I am deep within the woods and I don’t see a clearing anywhere, just tangles of trees and vines and brush. There is a thick carpet of decaying leaves beneath my feet, so no path is evident in this wild and untamed place. There are sounds I cannot identify. There is a sense of mystery and anticipation in the air. The skin at the back of my neck begins to tingle and my fingers tighten, ready to respond to whatever may happen. Suddenly a giant’s boot comes crashing down through the trees. Brown suede, huge, it hits the ground a few yards from where I stand and shakes the whole area.
I am trembling all over, but not so much from fear as from astonished awe. The giant seats himself upon a small hillock that rises in the forest, and reaches down and scoops me up in his hand. He brings me close to his face and cups both of his hands so that I have a secure place to stand, holding on to his thumbs.
I am not scared of this mighty one. He is, like some of the giants in Narnia, a kind and gentle soul. He says, “We have been looking for you, we have. They sent me, they did, to look in the forest and, here, I have found you.” He smiles, pleased with himself, pleased that I have been found and that he was the one to do it.
“Come, I’ll take you to the meeting.” He stands and puts me in the pocket of his tunic. I can stand in the pocket and just look out over the edge, grasping the edges with my hands for stability as he strides along. It is an exhilarating ride. He strides off across the forest, across an even larger plain and forward toward the edge of the sea.
When he reaches the beach, he sits and takes off his boots and slings them over his shoulder. Then he steps into the sea toward an island, just off shore. He gets chest deep in the water, my feet get wet at the bottom of the pocket, before he begins to climb out onto the beach of the island.
The beach extends out in a long low expanse of sand before it is met by the forest. Once his boots are back on, he walks along the beach to where a small river flows from the center of the island out into the sea. There he turns toward the forest, and using the river as a guide, he makes his way inland. He has covered an enormous distance, and it has taken he better part of the day. When we finally make it to the source of the stream, it is dark. There is just enough daylight left for me to gather some sticks to make a fire. He watches me closely, and is taken aback when I reach in my pocket and produce a small lighter and start the fire. “For a small one, you have some power, too, I see,” he says.
He finds a stone for a pillow and curls up and is soon asleep. I lie down by the fire, wrapped in the handkerchief he loaned me, and look up at the stars overhead. Narnian stars. Definitely Narnian stars. I certainly don’t know their constellations – I don’t even know my own, except Orion and the dippers – but I know they are Narnian. There, above me blinks the starry form of Aslan, a new constellation in the Narnian sky, formed when the windows in the woods opened between two worlds more than a century before in Narnian time… I know this, though I do not know how I know it. His eye is the polar star, always in the sky, whatever season, looking down upon Narnia and greeting the sunrise each day.
It feels like an adventure dawning. It feels like hope rising in my heart. It feels like I am on my way to my true home, having been long away. A solemn, joyful and intensely exciting peace rolls over me and carries me away in sleep.
I am wakened in the night by a rumbling beside me. The giant has rolled onto his back and is snoring. I consider my options. I can’t shake the bed…he’s shaking the ground already. I could try to shake him, but if he slaps at me while he’s asleep, I might not duck in time. I could yell into his ear… but do you want to wake a sleeping giant? So, I get up, wrap the handkerchief around my shoulders and stoke the fire.
The moon has risen in the sky, so that there is really quite a bit of light in this clearing where we made our stop. Most of the wood on the fire has been consumed. I rise and go to the edge of the forest to scavenge some more sticks. This all seems so dreamlike to me… I feel no threat at all… after all, a story can’t really hurt you, can it?
Then as I near the edge of the woods, I see a movement behind the trees. Two eyes glint and then are gone. A twig snaps somewhere nearby, but I cannot find quite where. I am caught – halfway between the fire and the woods, in a dilemma. If I return to the fire without any more wood, it will soon go out. But, in order to gather sticks I must go at least a little way into the woods, and I am sure that something is in there. I search the edge of the trees for loose branches and see a small pile off to my right.
