Miriam Marston, a freelance writer and musician, has been based in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2006, serving most recently as the Assistant Director of Theology Programs at the Theological Institute at St. John’s Seminary. She has released two albums of original music, and is currently working on a third.
Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit Of Myths and Maps
Inside the Song A Word on Wonder
A Word on Tooks Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths
Escape and the Good Catastrophe Treebeard and the Language of Reality
The Valor of Bilbo Laughter and the Logos
Our Lady and the Elves Puddleglum’s Dark Night of the Soul
Francis and the Houses of Healing Lo, How a Story E’er Blooming
He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood…It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine…When he tried to describe it afterwards Digory always said, “It was a rich place; as rich as plum-cake…it’s not the sort of place where things happen. The trees go on growing, that’s all.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
By way of magic rings, two children named Digory and Polly have found themselves in a certain wood, surrounded by a number of pools, which happen to serve as doorways to other worlds waiting to be explored and adventures waiting to be had. The wood, as Digory says, is a fairly uneventful spot, and yet, strangely enough, full of life. This description prompts me to re-consider this present season of Ordinary Time in light of these images. We spend more weeks in Ordinary Time than any other part of the liturgical calendar, after all, so these days must add up to be something more than a mere placeholder between seasons.
Perhaps it is because of the blanket of silence or the soft light pouring through the branches, but the forest makes Polly and Digory decidedly sleepy and forgetful at first. They almost forget that they need only step a few feet in this or that direction, and they would be swept away to another world. We mustn’t become sleepy or forgetful in this quiet wood of Ordinary Time! As the trees keep on growing in this in-between place, so must we. Even the green vestments of the priests are a reminder of this call to ongoing conversion and growth. Are we waiting until Lent to address certain matters of personal prayer and discipline? Why not go ahead and jump right in, on Wednesday of the fifth week of Ordinary Time? And after the Easter season, as the numbered weeks tick by like hands on a clock, through the summer and fall, shall we let ourselves grow sleepy then? When the parish becomes a little emptier, as people travel and go on holiday, will we press the pause button on our relationship with Christ, and make a private promise to revisit it come Advent, when it feels like “it’s the thing to do”? Instead of pressing pause, we must press on…press on towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the glorious promise of Home, which has been written on our hearts, and is there, in the background of every good desire.
Digory says that the wood was as rich as plum-cake. Well, I have never tasted plum-cake, so I could not tell you precisely how rich it is. But I have had some exceedingly delicious chocolate cake and I was probably not the only one to indulge in a few extra slices during the festive Christmas season. But these days, the extra desserts, as well as the cheerful lights and poinsettias, have retreated into the realm of memory. And so we continue steadily down this pilgrim path, which might appear tedious, were it not for our belief that “Sunday after Sunday, the Church moves toward the final Lord’s Day, that Sunday which knows no end” (Dies Domini, §37). So: what’s a pilgrim to do on this particular stretch of road? Perhaps a question has arisen in your mind concerning some words or phrases said during the Mass. We’ve been saying consubstantial for a couple of years now in the Creed—it might be a good time to look it up if you’re still wondering what it really means. If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, since there’s still plenty to do, especially if you’re looking for new adventures in charity. I’ve said (and heard said) variations on the following: “For Lent, I shall make an extra effort to be more loving toward Person A.” But why do I insist on waiting, as though the days leading up to Ash Wednesday are inadequate for such a goal? As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has noted, Ordinary Time “does not mean that the commitment of Christians must diminish; quite the contrary, having entered divine life through the Sacraments, we are now called to remain open to the action of Grace in order to grow in love towards God and neighbor.”
Lewis gives us another good “in-between” place to consider: a wardrobe. When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, it was the description of that wardrobe which left one of the most vivid impressions on my mind: the fur coats and mothballs, and, above all, Lucy’s sense that something extraordinary was already going on.
“Nothing there!” said Peter, and they all trooped out again—
all except Lucy. She stayed behind because she thought
it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe…”
“Nothing there”…after the busy season of Christmas, we might think that there is not much there, and we jump ahead and focus on Lent instead. But the Word of God spent thirty years of His life in the simplicity of Nazareth: working, eating, making friends, and sleeping—thus contradicting the notion that the commonplace is something less than holy ground.
“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe.”
That was Lucy’s thought as she was moving through the fur coats and mothballs. But when she felt something like snow under her feet, and something like a tree brush up against her hands, she knew that this was no ordinary wardrobe. And this is no ordinary time that we live today. It is enormous and as alive as Digory’s curious and quiet wood. There is no better place and time than where we are right now to stretch our hearts in love and throw our arms wide open, ready to receive and show mercy.
Ever since receiving his superhero pajamas at Christmas, my nephew has not stopped requesting to wear his red cape. He’ll make sure to put his cape on before dinner. During playtime, he’ll suddenly sense the absence of that fluttering red fabric and he’ll cry out “Where is my cape?” Bedtime, lunchtime, in the store, in the car…he wants to look like Superman at every instant, even when no one is looking. My nephew pursues the noble goal of imitating his favorite superheroes. And my prayer (as his godmother) is that one day, this two-year-old excitement about superheroes will translate into a fervent desire for the supernatural happiness found in imitating Jesus Christ. So already, he has the right idea. Not to mention he looks utterly adorable in a cape. It makes me wonder how much daily effort we put into wearing the “cape” of Christian virtue, especially in these days of Ordinary Time, when the storefronts and parishes have resumed their regular sales and activities, and much of the seasonal excitement has faded away.
I turn to my nephew for added inspiration for the same reason that Lewis (like many other writers) often made children the primary protagonists in his stories. The wisdom of the child lies in their ability to really look at a thing. Have you observed a little child completely absorbed by the most mundane object or image, say, a little crack on the wall that has just enough texture and color to keep her occupied for a good ten minutes? An adult could walk past the very same thing, never giving it a moment’s notice. But children will add even this small moment to their internal catalogue of knowledge and experience. May we approach this season of Ordinary Time with a similar outlook: ready to be transformed—even just a bit—by the unassuming realities of grace enfolding us at any given moment.