I was chatting with my friend Heather the other day, something we do almost every week. I’m incredibly grateful that the whole pandemic has no impact on our conversations: she lives in South Africa and I, in the United States, and we’ve never met face-to-face in the physical world. Our go-to is Zoom. It’s a bright spot for me, where isolation is a non-issue.
Instead, we have a lot in common. Heather piques my intellectual curiosity, challenges my thinking on many levels, and we connect with our shared roles as coaches. I consider her as close a friend as those I see regularly (or used to, anyway).
Though the pandemic hasn’t impacted our relationship, it’s made for some interesting conversations since COVID-19 arrived. South Africa is under a strict lockdown right now, and while we are certainly asked to shelter in place here, we are not quite so restricted as they. We got to talking about when this will all end and normalize (unanswerable, of course, not to mention that we will likely birth a whole new normal) and segued into a conversation about CS Lewis, author of many things but beloved for his seven-book children’s series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” that’s even deeper for adults.
And that’s when I just stopped mid-sentence. “It’s always winter, and never Christmas,” I muttered as my thoughts started patterning. “It’s as if we’ve walked through a wardrobe somewhere and entered a world where it’s always winter and never Christmas.”
As Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund Pevensie did in CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” we’ve stumbled our way into a world locked in winter – a world held in stasis by the White Witch (let’s just call it Corona), who has forged a glisteningly cold, lonely, and fairly inhospitable place that’s just waiting, pining for normalcy to return. Our entire world, like Narnia, is paused and isolated, figuratively and literally in lockdown, sheltering in place.
Always winter and never Christmas. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the anticipation, the desire to again have Christmas and Spring in Narnia? Scouring the world for any little sign that it’s coming but especially a sign with the date, time, and, yes, year, when life will be normal again? Maybe even a clearer picture of what that new normal will look like?
Of course we can. We are right there now and, like those Narnians, we are in varying stages of denial, fear, boredom, worry, loss, grief … you name it. My friend Brenda nearly broke my heart the other day. That irrepressibly happy, cheerful woman popped onto my SKYPE screen with such an atypically sad countenance and demeanor that I was alarmed. It was obvious that the uncertainty had ensnared her thinking in that moment. She’s certainly not alone; it’s done that for all of us at one time or another. And like most everyone, Brenda was fine the following day. But it’s an unfortunate testament to the power of the winter world we inhabit across the globe.
In Narnia, it was the White Witch who levied the curse and Aslan the Lion who broke it. And of course, that was in a work of fiction with heavy theological references, probably more apparent to adults than children.
For the world today, it’s the Corona Virus that levies the curse and a yet-to-be-invented vaccine that will break it. For those who prefer a more theological approach, it’s the faith that we will be able to develop that vaccine quickly, find potential treatments in the interim, and follow guidance from those who can advise us intelligently on masks, physical distancing, and just plain common sense. God helps those who help themselves.
The rejoicing at each step will be amazing! The power of Corona will begin to fade with each new sign of thawing until the final moment when a safe and effective vaccine arrives and our winter, like Narnia’s winter, finally brings Christmas and spring. And summer and fall. Normalcy.
But for now, I think we’re all a little bit lost in a Narnia of global proportions. For a world that likes control, it’s a hard place in which to sit. We are lost in the not-knowingness of when it will end, of when we can resume our lives-before-Corona. We are lost in the danger of 24/7 nearly inescapable information overload. We are lost in our fears and obsessions. And we are lost in the insecurity of the future.
Ah, but even in Narnia under winter’s grip, the citizens – the fauns, the beavers, the deer, the badgers, and all others – maintained hope, continued putting one foot in front of the other doing the next right thing, adapted to the wintry environment, and loved, cherished, supported, and helped one another.
Like the Narnians who persevered and thrived despite harsh circumstances, we can, too. We can choose to limit the barrage of information. We can protect and nurture others in ways that fit with our skills and abilities. We can practice leaning into uncertainty and learn from that experience in positive ways. We can, like the Narnians of CS Lewis’ imagination, be resourceful, contented, happy, effective, and positive.
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb,” said Mr. Tumnus the faun, “It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
Yes, think of that for a moment. Feel the tension of what Dr. Steven Garber of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture called “the tension of the now-but-not-yet of history and hope.” Granted, it feels overwhelmingly weighted on the side of “not yet” instead of “now.” But there’s learning to be found there. There’s living and innovating, happiness and purpose we can find in the shadow of that tension. And what we find and nurture there will surely move us unerringly through this lingering winter, into Christmas, and far, far beyond.
I believe it, just as much as I believe in Narnia. (And I believe in Narnia.)