The Lion in the Cellar: Down into the Darkness of Our Past
- Tuesday, September 20, 2005
One of my favorite books is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Night after fantastical night, I read aloud from this book to my daughter when she was only three or four. I’ve since done the same with my son. This timeless classic continues to fascinate decades after its publication, and a new generation will experience the power of its message in a feature film later this year.
Many of us know the story: Four children discover a three-dimensional wardrobe, and through it stumble into the magical world of Narnia. Here, in a place filled with talking animals and vivid imagery of good and evil, the children ultimately make friends with Aslan the lion. Aslan is, of course, Jesus. And the story is an allegorical retelling of His sacrifice and ultimate victory over darkness. The White Witch (Satan) has caused all of Narnia to be covered in snow—“Always winter and never Christmas” as good Mr. Tumnus the faun reports to one of the children—and ultimately Aslan returns to bring life and color (Paradise) back into being.
Early on in their journey, the four children take refuge in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Following a wonderful supper, Mr. Beaver begins telling everyone all about Narnia and the witch and Aslan. Though they haven’t yet met Him, the very sound of His name causes a stirring in the children.
“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“…I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor Beyond-the-Sea…Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
The very discussion has them all a-shiver, sitting there around the fireplace with cups of steaming tea in their hands. Scared to listen and scared not to, they cannot help asking more. And then Lucy, youngest and most innocent, asks a most profound question. She wants to know, as do we all, about the character of this Aslan.
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
In one way or another, Lucy’s question is one each of us asks: Is He safe? Can I approach Him without being eaten?
We live in a frightening world: The war in Iraq, tragedy in New Orleans and Mississippi, and, among many believers, a general sense of an ever-growing evil spreading its shadow throughout our culture. In my counseling practice, I consistently deal with people who seem stalked by a daily darkness, a thing I call “generic fear.” This fear can be the result of unresolved issues from the past, completely unrecognized for years on end, ultimately manifesting itself in all sorts of ways in someone’s life—as it did in Carla’s.
Carla is married with three kids. They are Christians. She is highly educated and works as an administrative assistant for a legal firm. She walked into my office with a somewhat false-feeling air of confidence. We exchanged the usual small talk, and then she grew quiet; she found it difficult to describe the dis-ease that had drawn her to counseling.
“I’m just not happy,” she said. “And I don’t know why. My husband is a good man, and he loves me. My children are beautiful. We are a blessed family…” Her voice trailed off, and she stared at the floor.
“You feel that something is missing from your life?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know.”
“Tell me what in your life is enough, and what is not.”
“What is enough… I don’t know what you mean.”
“What feels complete for you? Is your relationship with your husband complete? Does it satisfy you?”
“Being a mother?”
“Then why are you here, Carla?”
“I…I have all I thought I ever wanted,” she said slowly. “And somehow… somehow it is not enough.” She straightened and looked directly at me. “I feel…” Staring now, hopeful, waiting.
“Empty,” I said, and it was not a question.
“Yes,” she answered, her voice small and hollow.
The Dark Cellar
I see a lot of people like Carla in my practice. Looking at life in the present, everything appears right. They have a nice house. They go to church, and they believe in Christ. They do not drink or do drugs, and they move through their lives seeming very “normal” on the outside. Obviously, Carla’s external life circumstances were not the cause of her vague but insistent pain. And so, it became necessary that she and I go back in time, to a place where she began the discovery of her true identity… and God’s.
At first, she was reluctant to tell me much; she painted a picture of a “wonderful” childhood, with “parents who loved me.” And yet, she seemed unable to describe many specific memories for me; there seemed large chunks of time during her adolescence that she either could not remember, or chose not to.
Even though Carla and I didn’t make much progress during that first visit, she decided to come back. Over time, she finally felt safe enough to tell me about the parts of her childhood that were less than idyllic, allowing me intimate observations of a family that, like my own, was strongly invested in looking good on the outside, while being very broken on the inside. And she revealed her own ways of medicating the gnawing fear she had learned—compulsive cleaning, shopping, and especially eating, secretly seeking comfort the way she had as a child, sneaking down into the kitchen while the rest of the family slept, eating chocolate until it made her sick.
The sessions were wrenching and painful for her, once she finally decided to share her secret shame and stop pretending to be okay. But she did it. She asked me to walk with her—one slow, small step at a time—down into the “dark cellar” of her past. Once there, it took enormous courage for Carla to begin the process of sifting through the various stored artifacts of her girlhood, fearfully, tearfully. When the air grew too thin down there, we would come back up, and breathe, and thank God for not having swallowed us up. Each successive trip down we were able to stay a bit longer, and uncover more things… beautiful things, mostly, photos of parents who did their best, and loved as they were able, giving more gifts than curses, more sunny days than storms.
But we also found things long buried and covered in dust…verbal shaming and affairs and alcoholism and sexual abuse. We discovered broken promises, broken hearts, broken dreams. Ultimately, Carla stumbled upon the kind of treasure that crushes before it heals. She found fading photographs of those she had once-upon-a-time worshiped as perfect and powerful. But then, daring to look more closely, her eyes finally adjusting to the dark…she instead saw images of broken gods who all along had been nothing more than human.
Word Has Been Sent
Often, someone will ask: Why go back? What good will it do to dig up the past?
We go down into these long-neglected recesses of our memories not in an attempt to blame anyone, but to discover the origin of those wounds that were never faced and never healed. We make this journey not to accuse, but to surrender. Ultimately, we return to our past so that we might find our way to our true future.
Carla is happier now. It has had little to do with me, of course, other than God putting me in her path to serve as a companion. She’s been willing to do the work, to fill in the blanks, to seek support from others who can relate to her holy longing. She met a terrifying beast in the cellar of her past, whose power transformed her fear into forgiveness and hope.
“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”
“That’s right, Son of Adam,” said Mr. Beaver, bringing his paw down on the table with a crash that made all the cups and saucers rattle, “And so you shall. Word has been sent that you are to meet him, tomorrow if you can, at the Stone Table.”
Word has been sent. We are to meet Him. Each of us, commanded by the Word to go to the Stone Table, and stand face to face with a massive, man-eating lion. God desires that I should walk up to this creature and willingly offer myself as supper. It is, of course, death that will result. And it is this death of our old selves that terrifies us so, and often causes us to take the most circuitous routes imaginable towards our true selves.
Coming face to face with our wounds requires great courage indeed. Daring to step through the unlocked gate of our emptiness, down the stairs into a forbidden past, we move beyond our broken hearts, sacrifice our shame, and face our fear. At the risk of death—and the greater risk of not dying—together we must stride right up to the Great Lion, and stare into His glaring, golden eyes.
And in them, find Love.
Jim Robinson is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling, and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. Jim’s web site, www.ProdigalSong.com, contains information about his ministry, numerous recovery resources, and additional articles he’s written. To subscribe to Jim’s monthly newsletter, click here: http://www.ProdigalSong.com/contact/index.htm.
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