I take a step toward the pile, and out of the woods, just from underneath a low hanging pine branch steps a wolf. He is silver gray, with dark markings on his powerful shoulders and down his back. His eyes are locked on mine. “The giant sleeps.” he says with a malicious glint in his eye. “Giants don’t wake very easily, and I don’t make much noise in my work.” His eyes cut a hole straight into my soul and I begin to tremble. I take one step back and the wolf shifts his weight.
“What is your work?” I ask him, already knowing what his answer will be.
“My work is to devour you, your hopes, your dreams, your very self. It is a meal that I will savor.” His voice is a low growl, not forceful, but unmistakably full of power.
“I have work of my own.” I am surprised to hear myself speak. The wolf, too, looks a bit surprised.
“You’ll wish that you had done it earlier,” he says, recovering his malicious presence.
“My timing may be off, but the Lord’s is not, and he has brought me here, just now, to do his task.” Some spirit within me is speaking these words, yet they are also mine.
“I have stopped him before,” he says, but this time I know that he is bluffing.
“You cannot stop him. You have no power over him. I know. I know that he rose up over your power and redeemed your most malicious act – turned it into your greatest defeat.”
“You speak too boldly for one as weak and vulnerable as you are. One snap of my jaws and you are gone. That other one,” he cannot even bring himself to say his name, “that other one was sinless. You are not.” He rocks on his paws, shifting his weight from one side to the other and bares his teeth. His eyes burn yellow.
“I was redeemed when you were defeated.” I stop myself…why should I bate this predator? What am I doing?
He growls and prances at the edge of the woods. “Come get the sticks that you desire.” He says, taunting me. “Your fire is dying and will soon grow cold.”
Now I am caught off guard. Somehow I know that the wolf will not leave the shadow of the forest and venture out into the clearing, but the sticks are in the trees. He laughs. I glance back at the fire and see its embers fading. The giant, still asleep, could give me warmth, but he is too oblivious to what is around him. He could crush me with an inadvertent movement. I have no weapon, not even a stick to protect me. I reach into my pocket and pull out my lighter.
“I need the sticks.” I say, with some resolve. “Stand aside.”
“Stand aside?” He is pacing wildly now along the edge of the trees. “Stand aside? You flippant fool. You miserable sinner. You misguided, silly, soul! Come meet me here and find your sticks, if you dare!”
I strike my lighter and the small flame glows. His eyes grow narrow and the hair upon the back of his neck stands on end. He growls long and low. “What is this?” he asks “What do you hold?”
“A light, a light…” he growls and paces.
I take a step toward the pile of sticks and he watches me. Three more steps and I am almost there. His growl grows louder and he gnashes his teeth. I race the last two steps and grab a branch, dry leaves cling to twigs along its surface. He lunges for me and I move the flame of my lighter beneath one of the leaves. The whole branch bursts into sudden flame. He wheels and is gone into the night.
The leaves burn out almost as soon as they flame. Hurriedly I gather a bundle of sticks and take them to the fire. I make one more trip, to assure myself that I have enough for the night and, with my heart still pounding, I drop the last bundle beside the fire. Then I realize that I have dropped my lighter. I see the silver end of it glint in the moonlight just at the edge of the clearing. I walk back with some hesitation to retrieve it, still shaken from the whole encounter.
“Well done, little one.” A voice speaks to me from the woods. “Only the terror you accept can overwhelm you. Faith can keep the terror at bay. Faith can overcome the shadows.” Like the great stone lion on the library steps, majestic head erect, a figure lies just inside the edge of the forest. He turns his eyes to mine.
“Aslan?” I cannot believe my eyes, my good fortune. “Aslan!” I run toward him, but just as I come close I see my own audacity and slow down.
“Come, child. I am here for you. Do not stop you feet for self-consciousness. Lose your preoccupation with yourself and come to me.” And so, I do. I run to his side and bury my hands deep in his mane and hug and hug and hug his great bulk, his great being. This is a joy I never dreamed could be my own. The warmth, the softness, the strength, the presence of the Lion in my own arms. Holy mystery. Holy joy. Wholly overwhelmed and filled am I.
[this soul story continues, here]
[First image is photo by Morgan C. Smith per cc 2.0; second image cropped from photo by Dennis Matheson per cc 2.0]