Hwaet wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.
My Shakespeare professor chanted the first lines of Beowulf in Old English to help us better understand the rhythm of Anglo-Saxon poetry. While I’d read the poem multiple times, I didn’t exactly have the first line memorized, but it didn’t matter. There was magic in these words I couldn’t understand and wouldn’t have recognized if you’d placed them before me. But the archaic words hailed something otherworldly, and my soul longed for it, though I couldn’t tell you what it was.
It was the same sense I had on hikes with Grandma when we’d look at the mountains, and it seemed both as if I were the smallest and most insignificant thing in the world and yet something inside me was growing so large it would burst.
Or the time I was walking in the woods with my then eleven-year-old brother Declan, and a deer made eye contact with me, and I stood there, completely disarmed by that piercing, commanding, silent look. How could something like that make me feel as if I’d encountered something sacred?
It was the same beautiful, heart-wrenching that made me sob in front of my sixth graders when Reepicheep approached World’s End, threw his rapier in the sand, and rode his coracle over the towering wave into Aslan’s country.
I even encountered it at Food City.
The school-year had just ended, and I sat down with my pimento cheese sandwich and a cup of what turned out to be cold, hours-old coffee, and opened my copy of Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. Trying to grasp the meaning and feel it, waiting for the cure my soul needed, I noticed to my left an employee with Downs syndrome purchase a pizza and slide into a booth. I kept reading but still couldn’t concentrate. I looked up. The man was sitting there, sneakers propped up on the seat across from him, eating the entire pizza as though he had all the time in the world. Huge tears filled my eyes, and suddenly, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, though it was hard to explain. It still is. On paper, it doesn’t make a bit of sense, and I feel I’m running the risk of sounding merely sentimental or patronizing. But in that moment I knew that young man did by living what I was trying so hard to do by reading the right books. It was as though he were eating a pizza to the glory of God without even trying. I don’t even know what his thoughts on God are, but in that moment at least, he seemed to understand Him way better than I did.
The irony about being a votary of the Blue Flower is that you long, and long to pursue longing, but really, the Thing you are looking for is quite evasive, like an elfin spirit or child playing hide and seek. The more you look, the more you realize, He was really pursuing you the entire time. He won’t be conjured: he’s not a tame lion, so I’d like to end with two scenes from The Silver Chair.
In the beginning, Eustace Clarence Scrubb and Jill Pole are hiding from a group of bullies when Eustace begins to tell Jill about his adventure in Narnia, and both children begin to wonder about how to get in again. Jill suggests trying magic, but Eustace, who has met Aslan before, says,
“Well, I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I’ve an idea that all those circles and things are rather rot. I don’t think he’d like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him.”
So the children stand side by side, arms extended with palms down, and begin to chant Aslan’s name and their request to enter Narnia. The bullies arrive, and the children dash into the bushes and find a door. Upon opening it, they find themselves in another world but are quickly separated after Jill tries to one-up Eustace by getting as close to the edge of a cliff as possible. Eustace tries to pull her back, but she resists, and the two tumble from the edge and are lost in cloud and wind. Upon landing, Jill finds herself near a stream guarded by a lion who assures her Eustace is safe, but her quest will be much harder because of her foolishness.
“Please, what task, Sir?” asked Jill.
“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”
This puzzled Jill very much…
“Speak your thought, Human Child.”
“I was wondering—I mean—could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to—to Somebody—it was a name I wouldn’t know—and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.
“Then you are Somebody, Sir?” said Jill.
…the Bread of Life
…the Light of the World
…the Door of the Sheep
…the Good Shepherd
…the Resurrection and the Life
…the Way, the Truth, and the Life
…the True Vine.
…where the bridge is formed
…where the anchor holds
…where the gossamer thread catches.
I am all that you have been searching for and cannot leave behind.
Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. W&W Norton and Company, Inc., 2000.
Lewis, C.S. The Silver Chair. Harper Trophy, 1981.
The Bible. The English Standard Version. Crossway, 2008.
Whitman, Walt. “The Noiseless Patient Spider.” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45473/a-noiseless-patient-spider. Accessed 9 July 2017. Because my copy of The Norton Anthology of Literature doesn’t contain this marvelous poem in the Whitman section.
Photo taken from http://narnia.wikia.com/wiki/The_Silver_Chair. Just please don’t tell my students that I’ve technically cited a wikia anything.