Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tipping the scales

When I was about 10 years old, I discovered the Narnia Chronicles. The Narnia Chronicles were written by C.S. Lewis — who, I found out many years later — also wrote for adults about Christianity.

In the first book, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” four children are sent from London to the countryside during World War II. They stay in a big old house, which of course they explore.

And what do they find? A magical portal, through the back of an old wardrobe, that leads them to a magical kingdom called Narnia. They meet an evil witch who has cast Narnia in a hundred-year deep freeze, and a lion called Aslan, Narnia’s true king. (At one point, Aslan gives himself up to his enemies, knowing he will be killed; he sacrifices himself to save someone else. And then he is resurrected. Sound familiar? Now it does, but at age 10, I didn’t recognize the allusions to Jesus Christ.)

A few years later, I found another series to read. The Dark Is Rising series, written by Susan Cooper, doesn’t feature a magical portal — but it does feature magic.

On one side: the Light. On the other side: the Dark.

The Light is led by Old Ones, mystical beings who wield magic in service of the Light, of the greater good. 

The Dark is made up of Dark Lords, the counterparts of the Light’s Old Ones. The Dark Lords also are mystical beings who wield magic — but they serve the Dark, the evil.

The Light and the Dark have been in a struggle forever, in a series of battles, each seeking final and complete dominance over the other. Sometimes one side wins and the scale tips a little in their favor… and then the other side wins a few battles, and the scale tips the other way. The Light versus the Dark. Good versus evil.

Co-existing with the Light and the Dark, and generally unaware of the constant struggle and magic around them, are regular humans. Sometimes the struggle between the Light and the Dark spills over into the world so that the humans are affected (although they remain unaware); in one book, the countryside of England is blanketed in a dangerous snow storm. Snow keeps piling up, closing roads, isolating the weak, falling heavier and heavier on a bewildered country of humans.

I will confess that last winter, at some point in our record-breaking snowfall, I wondered if there was a battle raging about which I knew nothing: some epic struggle between two unseen forces.


Last week in bible study, we played a game called “Cross the Line.” We all stood on one side of a line taped on the floor in the parish hall. The rector read a series of statements one by one. If you identified with the statement, you were to walk across the line. After a pause, everyone who had crossed went back to their starting place for the next statement.

One of the last statements was “I believe I can make the world a better place.” Almost everyone crossed the line for that one, with a few exceptions, including, I was surprised to see, a woman I know slightly. This woman, probably in her 60s, has a warm, calming presence. I was startled that she doesn’t think she can make a difference in the wider world because I believe she makes a difference simply by being herself. 


The children’s animated movie “Finding Nemo” takes place mostly under the sea. Dory, brilliantly voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, at one point helps a school of fish caught in a fishing net. She urges them to each swim downward as hard as they can. Ultimately, when they all work together, they’re able to exert enough downward pressure that the fishing net snaps and they’re all freed.

Working together, they accomplished the seemingly impossible.


Lately, with stories of violence more common than ever — with attacks in Paris and Beirut, with a bombed Russian airliner — with fear and hatred dividing us… I wonder again if we’re witnessing the effects of some epic battle.

If so, what can we do? Seemingly nothing.

At first. On closer inspection, though, we’re not helpless. Together, we can spread light in the world. We can smile at the person checking us out at the grocery store. We can call to check in on an elderly person. We can invite someone who might otherwise be alone to Thanksgiving dinner.

I believe each small gesture of light, of love, of faith, matters. I believe each contributes to that scale that tips back and forth between the Light and the Dark. Unseen battles tip the scales, but so does the concerted efforts of many people. One individual sending light out into the world ripples outward. We know this. When we join our efforts together, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible — we can, in the face of so much darkness, tip the scale back toward the light.