Lent and the Narnia Chronicles (4)
The fourth of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories is The Silver Chair. This story concerns the deadly sin of sloth. Through the character of Jill Pole Lewis displays the dynamics of this deadly sin. These dynamics center on the importance four signs Aslan gives to Jill to aid her and Eustace in their rescue mission of the imprisoned lost prince of Narnia, Rilian. Aslan tells her:
“Remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs . . . Take great care [the Narnian air] does not confuse your mind. And the Signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. This is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters.”
Jill fails to heed Aslan’s warning and allows circumstances, discomfort, discouragement to overtake and overshadow her attention and commitment to following Aslan’s signs. Jill starts well, but before long “she had forgotten all about the Signs and the lost prince for the moment." The search for the lost prince does not go well, the going gets difficult and even desperate. Under these circumstances Jill and Eustace almost completely lose sight of the signs: "They never talked about Aslan, or even about the lost prince now. And Jill gave up her habit of repeating the Signs over to herself every night and morning. She said to herself, at first, that she was too tired, but she soon forgot all about it." During a snowstorm when none of them can see to look for the signs, Jill lashes out when she is asked which sign they should be on the outlook for: "Oh come on! Bother the signs . . . Something about someone mentioning Aslan's name I think but I'm jolly well not going to give a recitation here." Lewis highlights the effect of her sloth thusly:
“She had got the order wrong. That was because she had given up saying the signs over every night. She still really knew them, if she troubled to think: but she was no longer so "pat" in her lesson as to be sure of reeling them off in the right order at a moment's notice and without thinking. [The] question annoyed her because deep down inside her, she was already annoyed with herself for not knowing the Lion's lesson quite so well as she felt she ought to have known it.”
Aslan rescues Jill and his plan for she and Eustace to rescue the lost prince. He appears to Jill in a dream and recalls her to herself and to his purposes for her. Thus Jill shakes off her sloth identifies the last sign and faithfully follows it risking herself and her company to release Prince Rilian.
Don King summarizes Lewis’ portrayal of the sloth-full Jill: “In Jill, Lewis portrays all who fail to persevere, who fail to keep the vision. Like Jill, many are susceptible to the weary grind, the dull repetition of routine, the easy slide into self-fulfillment at the cost of spirituality.”
Sloth, then, is not simply doing nothing about faith. It is doing everything else and being consumed by so many other things that one loses sight or and awareness to the call of faith. This is sloth as most of us in the west experience it today.
The antidote is the one Lewis alludes to with his four signs to which Jill must adhere - Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
“And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the door posts of your house and gates.”
Paul chimes in with his insistence to believers that: “The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:14-16).
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
-So says Moses.
-So says Paul.
-So says the old hymn.
-So says Lewis in The Silver Chair.
What do you say this Lent?