As Pentecost approaches, the following dialogue from C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — brought to my attention by one of my students — has been echoing in my head:
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought [Aslan] was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” …
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. … “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
The children who have wandered into Narnia, a kingdom shriveling in the White Witch’s icy grasp, are about to meet Narnia’s banished ruler, Aslan. Allegorically, Aslan stands for Christ, but this dialogue can teach us also about Christ’s Spirit.
How safe could the Apostles have felt when the house where they were praying began shaking, when their ears filled with the sound of a powerful wind, when fire descended (cf. Acts 2:2)? No part of this experience was “safe,” but it was certainly “good.”
St. John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et vivificantem, sketches a compelling portrait of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of Christian souls and of the world. The Spirit acts by “convicting the world concerning sin” (Jn 16:8). He descends into the depths of our hearts and there exposes to us the reality of our sinfulness. He shows us, slowly and steadily, if we allow Him, how each act of our selfishness, our laziness, our pride is a rejection of God, a recapitulation of the Original Sin and a contributing cause of Christ’s tortuous death on the Cross.
The burden of this truth would be overwhelming, were it not for the fact that the Spirit, even as He convinces us of our sin, is also, in that act itself, convincing us of God’s love and mercy. If God did not love us, why would He care to remove our blindness? The very recognition of our cataclysmic need for redemption is itself proof that the cataclysmic redemption wrought on Calvary is at work in us. Christ has won for us the grace to overcome our sins and become new persons, living in the full freedom of children of God (Rom 8:21).
As Flannery O’Connor quipped, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” The Spirit, Spirit of truth, promises us peace. He promises joy. He does not promise to leave us safe within our cozy walls of sin. And He does not promise that the Christian message will be popular or understood. Many listened to St. Paul’s proclamation of sin and redemption, and some took it to heart. Others mocked him and walked away. And at the end of his journey, “in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me” (Acts 20:23).
C. S. Lewis was a devoted student of the English language. He would have known that, in Old English, the words “good” and “God” were almost indistinguishable, both when pronounced and when written. Life with the Spirit is perilous — and it is good.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.