Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lions and Chiggers and Dragons... oh my!

I was five years old the first time I visited Narnia. I'm thirty-seven now and I have made it a point to step through the wardrobe/portrait/train depot/garden wall...regularly, rereading the entire series in chronological order every two years. It's time for me to enter again. Further up, and further in. And though I am changed each and every time I revist this most-adored book series, one thing never changes: on each fresh visit to Narnia I meet a Lion. He’s not tame, but he is good.

In The Magician’s Nephew the Lion taught me about the Creator’s song. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe he showed me the heart of a traitor and the sacrifice of a King. He chased me through tombs and left scratches on my back in The Horse and His Boy. In Prince Caspian He told me that he never changes, but still gets bigger. In shades of green he used The Silver Chair to show me that I need to keep my guard up because the evil that I think I’ve conquered still longs to come back and bite me in the butt. After The Last Battle the Lion allowed me to imagine and long for Heaven, my true country, without fearing death.

Those are just a few of the big lessons I learned in six of the seven Chronicles of Narnia. But the one chronicle which I have left out is the one in which I have most clearly seen myself. But not as one of the characters you might have imagined.

You see, I am a Truth Seeker. I sail across unfamiliar waters in the hopes of finding a fresh perspective of the dawn as I tread toward the lily sea. My favorite chronicle of Narnia is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader because it makes me weep at the beauty of Redemption.

In many areas of my heart I am Eustace Clarence Scrubb, the irritating cousin of the heroic Pevensie children. I am a pretentious, whiny, know-it-all; a greedy snob. But, thankfully, I am regularly pulled through a picture (a picture I’m not all that fond of) and dumped into the brine. Unlike Eustace, however, I understand the value of “spin” and have fooled even myself sometimes by coloring over my pretentiousness with a nice and glossy airbrushed finish that is occasionally mistaken for spirituality or intelligence.

But the Lion knows the truth.

Lurking deep within my need for intellectual stimulation there’s a little green chigger playing a slide trombone. You know what a chigger is, right? Well, if not, I’ll explain.

A chigger is what we Iowans call sometimes call a “can’t-see-‘em bug”. If we’re sitting on the grass and we start to itch, it must be a chigger. If we come in with hives but don’t remember a sting, it must have been chiggers. And, since my spell check isn’t putting a little red squiggly line under the word, it must be a real one.

In high school biology class we learned that the bugs known as chiggers are little parasitic mites that burrow under the skin and then die. As their little green carcasses rot underneath the top layers of our epidermis the chemical reactions of their decay cause the specific irritation, swelling, and itching we refer to as a “chigger bite.”

Okay, I might have made up the “green” part just because it sounds creepier. My memory of high school biology explanations may not be 100% accurate, but who knows? They might be green… and since I’m not in the mood to Google mites of the family Trombiculidae right now, let’s go with it.

In case you’re wondering, I so did NOT pull that Latin word out of my mental class notes—I have a very comprehensive dictionary sitting in my lap. And, also, there are squiggly red lines under “Trombiculidae”; so, while the computer is happy to accept the existence of “chiggers” it isn’t so quick to give them the credence of a fancy word to validate their worth.

Trombiculidae. Hmm. When I look at the unfamiliar word it causes me to wonder if in some areas of lawn lore the chiggers are the undisputed brass virtuosos in the parasitic marching band.

But I digress.

So, now that I’ve explained why I think Mr. Trombiculidae is playing a slide trombone in my psyche, how did he get there? Why is there a chigger lurking within my need for intellectual stimulation?

Well, it’s because that little bugger isn’t dead yet. (And, since I’m an American, I can say “bugger” without getting sent to the Headmaster’s office. If you’re from the U.K. or beyond and I’ve offended you, I’m sort of sorry, but not enough to delete the word.) So, as I said before I went off on my little pseudo-Brit-swearing tangent, my little chigger is not dead yet--not even close. The little green dude is laying eggs, probably; procreating within a cushy, blood-pulsing area of living pride.

