Friday, February 4, 2011

The Oratio, Meditatio and Tentatio of Jill Pole

Jill who?  Jill Pole of course.  We first met her on a dull autumn day crying behind the gym because some boys - as they are wont to do - were picking on her.  But not all the boys were picking on Jill.  There was Eustace Scrubb, however no longer one of the "bad sort" of boys.  After all, Aslan had changed Him, as He does for everyone who comes to Narnia and returns to know Him by His better name.  Jill wasn't the only one - everyone at school had in fact - noticed that Eustace was changed.  He called it Magic.  But it was really more of a Baptism, but that was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this is the beginning of the Silver Chair.  And Jill Pole is in for an adventure - not to mention a change that only Aslan can bring.

She has been called many things, compared to many Biblical figures (Jonah, women of the NT) but I think she is more like David.  And if not exactly like David at least one who follows in the footsteps of David who follows in the footsteps of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, David's son yet David's Lord.  The one who gives His Word to David, most notably in the Psalms especially, Psalm 119.  As I was re-reading The Silver Chair recently I couldn't help but notice that Jill (and Eustace and Puddleglum throughout the story) are ones who depend on (in fact you could say their very lives depend on these) words, words in which they live and move and have their being in Narnia as they embark upon the task for which Aslan had appointed them. 

Jill however is the only one to whom these words of Aslan, signs he calls them, are given:

"I will tell you, child," said the Lion.  "These are the signs by which I will guide you in your quest" (emphasis added).  First; as soon as the boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend.  He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help.  Second; you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants.  Third; you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you.  Fourth; you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan."

..."Remember, remember the signs.  Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night.  And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.  And secondly, I give you a warning.  Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia.  Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken.  Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.  And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there.  That is why it is important to know them by heart and pay attention to appearances.  Remember the signs and believe the signs.  Nothing else matters.  And now, Daughter of Eve, farewell - "

David is given the Word of the Lord.  Don't worry, I won't copy and paste all of Psalm 119.  Here's just a few of the signs given to David:

49 Remember the word to Your servant,
         Upon which You have caused me to hope.
 50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
         For Your word has given me life.

97 Oh, how I love Your law!
         It is my meditation all the day.

 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
         And a light to my path.

147 I rise before the dawning of the morning,
         And cry for help;
         I hope in Your word.
 148 My eyes are awake through the night watches,
         That I may meditate on Your word.

176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
         Seek Your servant,
         For I do not forget Your commandments.

Of course there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the story and the psalm.  The Silver Chair is not really an allegory of Psalm 119 either.  It could be that this is one facet of richness to be found, or one mine shaft to be explored in the vast caves of Narnian treasures.

Throughout the quest Jill struggled (as David did during his life as king) and even failed; forgetful of the signs, she wandered.  Through the snowy wastelands of the north to the halls of giants, from the fortress Harfang to the Queen of the Underland, Jill Pole (and company) was afflicted; for in the words of David, "they draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law" (vs. 150).  One could even say that Luther's theological insight into Psalm 119 - oratio, meditatio and tentatio - applies not only to Jill, but to all who call themselves Narnian in the best sense of the word.

Do not fret, however; I will not spoil much more of the quest and all its adventure.  If you've read The Silver Chairmarshwiggles await you - marvelous stories, full of insight and symbolism.  But, for now, it is time to go back to "our world" where all good Narnian tales point us, back to the Word of the Lord that came to David.  "Forever, O Lord, your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens...and fixed on the cross so that we, with David, may cry out together, "I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight" (vs. 174).

And in a similar way, Jill and Eustace were comforted unto the end.  "I have come," said a deep voice behind them.  They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong thast everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.  And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings.  And she wanted to say, "I'm sorry" but she could not speak.  Then the Lion drew them towards him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said:
"Think of that no more.  I will not always be scolding.  You have done the work which I sent you into Narnia."
"Please, Aslan," said Jill, "may we go home now?"
Yes.  I have come to bring you Home," said Aslan.  Then he opened his mouth and blew.

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