A Lesson from Narnia About What's Inside the Sacred Stable
My very favorite single line ever written with regard to Christmas is from a work of fiction that never explicitly mentions Christmas.
In C.S. Lewis’ closing book of his Narnia series, The Last Battle, Narnia’s last king finds himself thrown through a stable door in the midst of the brutal, apparently losing fight. But instead of a dank, dark, smelly barn, King Tirian finds himself looking at blue sky in an endless, beautiful, grassy countryside, with laughing friends all around him. Then comes the line:
“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”
One of those friends, Lord Digory, then made the meaning clearer still: “Yes. Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
Year after year, of course, we routinely celebrate a particular childbirth in a stable, and we all are more than familiar with the obvious array of symbolisms involved: the God of the universe as helpless child; the powerful king surrounded by squalor; the coming of a savior heralded by lowly shepherds. Most ubiquitous of all is the image of the baby, the baby, the baby. Everybody loves a tender little baby!
But that’s too easy. All of those symbols are certainly in their ways worthwhile, but they are also easy because they are obvious. While we can and should find more layers of meaning in them as we grow older, we nonetheless know that even seven-year-olds understand those symbols’ basic meanings.
The imagery is too bucolic; the symbolism, through too much repetition, too nearly clichéd.
What is arresting about C.S. Lewis’ sentence is that it leads us not in to a set piece – does not invite us merely to peer into a crèche – but instead leads us out, beyond the stable and its now-artificial stagecraft, out to what Winston Churchill would describe as “broad, sunlit uplands.”
But there’s one catch – at least in The Last Battle’s stable scene. The catch is that one must be open to the very idea that the inside is bigger than the outside. We must have faith in order to see outside the walls we originally expect will confine us.
Inside the Narnian stable, alas, were a group of dwarfs. (Politically correct, micro-aggression alert!) The dwarfs huddled in what they thought was a stinky corner of the barn. Offered delicious food and fine wine, they pushed it away, thinking it was pig slop and rotten cabbage. Refusing to see the heaven around them, they huddled in their corner, secure in the knowledge that their own little group at least would suffer together and share the misery.
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here,” they said. “We haven’t let anyone take us in. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.”