April 13, 1979. Good Friday. I am a first-year law student. We don’t have classes today and most of my fellow students are pouring over contracts and civil procedure and constitutional law. I am not.
I am holed up in my one-bedroom apartment on Vineville Avenue reading "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," recommended to me by my friend Robbie, a second-year who couldn’t believe I had never even heard of "The Chronicles of Narnia." (To be honest, I had not, at that point, even heard of C.S. Lewis, the author.) Without Amazon — which doesn’t yet exist — and Barnes and Noble – which does not yet have a store in every mall — I somehow locate a copy, which costs $1.95. It is slightly larger than my hand, thin and printed on cheap paper and captures my imagination (notwithstanding the absence of an Oxford comma) from the first sentence: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.”
The plot is simple — if fantastical — which one might expect from a book whose subtitle is “A Story For Children.” The four children are siblings, sent away from their home in London during the blitz of World War II to stay with an old professor in the countryside. In his rambling mansion, the children travel through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia, where they meet Aslan, a mystical lion, and discover their destiny to free the land from evil.
The plot reaches a climax when Aslan offers himself up in exchange for the release of Edmund whose love of Turkish Delight has resulted in his capture by the White Witch. Aslan is killed and his shaved body left on the Stone Table, a large rock upon which is carved the law of Narnia, as Susan and Lucy watch and mourn.
Outside the wide double window in the bedroom of my apartment, the sky is dark. The wisteria that grows along the driveway is fluttering, frantically resisting the wind that grows stiffer by the moment. I don’t notice when it starts raining. I am not in Macon; I am in Narnia. And I am sobbing along with Susan and Lucy.
Even now, all these years later, I can hardly believe what happens next: I turn the page and read, “At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate.” and, at that exact moment, I hear a great cracking, deafening noise outside my window, the sound of a tree yielding to the wind, to the tornado that, as I am lost in Narnia, is streaking through town downing power lines, upending cars, throwing trees onto roofs.
It is as though God has provided me with my own personal special effects.
Later, when the rain and wind are gone, when the swelling in my eyes has gone down, when I’ve turned the last page and am staring out the window at what is now eerie stillness, I can’t help wondering how I came to be reading of the death of Aslan, so clearly a Christ figure, on Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the death of Christ.
Matthew says, “The earth shook, the rocks split.”
C.S. Lewis says, “The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack.”
And I could say nothing. Nothing at all.
Good Friday 1979. It may well have been the day that I turned into a mystic. The day I realized that the unseen is no less real than what I can touch and taste. The day I acknowledged that miracles are everywhere. The day I finally grasped the power of words.
It’s been 44 years. And even now I enter Holy Week with a sense of expectation, as a magnet for whatever wonderment might be making its way across the landscape. With a prayer that I live within the magic every day.