The topic before us now is “spiritual disciplines” in the Narnia stories, and I have to begin by explaining the topic perhaps a little more than some of the others. Spiritual disciplines are those practices which should be practiced on a daily basis, so that they become habitual, with the result that you are prepared when the great moment of testing comes. And, if you have been reading the right kind of stories, you know that it always comes. For example, in The Magician’s Nephew, we see that Digory been given a good moral upbringing, and this was an important part of why he was able to withstand the temptation he faced. “Things like Do Not Steal were, I think, hammered into boys’ heads a good deal harder in those days than they are now” (p. 174).
Some of the spiritual disciplines we practice would be saying our prayers, Bible reading, coming to worship and the Lord’s Supper, and so on. These practices are used by God to help to shape and mold us into a certain kind of person. Although much of it looks different from our world, we learn quite a bit about this principle in the Narnia stories.
For example, we also learn about prayer in The Magician’s Nephewr. What does Fledge teach the children about prayer? “‘I’ve no doubt he would,’ said the Horse (still with his mouth full). ‘But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked’” (p. 163). In other words, we don’t pray to God because He needs to be informed; we do it because we need to know that He is the source of all our blessings.
Now of course, when we are talking about spiritual disciplines, we will spend most of our time talking about The Silver Chair, because this is one of the main themese of that book. For example, how does Aslan promise to guide Jill while she is down in Narnia? “‘I will tell you, Child,’ said the Lion. ‘These are the signs by which I will guide you’” (p. 25). He impresses upon her how very important this all is. “‘But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night’” (p. 27). This language has strong echoes of what the Bible says in Deuteronomy. In that book, God’s people are told to teach their children the law of God when they rise up, when they lie down, and when they walk along the road (Dt. 6:4-9). God wants us to learn certain things by repetition.
The signs look one way, but they are helpful in quite another way. This is why Aslan tells Jill about something odd with the signs. “‘And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That 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 . . .’” (p. 27). It is the same with the grace and wisdom that we receive through God’s means of grace here. The way God blesses us through them is not necessarily what we were “thinking about” when we were going through them. We might not “see the point” when we are reading our Bibles, or coming to the Lord’s Table. But the important thing to remember is that God sees the point, and He uses what He has promised to use when we need His grace.
But even though remembering and following the signs is very important, what goes wrong in Narnia? “‘Oh, shut up,’ said Jill impatiently. ‘It’s far worse than you think. We’ve muffed the first Sign.’ Of course Scrubb did not understand this” (p. 45). The missing of the first sign seems like an honest mistake. But things continue to slip away from them, even though Puddleglum was suspicious in the right way about Harfang. “‘. . . and that, anyway, Aslan’s signs had said nothing about staying with giants, gentle or otherwise’” (pp. 91-92). But after the Green Lady spoke to them about Harfang, what did they forget? “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” (pp. 92-93). And because one thing can’t leave without being replaced by something else, what effect this this have? Well, it filled their minds with Harfang. And so what did thinking about Harfang do? “. . . it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum” (p. 93).
And then, of course, after they were caught up in this sin, what does Puddleglum ask about? “‘Are you still sure of those signs, Pole? What’s the one we ought to be after now?’ ‘Oh, come on! Bother the signs,’ said Pole. ‘Something about someone mentioning Aslan’s name, I think. But I’m jolly well not going to give a recitation here.’ As you see, she had gotten the order wrong. That was because she had given up saying the signs over every night” (p. 101). Instead of thinking about the task that Aslan had given them to do, what filled their thoughts? “They were thinking of baths and beds and hot drinks . . .” (p. 102). We will either think about what Aslan wants us to think about, or we will think about what the Witch wants us to think about.
From Harfang, what did they see in the morning? “. . . it could not be mistaken for anything but the ruins of a gigantic city” (p. 118). And words from an old inscription spelled out the phrase “under me.” So what would have happened if they had been paying attention to the signs? “We’d have gotten down under those paving stones somehow or other. Aslan’s instructions always work; there are no exceptions. But how to do it now—that’s another matter” (p. 121).
