Sometimes I wish I had days, literally days, to just think and to lose myself in my imagination. In Surprised By Joy C.S. Lewis speaks of his weekends in school, when he would lose himself in his books and get taken up with the wild lands of the far North. When I read the chapter “Wayfarers All” from The Wind In The Willows, I feel like my imagination, and my heart, have enough to sink into for hours. The Sea Rat’s final monologue touches deep places in my heart and leaves me stirred and yearning and frustrated with my insatiable greed for life. In this scene a little homebody Rat meets a wanderlust Rat, and the traveler tries to entice the homebody with colorful tales of his wanderings and adventures:
And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company. You can easily overtake me on the road, for you are young, and I am ageing and go softly. I will linger, and look back; and at last I will surely see you coming, with all the South in your face!
What is it about that banging of the door behind me? It’s as if I’m addicted to it: the passing out of the old life and into the new. Sometimes I see it as a little weed sprouting out of my sin nature: wanting to get away from the demands and the drudgery of familiar day-to-day life. Other times I wonder if these longings can be seen as glimmers of spiritual longing; I’m longing for the new because I worship the God who makes all things new, the God who promises rebirth and a new and glorious body one day. As is often the case, I’m sure it’s a muddy mixture of both.
Donald Miller shares the sentiment of the wayfaring Sea Rat in his yet-to-be published book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He says that maybe our purpose in life is to just be here, in the story God is writing around us, to “take the adventure and heed the call” and to enjoy it with Him and relish it together for eternity afterward. He writes:
I wonder if that’s what we’ll do with God when we are through with all this, if He’ll show us around heaven, all the beauty and light coming in through windows a thousand miles away, all the fields sweeping down to a couple of chairs under a tree, and we’ll sit and tell Him our stories and He’ll smile and tell us what they mean.
But some people, like Oswald Chambers, like to talk about drudgery. They like to talk about living as a disciple in the day to day, when you’ve come down from the mountain and it’s not fun anymore but somebody’s got to do it. I think about half of the entries in My Utmost For His Highest are about the drudgery of the life of a disciple. Now, this is a bit of a comfort for me because instead of wanting to shoot myself every day I sit in an air-conditioned, fluorescent lit office I only want to shoot myself every other day. Once in a while Chambers alludes to the pure, raw adventure and ecstasy of oneness with Christ, but it’s rare.
I wonder if Chambers, in his curmudgeonly way, has got it right while the pagan author of The Wind in the Willows and postmodern, sentimental Donald Miller are off base. Miller talks of heaven as a place where we rehash our experiences with God and receive insight about them, perhaps turning that into a deeper knowledge of the Author of our story and hence a deeper sense of gratitude and richer worship of Him. Grahame mentions sitting by a quiet river with a stock of fantastic memories to keep us company. But Chambers says that the adventure isn’t now – that it starts when we get to heaven. There are definitely a lot of material from the Scriptures to back up this idea…the first to come to mind is the passage in Hebrews about the heroes of the faith,
“ 13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. […] 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
In his recent podcast, “Embracing the Pain,” Greg Boyd shared this view when he reminded his listeners that this life ain’t a vacation, so stop expecting it to be! Instead of the oft-used pilgrim analogy, he used the war metaphor…we are rebels living behind enemy lines, trying to tell as many people as we can about the Good King and the future He promises before He comes riding in and establishes His Kingdom again. So then, while we ought not to expect comforts, luxury, and leisure in this life, I suppose we can still expect adventures – the raw kind that come with war, like secret night missions and recapturing hostages and blowing up enemy bridges.
Again I find myself turning to C.S. Lewis. You know the end of the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle? The children finally get to Aslan’s country, or heaven, if you will. And C.S. Lewis wraps it up as only he can,
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
So life here in the Shadowlands – is it more about biding our time in the brokenness until the real adventure starts? Should we insist on a beautiful life here and now, so we can laugh and raise our glasses in a toast to it at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? Should we as pilgrims seek adventure in this foreign land or is merely residing here adventure enough…in its own way?
I throw one last thought in there. Despite his eloquence depicting the adventuresome life, later in that same chapter of The Wind in the Willows Grahame shows us another side of the same coin, highlighting the wonder of the day-to-day. When Mole tries to shake Rat out of his bewitched wanderlust state, he tries to talk about the magic of where they are rather than where they could be — the slow but sure change of the seasons and the domestic delights around every corner of normal life.
[Rat] seemed to have lost all interest for the time in things that went to make up his daily life, as well as in all pleasant forecastings of the altered days and doings that the changing season was surely bringing. Casually, then, and with seeming indifference, the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the reddening apples around, of the browning nuts, of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached mid-winter, its hearty joys and home life, and then he became simply lyrical.
So can we have our cake and eat it too? I think it’s possible. As a stranger in a strange land, one can still exult in the majesty of a sunrise, can still become intoxicated with the fragrance of wild jasmine, can still savor the taste of a ripe strawberry. A soldier wandering behind enemy lines can still wonder at the exquisite detail of a wildflower and revel in the refreshment of a cool stream. I like the idea of having something to look forward to, though. Because if you’re sitting in Donald Miller’s chairs talking over your story with God, or at the banks of the Sea Rat’s river with a “store of goodly memories for company” you’ll eventually run out of things to say, and those memories will fade a little too much. And that’s when Aslan might twitch His tail and call out, “Further up and further in, children! A new adventure awaits!”