(Medieval tapestry dragon, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
"I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected:
a huge lion coming slowly toward me.
And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night,
but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer.
I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon,
I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear.
I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it -- if you can understand.
Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes.
And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."
"You mean it spoke?"
"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did.
But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me,
so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains.
And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went.
So at last when we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and
on the top of this mountain there was a garden -
trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well. . . .
"Then the lion said -- but I don't know if it spoke --
'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws,
I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.
So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.
And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.
The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of
feeling the stuff peel off. You know -- if you've ever picked the scab
off a sore place. It hurts like billy -- oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."
"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off -- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt -- and there it was lying on the grass:
only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobly-looking than the others had been.
And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
Then he caught hold of me -- I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath
now that I'd no skin on -- and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything
but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I
started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.
And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."
--From "Voyage of the Dawn Treader," C.S. Lewis, one of the Narnia series, pp. 115-116
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
The reading from C.S. Lewis was the topic of my Theological Reflection last week in my online EfM class. We juxtaposed the story of Eustace Scrubb with the scene of Jesus' baptism in Matthew, the lectionary reading for that week.
Now, if you've never heard of Eustace Scrubb, here's the very very short version from the story above. He's a boy who's rather geeky and not very likable. Eustace discovers a hoard stashed away by a dragon, falls asleep, and awakens to find himself a dragon. This is not easy for him, there are some hard parts to this, but he actually does some good things as a dragon, things that the old Eustace would not have done, kindnesses that the old Eustace would not have shown.
But when it comes time for the Dawn Treader to leave, there's no room for a dragon.
As it turns out, Eustace meets the talking lion Asian, who changes him back to a boy. Now, as it turns out, Eustace is improved, but he's still annoying. The rest of the Narnia series follows that along.
Years ago, I read the Narnia series. Most 13-year olds do. I never really became a Narnia-phile. I never really developed any huge love for C.S. Lewis, either, unlike some of my more fundamentalist friends. Honestly, a lot of Lewis' spirituality doesn't hook me.
But revisiting this story had some lessons just the same.
All of us, at one time or another in our lives, had to be "a bit of a dragon" to accomplish something. Maybe it was to follow a career path. Perhaps it was to have the strength to deal with a family crisis. Sometimes it involves leaving abusive situations, changing jobs for less money but more happiness, breaking the grip of addictions, or any situation that requires fortitude.
Like Eustace, there may well have been some good deeds emerge from those changes.
But then as a result of those changes, we no longer "fit" in that skin. We grow, and change, and mature. But we feel locked into our old skin, and it takes the hands of others to help extricate us.
This is what the business of spiritual transformation is all about.
Like Eustace, somewhere we had to fall asleep on that dragon's hoard. We slept through the things that created the dragon skin, and the new skin is numb to some things. But when it is time to shed that skin, again, like Eustace, we are awake and in the present moment. We don't get the luxury of sleeping through it like we did the formation of the dragon skin.
Even in our transformations back to "more human," again, there is a lesson from Eustace. He is still "annoying, difficult Eustace" in some ways after becoming a boy again. Just not all of them. Even in our new skin, there will be parts of us that are "same ol', same ol'"--but we will have new opportunities to react differently to it.
So, how does this fit in with Jesus' baptism? He, being fully divine as well as fully human, couldn't be much of a "dragon," now, could he?
I thought about that in terms of a Facebook conversation I had the other day. A Presbyterian minister friend was teasing me in terms of having "pathology" as a calling and "ministry" as a calling, and how do the two possibly meet? We got to discussing how the "fully human" parts of Jesus still would be susceptible to colds and flu, vomiting and diarrhea, indigestion and gas. He might have been able to handle the emotional parts better than we mere mortals, but he still had them.
So in that sense, simply consenting to our own humanity in the form of "God in a human body" had to be a unique dragon skin all its own. So, I think, in that sense, Jesus probably needed baptism as much as we do. His "dragon skin" had to be shed, perhaps, for him to fully embrace all the aspects of the ministry on which he was about to embark. He consented to be one of us in baptism just as we consent to be united with him in Baptism.
At that moment, our relationship with God became commensal instead of parasitic.
Our relationship with God got redefined in a new covenant, where the Great Commandment moved ahead of the Ten Commandments. I always like to imagine the Old Covenant was the other way around--"Keep my laws and you will discover how to love one another." The New Covenant became, "Love one another, and you'll find my laws easier to accept."
I talked a little in an earlier post about the "memory" part of "we celebrate the memorial of our redemption" in Eucharistic prayer A. This business of shedding our dragon skins, initially painful as it is, is about that word "redemption" in that prayer--and honestly, that redemption can be "perfectly delicious" if we allow ourselves to feel it.