Most of the people I know are familiar with C. S. Lewis. Many have spoken with me about the profound impact of his writing on their life. All of them, I suspect, would be (or they are now) surprised to learn that prior to my visit to Lewis’ birthplace in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I did not feel a deep connection with him. Truthfully, his intellect and the extent of his influence had mostly intimidated me. However, while I was in Ireland, not too long ago, at a friend’s insistence, I chose to take a closer look at his life.
One of the first “connection-points” occurred in Castlerock, a seaside village in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where Lewis spent annual childhood summer holidays with his brother and parents. There I discovered that we shared a mutual love of the sea. Walking along the shoreline where Lewis once played, I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of the seascape that inspired him to imagine, dream, and wonder. I’m confident that this setting was the heart of the magical world of Narnia that in later years he portrayed in The Chronicles.
Subsequently I began rereading Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, where I ran headlong into help for those times when I’m dealing with the most formidable foe I’ve ever encountered: the darkness of depression and the paralyzing fear that it breeds. To me, the worst thing about darkness is that it makes Jesus hard to see. And when Jesus is hard to see; everything is hard to see.
There’s a particular scene in Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the Dawn Treader has sailed into Dark Island. Everyone aboard is petrified, except for a single brave mouse, Reepicheep. At one point, when it appears that they’ll never escape Dark Island, Lucy, one of the visitors to Narnia whispers to Aslan, (a talking lion, the central character in The Chronicles of Narnia, and a symbol of Jesus)“Aslan, Aslan, if ever you lived with us at all, send us help now.” Lewis writes, “The darkness did not grow any less but she began to feel a little — a very, very little – better.” At about the same time a crewmember sees a tiny speck of light ahead, which, again, “did not alter the surrounding darkness” but did light up the ship. (There is more of Lewis’ brilliant insight: the darkness didn’t lessen. God does not always eliminate the darkness or calm the storm. , Instead, sometimes God joins us in the darkness.)
“Lucy looked along the beam [speck of light] and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the golden dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them…But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘courage, dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”[i]
I can’t read that scene without thinking about Jesus’ disciples: caught in the terrifying darkness of a raging storm, spotting what appears to be a ghost, and hearing Jesus say, “Courage! It’s me. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:50) (which, to me, sounds a lot like, “Courage, dear heart”).
I can’t read the depiction of those scenes without recalling times when I’ve been in the darkness and felt that I was alone, only to be assured that I’m not alone. What an indescribable comfort to realize that Jesus is with me always…even when I am in the darkness.
Has there been a time in your life when Jesus was present in your darkness?
How would you encourage someone else who may currently be feeling alone or in the dark?
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Collie Books, 1952), pp. 159-160
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.