There is a question for each of us personally as we move forward in the world but also as our whole society moves forward. What path should we follow? Where should we go? What is our compass point? That existential question has always existed, of course, but with so many dangers to our world the question is more pointed than ever. Because a wrong turn could be so dangerous, for us and for this world.
So: What should we trust?
My 10-year-old daughter Bella and I are reading the book Prince Caspian, the fourth book of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. On the nights Bella is with me, we sit on the couch along with Frankie the dog, and we each take turns reading a page. Sometimes Bella talks me into reading two pages. A breeze comes in the window behind the couch. It is a very sweet time.
In our book Prince Caspian, the children Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy return to the magical world of Narnia to help the rightful king–Prince Caspian–win the war against the evil usurper King Miraz. Last night, Bella and I read a passage that very much moved me and which I thought said something about what I choose–or at least try–to Trust.
In the Prince Caspian passage we read, the four children travel across Narnia, along with the dwarf named Trumpkin, to join forces with Caspian. At one point, they decide that climbing down into a gorge to follow the river will be their quickest route. Just as they begin climbing down, Lucy, the youngest, glimpses the mystical figure of Aslan the Lion above her, who silently beckons her to follow a path up the mountain instead of down.
No one else saw Aslan, however. Lucy argues with her older brothers and sister and the dwarf that they should climb up the mountain as Aslan directed her. But going up the mountain made no sense to the elders. They could not even see where that path led. It wasn’t rational to go up to get to the river when they could clearly see it was below them. Plus, they themselves could not then see Aslan.
Even though Lucy’s intuitions had proved correct before, they did not trust the younger child and they decided to go down. Lucy, thinking her elders knew better than her, went along with them. When they got to the bottom of the gorge, however, they walked into a trap and a group of King Miraz’s archers attacked them. The children and dwarf had to run for their lives back up the side of the gorge to get back to where they had started.
That night, as the children and the dwarf all slept exhausted under the stars, Lucy woke suddenly, “feeling the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.” She followed the voice through the woods and came upon Aslan. She threw herself into the Lion’s mane with the joy of seeing him again. Then, she began to blame the other children for not listening to her about following the path upwards, but Aslan growled.
“I didn’t mean to mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”
Aslan said nothing.
“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right–somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
“Oh dear,” said Lucy.
“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me–what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”
“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.
“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.
“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.
“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”
“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.
So Lucy went back and woke the others and told them they must follow her and Aslan but they did not believe her. After a long argument, Lucy looked up to see Aslan, whom none of the others could see. She saw that he was beating his paw on the ground in impatience.
“We must go now. At least I must.”
“You’ve no right to try to force the rest of us like that. It’s four to one and you’re the youngest,” Susan said.
Her sister Susan was the most emphatic in her disbelief, resisting Lucy’s unconfirmable intuition with all her might. But Peter decided they would follow Lucy and they went over the top of the next hill and eventually found themselves safely by the river they had originally wanted to follow, but far from any dangerous archers.
At that stage, they were able to see Aslan, perhaps because it is easy to have faith in the quiet voice once it has proved its wisdom. Aslan looked at Susan who had resisted following Lucy so insistently.
The deep voice said, “Susan.” Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. “You have been listening to your fears, child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breath on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.
There was a voice inside all of the children that all of the children could hear if they let themselves. Lucy heard it first while the others trusted their logic and their thoughts and their grown up ideas. Lucy, though she heard the voice, ended up trusting the wrong thing, too.
How many of us live our lives trusting the wrong thing? It takes great confidence to finally trust when others do not.
In our world, inside of all of us, there is a voice. We may hear it. But we do not trust it. Instead, we listen to the ideas of the economists and the politicians and the tired old professors. They tell us we need to buy more and fight more and work more. We follow them because we don’t trust what is inside us. We follow obediently, all the time dreading what is at the bottom of the gorge.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a famous saying, “The Great Way is not difficult. Just put down your ideas and opinions.” In Proverbs it says, “Do not rely on your own understanding.” This means allow yourself to follow a path you may not even understand. Allow yourself to go differently then the elders go, because the elders are heading into a trap.
This isn’t just some hocus locus. There is a wisdom inside us we have been ignoring for too long. This is the same wisdom that tells some of us to do local business instead of global business or walk instead of drive or be activists instead of TV fans or to educate people instead of jail them. We know things have to change and each of us has an individual wisdom that can contribute to that change.
But we keep listening to the older children–and their fears–when we should be listening to ourselves. The world is at stake. There is a trap at the bottom of the gorge. Something very innocent inside–the Lucy in us–sees the Lion pointing the better way, but the older, calloused grown-up parts of ourselves can’t see Aslan so we ignore the intuition and the love and rely on our understanding.
If you can trust that voice and love inside you, then finally you will be like the brave Lucy. You can find the right path. You might, like Lucy, wonder what the point of following the path will be if no one else will follow you. But there is only one way to find out. “Anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.
Remember when Lucy woke knowing she heard the voice she liked best in the world? What is the voice you like best in the world?
Is there anything better to trust?