There are places you dream of, places that get stuck in your heart. Maybe they are full of significant childhood reminiscences or romantic memories, perhaps places where significant people or events have marked your life’s journey – or maybe just really beautiful holiday locations.
This hotel doorway is on the island of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly – for many reasons my favourite place in the whole world. As I look out of it I am beckoned to a special beach, where I played with my brother as a child while my mother sunbathed with shells over her eyes… and where 25 years later my own children played together, searching for shells along the shoreline, digging in the white sand and splashing in the clear, cold water. Martin and I went on honeymoon to Scilly in 1982 and returned there for our wedding anniversary last year – and it was as magical and heart-warming as ever. It did help that the sun shone!
But for me that is what Narnia, or the idea of Narnia, is all about…’magic.’ Its an escape to a different world, to joy and a rediscovery of a more real life; its a chance to breathe and get things in perspective again and an opportunity to evaluate, pray, grow. Its as if we step outside of time to look back and look forward…
Of course there are many places we have loved that there is no returning to – it would be foolish to try because they are stuck in the past, tied up with people who have moved on or grown up or grown old – or died. To go and revisit all these years later just accentuates the sense of dislocation and change – its the same place, but its not the same place. It makes you feel lonely and bereft – yes bereaved. So I suppose that’s what photos and memories are for, they transport us back in time when in the real place things have moved on.
But despite that some places seem to have a life of their own: they insistently beckon us back. We have friends who are in love with New Zealand and others who can’t stay away from Iona in Scotland. Our family’s equivalent addiction was caused by living in California for a year in 1996. It left that beautiful and extraordinary place forever imprinted on our souls so that every few years we are ‘California dreaming’ again, yearning to return to
expansive beaches and huge trees, wide roads, glorious coastlines and familiar cityscapes. We have been back to the far western edge on several occasions, despite the tearing of time. Yes, it was a big mistake to take the kids to drive by our old house 7 years later… it had been knocked down! But apart from that – I am still a California girl 😉 For me the Golden Gate is always a magical entrance into Narnia! Out of the city to the north lie the tallest trees in the world: to walk among them is definitely a spiritual experience.
I do love CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia because they are such a clever analogy of our spiritual journey. How many of us have deepened in our love for Jesus through seeing Aslan’s grace, strength, wisdom and affection, or winced when the children’s weaknesses mirror our own? The recently released film of Voyage of the Dawn Treader tells a story of growing, being tested, discovering what is important in life – and saying goodbye at the end. Yes, it is a childrens’ tale, but below the surface these are serious issues of life and death that Lewis is writing about. As Jesus knew so well, stories so often help us to see ourselves.
We can’t live in Narnia, but surely we do need to carry it in our hearts. There are times to draw aside and times to get on with life – times of refreshment and sunshine and times of hard work and discipline: we have to embrace the season we are in. But whether there is a real sunlit door to walk through or just one in your mind that leads you into the light of heaven as you pray… make room for the world that lies just beyond the door.
Today I will pass through another door into a sunlit land – it is not winter in Tenerife! But more than a special time of rest in another of our favourite places (winter sun! what’s not to like?) I am looking for a door into Aslan’s world – into peace and into adventure – so that I will come back strengthened and filled up again. As Caspian says on the shores of Aslan’s country, its time to focus on what we have been given rather than what’s been taken away…