we pass by some amazing houses. Each one is different in color, size and style. Each one with character and charm: wrap-around front porches on some, outside spiral staircases to rooftops on others, gilded turrets on still more. They are blue, white, deep orange, and green. They have gardens and window boxes full of flowers, driveways and wide porches.

It is a treat for the eyes just to look at them.

One of the houses we aren’t able to describe. It sits down a hill closer to the ocean. Large trees block the view and it’s clear by the No Trespassing sign that strangers are not welcome. A large plot of land opposite the driveway belongs to the house as well and in recent years the land was developed. Trees were removed and the land is now sculpted with bushes, plants and flowers all artistically pre-arranged so they fit in with large rocks in the area.

But that is not enough.

This year the owners have introduced stone statues of animals.

We first saw a haughty ostrich at least 10 feet tall, its neck rising above its body.

Next we saw a proud lion on a rock.

Then we saw a lioness.

And her cubs.

They stand, poised to pounce and play. But they can’t for they have no life. They are merely stone and granite statues fashioned by a talented artist.

These stone animals remind me of the castle of the White Witch, Queen of Narnia, where “Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands” turns her enemies into stone and they sit in a large courtyard, seemingly forever trapped under a curse. Moments before they offended the queen these animals and people were fully alive with a purpose ordained by their creator. Then through the curse of this queen, they became stone.

They are waiting for Aslan.

I think of how like these stone statues I am at times. Hard. Immoveable. Lifeless. Paralyzed. Stationary. Like I’m waiting for Aslan

In Narnia Aslan is on the move and the stone statues are not beyond his reach. The breath of Aslan touches the statues and moves them from cold, grey stone to living, breathing reality full of color, movement and life. They become who they were created to be – the strength and glory of the Lion in their bearing.

I sit stationary, praying for the breath of the Spirit of God. Just one breath is enough to be fully alive.

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Weeping for the Kids

Just down the road from us on Memorial Drive is a big apartment complex. It’s one of the tallest buildings in that area and is flanked on one side by the Marriott and another by a gas station. It’s steps away from RiteAid Pharmacy and Whole Foods; just across from the river.

I don’t know how many families it houses but my guess is it houses a lot — a diverse group that includes immigrants, refugees, and those who have lived in the area a long time.

Last night the 11 pm News focused on the building and the Mobil gas station beside it. Another young man from my kids’ high school was arrested in connection to the Boston bombing and he lives in this building.

This kid is also 19. This kid is also an immigrant, this time coming from Ethiopia. This kid is also an American citizen. This kid is also a kid. 

He tampered with evidence and now faces jail time for up to eight years.

And I can’t get over the fact that all of those involved who are still alive are 19 years old. I can’t wrap my head around this.

Think about the ages of the victims and the folks involved in the activity: 8 year-old, 23 year-old, 29 year-old for victims;19 year-old, 27 year-old – alleged bombers. And then another three 19 year-olds arrested last night for tampering with evidence.

My heart weeps for a generation. They were too young too die – and the others are too young to lose their lives through these horrific choices.

Never has there been more money and time put into anti-violence programs in this country. Anti-bullying campaigns have sprung up across the country. People are begging for a stop to violence, whether it be bombings, shootings, or bullies. Yet never have we seen so much sustained violent activity.

And this is only Boston – a safe and wealthy city.

My mind and heart move on to Syria where war has created an environment where children grow up too soon; where young kids sit on street corners trimming vegetables to make some hard-earned pennies, where little girls stand in bread lines, lucky if they are not raped in the process.

And so I weep for a generation that feels unfairly lost, unfairly violated, unfairly portrayed.

What can I do to change that? I’m one person! I can barely handle my stuff, let alone the stuff that, in the big scheme of things, is so much more serious.

But the sun still came up today and we are seeing our fifth day of sunshine in a row. Birds are chirping and a bright red cardinal sits in the tree that is blossoming purple down the road (Whoever said red and purple can’t go together?!) The river is alive with sail boats, the walk beside the river equally alive with people. Beauty is all around us – spring has entered with as much gusto and strength as winter ever had. During those cold days of dark, spring was moving underneath the cold and dark – change was coming.

So in the midst of this I proclaim the goodness of God, a God who cares about kids, who said “Bring the kids! Let them hear!” Who told us we too should become like children, who said “Let the little children come unto me – do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”*

A God who loves kids, who weeps for a generation, who refuses to give up but continues His redemptive work even though I can’t always see it.

In the midst of my cries to God for the kids I remember a passage – from one of my most favorite books on ever earth: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Aslan

“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed,” [said Beaver].

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” 

My heart overflows with irrational joy for indeed – Aslan is on the Move.

*Matthew 19:14

Fierce Love

Deutsch: Ein Löwe wird verwendet um Aslan darz...

I’m not sure when I first realized that my love for my children was a fierce love. Was it when I held my first-born and counted fingers and toes? Was it on the way to the emergency room cradling a 2-year-old with a gash over his left eye? Or was it when I watched one of them being excluded from a game or play time?  Whatever event or time it came over me that this was not a quiet, comfortable, sit down by the fire love. Rather, it was a fierce love characterized by strong emotion and equally strong action.

Maternal love is a fiercely protective love lest anyone hurt my children. It is a believing love – wanting to give the benefit of the doubt. It is a hunting down love – I will get you. I will hunt you down if you hurt my kid. My maternal love wants to be a building up love – hugging tightly even as a vice grips my heart at their hurt, wiping salty tears away and praying for the words to encourage and heal the wound. Maternal love is a fierce love.

And so when I read the words that describe God’s love I think I get it. From metaphors of labor pains, bears with cubs, and leopards I am given a picture of a fierce and female love that defends and protects, often at a great cost.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:3,4

In the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia  “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe“, before the four Pevensie children have met Aslan they talk with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about him. In the conversation Susan and Lucy find out Aslan is a Lion.

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”

Maternal love has never been just a comfortable, safe love. And no matter how much I may want to portray God’s love as comfortable and safe all the metaphors tell me it’s so much more. It’s a defending, all-encompassing, satisfying, nourishing, protecting and restoring love. Surely it’s a fierce love.