This week, the C. S. Lewis fan page on Facebook served me up with this little gem of an article. Yes, folks, long, long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, I was an English major, so I am sometimes inclined to read articles that mention Virgil's Aeneid. This one turned out to be quite thought-provoking. Here's what caught my attention:
"But for Lewis, it was in changing the subject from the adolescent theme of heroism to the adult theme of vocation that Virgil prepared the way for all subsequent Christian epics."
I have no plans to write a Christian epic, but it made me think about whether I'm into adolescent heroism or adult vocation in my own life.
And I got to thinking about one of my favorite Lewis characters, Reepicheep the mouse from Narnia.
We first meet Reepicheep in Prince Caspian, Book 2 of The Chronicles of Narnia. Reepicheep is a warrior mouse who charges off into battle as a valiant hero. In the course of one engagement, his tail is cut off. At the end of the battle, he meets Aslan, and he is terribly embarrassed at his lack of a tail.
"I am confounded," said Reepicheep to Aslan. "I am completely out of countenance. I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion."
"It becomes you very well, Small One," said Aslan.
"All the same," replied Reepicheep, "if anything could be done . . . Perhaps her Majesty?" and here he bowed to Lucy.
"But what do you want with a tail?" asked Aslan.
"Sir," said the Mouse, "I can eat and sleep and die for my King without one. But a tail is the honour and glory of a Mouse."
"I have sometimes wondered, friend," said Aslan, "whether you do not think too much about your honour."
And that, I think, is the kernel of adolescent heroism: thinking too much about our tails.
In fact, we are thinking about our tails so much that Aslan is right in front of us, and all we can talk about is our tails.
Now here's the thing about our tails: they are part of the package.
Our jobs. Our kids. Our stuff. A mouse has a tail, and we have this life and these things. And these things are all normal and fine.
Except that we can find ourselves thinking too much about them.
Most of us don't know that we are all about our tails until it all goes horribly wrong, and we're seriously not OK any more. And we all know what that feels like, right?
And then God might be saying to us, in those moments, "I have sometimes wondered, friend,whether you do not think too much about your ______ ."
We next meet up with Reepicheep in Book 3, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Here, Reepicheep has grown up a little. And he gives one of the finest statements of faith I've ever read.
"My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world is some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia."
This is, to me, the perfect picture of a deep and abiding adult vocation: to pursue the love of God and the life of God, regardless.
Whatever that looks like for each of us individually. Whether anybody sees us make it, or whether we die trying.
I feel like the adolescent hero is my default setting. And maybe that's just the human condition.
When I am in adolescent hero mode, I am just banging my head against the hero wall, screaming and demanding and making myself crazy that everything has to come out right in the end.
But every once in a while, and I think it must just be grace, I can get into this other place where there's peace and purpose even though there is sacrifice and pain. I can get a hold of that sense that my face is turned to the east, I know where I'm going, and no matter what happens, this is my calling. And it's a really different experience.
One I am more and more motivated to pursue.
And guess what, I have a song that is (loosely) related: Hero, by Family of the Year. The chorus is a great little mantra: "Let me go. I don't want to be your hero."