The chigger personifies (or insectifies?) my selfish, overweening desire to be thought of as an intellectually superior human. Creeping around the edges of each new discovery of erudition (living next to my dictionary I also have a monstrous thesaurus—because I love interesting words; not only are they cool, but they keep my chigger well fed), the little green guy laughs like a villain through every spiritual light-bulb moment; happily itching and irritating in gales of skin-chafing chigger-glee. Mr. Trombiculidae’s happy squirming causes welts to break out across my personal sense of intellectual indignation in the form of societal-flagellating questions and assertions.

Why don’t the rest of these morons get it? Why are they so happily going about their mundane, ordinary, uninformed, and thirstless lives? Don’t they hunger for more? Don’t they long for deep conversations and mind-stretching dialogue? Where are the thinkers? The philosophers? The humans who long for a pyrotechnical explosion of understanding?

When I picture the person who might say such things aloud it doesn’t look like me. The guy’s a professor at Harvard or Yale; he’s got salt and pepper (mostly salt) hair, a well-trimmed goatee, and a brown suit with a vest and a bow tie. He’s an educational elitist; a snob.

I will never hold a job at Harvard or Yale. I haven’t worn a bow tie since I was in Show Choir in high school; and, thanks to Lana The Magician of Hair, I will probably never have salt-and-pepper hair (at least not the salt.) But, even though familial evidence of a genetic predisposition points to the uncomfortable conclusion that I may someday have the ability to grow a goatee, I firmly believe in the power of HOT WAX (and my Magician is adept at its application); so that guy can’t be me… can it?

But it is me. Professor Highbrow reads the transcription of my scathing, prideful thoughts. The sad truth is that I am fully capable of morphing into a self-righteous, egocentric snob at any moment in time. It’s pathetic, isn’t it? -- This skewed self-perception-meets-the-people reality I live in is quite ugly, don’t you think? But it’s the chigger’s fault.

Stupid bug.

I want people to think I’m smart. I want go to the Great Receptionist of Revolutionary Thinking and have my brain power parking permit validated.

Part of it, I suppose, is a bit of not-so-latent feminism which likes to assert my mental prowess—especially to the males of my species; but most of it, as uncomfortable as it is to admit, is just a deep-rooted ache to be noticed.

And that makes it all sound so sad and so human and so… sigh… pitiful. But that’s me; maybe that’s all of us. Some people want to be noticed for their singular steak-grilling talents, their muscles, or their ability to change the oil of a dually pickup in less than seven minutes. Some are organizers, clean freaks, or fashionistas, while others’ seeming humility might cover up a chigger screaming, “Look at me! I’m so good!”

I guess in our own way, we are all a bunch of self-righteous bastards practicing our own brand of chigger-religion to the plaintive wah-waoh of a well-greased slide trombone.

So is it wrong for me to seek out the similarly cerebral (wearing invisible bow-ties) for conversation? No, I don’t think so. Because not only do those conversations leave me filled up, they leave me hungry. And that is the paradox of seeking, isn’t it? I like the hunger; I’m fed by the hunger.

But the problem is the chigger. When I begin to define myself by comparing my hunger to the hunger of others, I become the chigger; the itching, irritating, decaying corpse.

Hunger can’t be seen or measured by anyone outside the individual who is experiencing it. After a certain point a person who is starving may not even be able to acknowledge “hunger” as a state of being; when the need has gone unmet for so long they don’t even notice it anymore.

Why should intellectual or spiritual hunger be any different than physical hunger? If left untended the starvation is just as severe. When we quit feeding our minds or our spirits, our intellectual digestive system quits functioning; quits voiding; and the “food” we have just sits there like a warm, comfy lump of emptyness in our spiritual bellies.