Later, when they escaped from Harfang, and got under the old city, what was the one bright spot? “‘We’re back on the right lines. We were to go under the Ruined City, and we are under it. We’re following the instructions again’” (p. 148).
The last sign is the one sign that they get right. And notice that Aslan forgave them and helped them even though they had muffed the earlier signs. When the conditions of the last sign are met, what do they decide to do? “On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?” (p. 167). And why do they obey? What is their thinking about it? “‘You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do’” (p. 167). And this is one of the great principles involved in the spiritual disciples. God doesn’t tell us what is going to happen. He tells us what to do, and when the time comes, we know what to do.
There is a right way to understand the spiritual disciplines but, not surprisingly, there is a wrong way to approach them as well. There are unfortunately many Christians who think that God wants them to avoid certain things just to avoid them, even though God has said nothing to us about avoiding them. This kind of spiritual discipline has a name in our world—it is called pietism or legalism—it is as though Jill made up her own “signs” to repeat to herself every night. Often these made-up disciplines can be very strict, killjoy disciplines. In Prince Caspian, we see that the harsh dwarf Nikabrik has a course of life that helps him to be harsh. These are spiritual disciplines, only turned around. For example, “Nikabrik was not a smoker” (p. 80) And Lewis also makes a point of showing that Nikibrik will not dance. “Only Nikabrik stayed where he was, looking on in silence” (p. 82).
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see the same kind of thing with Eustace’s parents. What kind of people were they? “They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes” (p. 3). And in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what does the Witch think about a Christmas banquet? “‘Speak, vermin!’ she said again. ‘Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence? Where did you get all these things?’” (p. 115).
Just because something is strict does not mean that it is biblical. In fact, if it is harsh in the way these examples illustrate, we can be sure that Aslan has nothing to do with it.
When we accept discipline, even discipline that is appropriate, there is still a way of doing it that misses the point. For example, what kind of student had Eustace been? “. . . for though he didn’t care much about any subject for its own sake, he cared a great deal about marks and would even go to people and say, ‘I got so much. What did you get?’” (p. 30). And when people like Eustace (before he was “undragoned”) grow up, they frequently find themselves in government offices, trying to discipline others. And, when they do, they still miss the point. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, how does Gumpas the governor miss the point? “They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it rolled over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, inkpots, pens, sealing-wax and documents” (p. 56). He thought the point of government was to get papers from one side of his desk to the other side. But he had forgotten the reason for it all.
The New Testament teaches us that participation in the Lord’s Table and participation with the table of demons is fundamentally inconsistent. God disciplines us by calling us away from the table of sin to sit down at His table. Not surprisingly, we find that there are two kinds of tables in Narnia as well. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, what is Aslan’s Table like? “There were flagons of gold and silver and curiously-wrought glass; and the smell of the fruit and the wine blew toward them like a promise of all happiness” (p. 193).
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what is the Witch’s table like? What does Edmund ask for? “‘Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,’ said Edmund” (p. 36). And how did it taste? “. . . and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious” (p. 37). But even though it tasted wonderful, what did the Turkish Delight do to him? ” . . . and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive” (p. 37). What was the nature of the Turkish Delight? “. . . for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves” (p. 38).
Whenever we talk about spiritual discipline, we must never forget grace and forgiveness. That is what we are being disciplined in. In The Silver Chair, we saw that Aslan was forgiving, despite them having muffed most of the signs. But what about people who muff them all? In The Last Battle, what was odd about some of those who came in to the true Narnia through the Stable Door? “There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognized one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head” (p. 176).
Because we are being disciplined in grace, we don’t have to worry that God’s disciplines will somehow crush us. We sometimes feel that way, but this is before we have grown up into the discipline, before we have gotten used to. Discipline and more discipline actually means grace and more grace. In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta learned something very important about discipline. What do they do to you when you finish the very hard work of fourth grade? Why, they put you in fifth grade! Shasta was exhausted, and had done a very courageous thing. What was the immediate reward for his courage? “He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one” (p. 146).
And what wise directions are given him by the Hermit? “I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run: always run” (p. 146).