Author’s note: I recently stumbled upon this article which I wrote 15 years ago. Upon rereading it, I was struck by its echo in today’s world. It is not that nothing has changed, so much as it is that too much has become entrenched. Too many attitudes have solidified into irreversible truth, often without much or any real questioning or examination. So, I offer the piece again for consideration in the brave new world of 2021, within the timeframe of the yearly celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Perhaps we can expand it to the unity of all humanity and really know that ours is indeed a “high and lonely destiny” . . .
“You must learn, child, what would be wrong for you or any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.” These are the words of Queen Jadis, a character in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew.
Somehow or other, despite my youthful love of fairy tales, mythological legends, and magical sagas, I had missed reading this C. S. Lewis series. My appetite for this kind of educational entertainment was restored after reading and subsequently viewing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Reading that book and seeing its movie rendition impelled me to start at the beginning with the first book of the series. Once again, I gained entry into a universe where nothing is exactly as it seems, where actions have visible and palpable consequences, where good encounters evil and fights for victory over it. Once again, I learned that we have much more in common with this apparently fanciful world than we would like to admit. I rediscovered the fact that we often feel that we are above others, that ours is a “high and lonely destiny” that carries with it the privilege of being freed from all rules. We do believe that the weight of the world is on our shoulders. But our belief does not come with a sense of compassion and redemptive suffering so much as it derives from a twisted sense of power, a messianic complex that holds others captive to our own perceptions of life and love, right and wrong, truth and fiction. We create a cold cosmos of self-righteousness where all who hold “rebellious thoughts” are frozen into submission or freeze-dried by shunning or alienation. Much like Queen Jades, we are both larger than life and hardly human, uninterested in things or people unless we can use them.
Saddest of all, this attitude of entitlement is often found among religious people. Christian denominations exclude each other, dismiss each other, and find fault with each other. Those who hold different understandings of God proclaim theirs to be the sole truth, the only God that can be. Battles rage. At home, televised religious programs wax eloquent in their self-righteousness. Abroad, blood is shed over land claimed to be holy, but only as it is wholly owned by one or another of God’s people. A nation brought together, and to its knees, by the ravages of a tsunami is enraged and ripped apart by greed as inhabitants fight over the appropriation of charitable donations. It is a cold, cruel territory containing a world of hurt.
In the midst of this void, something wonderful can happen—if only we will give our permission. We can allow the return of vitality and warmth. Our “high and lonely destiny” is to conspire with God in the creation of newness, grandeur, justice, and peace. The weight of this world is upon our shoulders. We must be liberated from our own constrictions, the restrictive rules we made and make, in order to give space and place to true freedom. We are not common people, unlearned in the ways of goodness. We are uncommonly good people who walk a holy path, making room for all who choose a similar journey—no matter which route is taken.
One way of achieving this goal comes via the annual celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Centered on the task of uniting Christian denominations in a renewed commonality, it is also a step toward the unification of humanity as God’s holy people who pray “Where two or three are gathered in my name” (Matt. 18:20) “that all may be one . . . that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Together, just as in Lewis’s tale, we have a magic that is different and stronger than any evil concoction one could contrive. Separated, our strength is diminished and we are left to walk weakly into erroneous zones. Just as in Narnia, “watching and listening is the thing at present; not talking.” We need to stay side by side and see what happens. We need to want to know about other worlds, other experiences of God, other expressions of faithfulness. That takes a great deal of watching and listening. It takes a lot less talking!
The children who voyaged to Narnia discovered a unique vitality. They entered a world where everything was bursting with life. Things came into being and grew in the presence of Aslan, the lion whose very breath was invigorating. Everyone and everything was transformed. Narnia then, and our universe today, is burgeoning with life, promise, and goodness. It is a spiritual experience that goes far beyond and deeply into our physical existence. It is ours to be enjoyed, if only we will look for its presence, see its potential, hear its song roaring in our veins, let ourselves think and feel things we do not want to think and feel. It is ours if we do not return to a narrow self-absorption. It is a place where we can laugh at ourselves and find pleasure in the joy of others.
It is also a cosmos of chaos. Evil exists in the same place where goodness reigns. Weeds and wheat, sin and sanctity grow together. Each one challenges the other. Weeds can choke the wheat or provide an environment for strengthening. Healthy wheat has the stamina to overcome the weeds. The same is true with sin and sanctity. Their coexistence can be damaging or salubrious. There can be disorder or order, lack of unity or togetherness, despair or hope. It is up to us to make it happen.
We are the people who will warm frozen hearts and rigid minds with the heat of justice for all. We are the ones whose boundless charity will loosen the bonds of oppression and bigotry. Our open arms, wide smiles, and comforting hugs will dare others to care similarly. It is our continuing challenge to conversion. It is our call to be human, really human. As the lion Aslan told Polly and Derry, “This shall be a merry land in a merry world. And as Adams’s race has done the harm, Adam’s race shall help to heal it.”
The weight of the world is on our shoulders. Ours is a high and lonely destiny. Would you want to miss the adventure?
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.