So the chigger keeps feeding as we get fed; it keeps growing and squirming and breeding incestuous little green offspring so we can hold our heads up high and say, “Look at me! Look at me! I am sooooo hungry! And that makes me smarter and prettier and more spiritually mature than you!”

The chigger needs to die, but I don’t know how to kill Mr. Trombiculidae. In my heart of hearts, I’m not even sure I want to; because, let’s face it: it feels good to scratch an itch.

As a reborn, Trinity chasing Believer I’ve been called to keep searching for and ingesting Truth in as big of gulps as I can swallow—and then go back to God’s Big Buffet to see if the Holy Spirit has laid out something new for me to taste. He’s called me to my hunger; and he’s seasoned his Truth so perfectly that it always leaves me happily salivating for one more bite; one more sip of Holy Wine. And that is good. The digestion of Living Water promotes a glowing countenance. But nibbling away underneath my very human skin is a parasite with an appetite that goes beyond hunger and into the darker realms, eking out its survival squirm by squirm in a Darwinistic battle for supremacy over the glowing, insecticidal parts of my Spirit.

I’m a reader and a writer and a student. I’m a mom and a wife and a friend. But, sadly, I’m also a pathetic elitist lifting my nose at the numb satisfaction of the well-churched masses. I’m both the host and the parasite—the chigger and the chigged—hanging on to my humanity by a thread.

But that thread is a strand of three cords, and it is not easily broken. It’s a thread woven and held by the perfect hand of a Master Weaver who sees the completed tapestry of my life and who is, even now, chasing down the chiggers of my soul. He’ll find them and he’ll root them out… even if it means slicing open several layers of my skin in order to clean out the rot.

Like in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader my Grand Weaver is a Lion with claws--and I’m Eustace by the pool on Dragon Island. The gold bracelet on my arm is shiny and pretty, but it’s tight and it hurts. A lot. I can breathe fire, but it leaves an aftertaste of sulfur in my mouth. I can fly over the little people on the beach, but I’m disgusted by my own carnivorous cravings. I am a contradiction—but I am incurable, I think, without the searing rend of claws upon my flesh.

But then the Lion comes. His words--his very presence--causes steam to trail down the cheeks of my oversized dragon head. Sizzle, sizzle, puff. I cry, but the Lion-Weaver says he can make it better. He offers to bathe me.

And the memory of past bathings quickens my blood and caresses my broken heart.

Oh, it hurts! But it feels so good, having my scales ripped off one layer at a time. The Lion-Weaver keeps bathing me with his rough cat’s tongue and dipping me in the pool, yet there are still a lot of chigger eggs left under my skin and so many layers of dragonish epidermis left to remove. But someday—yes, someday… I’ll be scrubbed raw and be able to stand naked before him. And I’ll realize then just how very stupid I am and how much power my own pathetic intellect lacks, but how precious my hunger has been to His heart. As I bury my face in his mite-free mane I’ll weep for an eternal moment before he breathes onto my tear-streaked face… and invites me to climb on his back.

I’ll look at his huge form, and look for a step--a boulder or something I can use to get a leg up. But there will be nothing big enough for me to climb to be able to reach his back. My heart sinks when I realize I can’t get up there on my own. But then, to my awe, the Lion will kneel as if proposing marriage--and I’ll remember the day I said “yes” and I blink—and I see the distance isn’t nearly as daunting as I’d thought. Once on his back, I’ll lean forward and squeeze him with a joy of which I’ve only imagined the depth: the truest embrace of a longing fulfilled. A rumble will begin in his chest, as low as a purr, but growing until affection and delight pour forth from the sound as he laughs… and suggests that I cover my ears.

But I won’t-- because I want to hear him roar.

The ground shakes nearly as much as my knees at that amazing, powerful sound. My stomach falls to my toes as the Lion leaps and… we take a ride on the wind.

And the chiggers of my soul cannot survive at that altitude.

Isn't it great when Fiction Mirrors Truth... and imagination takes flight in ways that capture our souls?

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