OK, another instalment in my irregular theological travelogue series (hey, it is not every day I am in Europe!). And while most folks may not associate the great Christian apologist with the Netherlands, there is, as almost always, a method to my seeming madness.
My mind is always spinning, and lateral thinking tends to happen fairly often. The image of a ping pong ball ricocheting all over a small enclosed space is often how I visualise my mind at work! Anyway, a few loose ends did coalesce in my mind as I was driving from Switzerland to Holland.
Our travelling companions Ed and Terry – who rendezvoused with us in Italy and at whose gezellig (pretty and cosy) home we are now staying in rural Holland – helped to spark this off. Ed and my wife are both mega-fiction fans and mega-Lewis and Tolkien fans. So while I and his wife like these things too, it is usually he and my wife who get into big discussions on these matters.
So a few days ago as we drove through Switzerland they were discussing the Narnia books and films. As with the Hobbit books and films, they are both purists who will often complain about how the filmmakers have taken liberties with the near-sacred books.
Thus they were talking about the Narnia series. At one point my long-standing friend (we first met in Holland 35 years ago) said – and my wife agreed – that the very best quote from the book was left out of the film. And it is indeed one of the great lines of the entire seven-volume series:
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are – are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
This of course comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. That line is a great one, and as the four of us drove up to Holland yesterday it seemed most relevant to me. There was great, growing excitement, certainly for me, as we headed north.
Holland was my home, from 1979 to 1984. We did a Youth With A Mission school there at Heidebeek in the middle of Holland, and then stayed on staff a few years, afterwards moving to Amsterdam for a few more years with YWAM. My wife-to-be came from Australia and I from the US. And Ed came from the US and we did the same school in 1979, and the two of us shared a bungalow together there.
My wife and I left Holland in 1984, and she has never been back since. I have been back to Holland twice for teaching purposes, so for me the return was not quite as important as it was for my wife. Yet I don’t know who was more excited – I or her – to come back and see the place where we first met so long ago.
It was cold, overcast and rainy when we left Switzerland yesterday morning. But as we made our way through Germany, the rain stopped, and eventually the clouds began to melt away. By the time we got to northern Germany and eastern Holland, it was pretty much all blue skies and sunshine.
So the changing weather added to the anticipation of going “home”. I was quite excited to get back to Holland. But not for all reasons. Geographically speaking, Holland has nothing on southern Germany and Switzerland, with the majestic and mind-blowing Alps for example.
Holland is flat as a pannekoek (pancake). Indeed, much of it is below sea level! So in terms of scenic beauty, while Holland is quite pretty, Europe has far more amazing attractions. But of course the excitement had to do with something more: it used to be my home. I of course have many memories of my own time there.
And it is where I first met my wife. So people and personal history were a big part of why this was to be a really neat homecoming. And especially for my wife, to revisit those places she had left so very long ago. Thus the location as such was not the really big deal, but those associated with it.
And by now hopefully the Lewis quote makes some sense in this regard. Narnia may be a great place, but what really makes it great, as Lucy pointed out, is Aslan himself (the Christ-figure in the series). Without Aslan, Narnia would be nothing.
So to leave that great quote out of the film version was rather remiss. Lewis knew his theology, and he knew that what makes Christianity great is of course Christ. Without Christ, everything means nothing really. He is the reason for Christianity. He is the reason for everything.
So in my own small way, and in my own poor analogy here, Holland too is really neat, but it becomes so much neater because of memories, people and relationships. One day Holland will be no more, but those relationships, experiences and friendships will continue.
One day this created order will be no more, either to be replaced or at least radically transformed (think New Heavens and New Earth), but it is because of the Centre that it all coheres. It is because of Christ that anything and everything matters.
Christ is the centre of human history. And of course he is the reason why all good things take place, be it relationships, or scenic beauty, or wonderful music, or great art, as I have been chronicling in this series of articles. All these amazing things are not the products of a random, purposeless universe, but the result of the great King who has made us in his image, and who shares all good gifts with us.
Pardon all the rambling here, but Europe is always an inspiring place. And when combined with great memories from long ago, it results in sermonic travelogues such as this.