A Discarded Wheel in Narnia

A forest is one of those places where the boundary between the physical and the spiritual realm thins. When you stop to think about it, much of our life is spent surrounded by artifice. We fill our ears with artificial sounds, our eyes with artificial sights, our noses with artificial smells, and our mouths with artificial tastes. Our feet touch artificial earth and our hands hold artificial tools. By artificial, I don’t necessarily mean bad or foul. I merely mean that most of our life is spent immersed in the things that we have made. We spend our lives in Babel casually celebrating – or at least taking for granted – that the works of our hands define our reality. It’s no wonder, then, that God would feel strangely distant from us. We would see him except that our view is obscured by all of our golden calves. It’s not so easy to miss God in the forest surrounded by natural sights, sounds, tastes and smells. It’s not so easy to miss God when the artificial, joyless sound of concrete is replaced with the crinkle of leaves underfoot. I think this is why many people historically have either lived in fear of the forest or have worshipped the forest. Both are correct in their own way. Both sense that in the forest, stripped of the artificial enticements of civilization, we are in the presence of a power that is not our own and is not, strictly speaking, of this world.

I know I’m laying it on thick, but a visit to Tollymore Forest will do that. Tollymore is in Northern Ireland, a place not known for its dense forests. It is the place that inspired C.S. Lewis to dream of Narnia. I’ve walked a lot of trails in a lot of forests, but Tollymore was different. Maybe it was because of the mythology attached to it, but to walk its trails was to be transported to a different place. It didn’t feel like Northern Ireland; it felt like a portal to something more real than Northern Ireland. There I go getting romantic again, but it’s not hard to see how in such a place Lewis’ imagination would have run wild with talking beavers and centaurs. It also wasn’t hard to think about the pressing reality of God in Tollymore Forest.

I guess it’s not that surprising that in a day full of beautiful sights and sounds, one of my most lasting memories will be of something ugly and out of place. Walking along the creek that cuts through Tollymore Forest, I caught a glimpse of an old, rusted wheel discarded in the middle of the running waters. It was the lone rust colored “stone” in a crowd of perfect, moss-covered river rocks. It must have looked strange when I doubled back to get a picture.

I took the picture because the wheel was so obviously out of place. It wasn’t alien. No, it was made from iron and rubber – both materials naturally found in the world. But it was out of place. It didn’t fit with any of its surroundings. It was so obviously out of place that it demanded an explanation. Why was it there? Who put it there? What were the circumstances that led this random wheel to be placed in the middle of this pristine stream? There wasn’t even a road close by. Someone left it there with intent.

In a way that might only make sense if you were there, that discarded, rusty wheel was also a mirror. In some important ways, those of us walking beside the stream talking, laughing, taking pictures were not all that different from that wheel. A moment’s reflection would tell you that we were similarly out of place. Not alien. We are after all made from the stuff of the earth just like the rocks and the trees and the stream itself. But nevertheless, out of place. Different.

I have a hard time understanding the atheist who can’t see this transparently obvious point. Just like the wheel, the human being observing that wheel clearly points to the twin realities of design and purpose. To put it more clearly, we demand an explanation, and all of the naturalistic explanations made available to us by those professing to be wise and well-read seem laughably mythical and inconceivable in light of the reality of the forest. Walking through the thin place of a forest makes this point so obvious that it loses any profundity. It’s just…true.

The one most important difference between the wheel and the one taking the picture, of course, is that the wheel was discarded. The wheel was inconvenient, used up, trash. The human, on the other hand, wasn’t discarded in the forest, but was placed lovingly in the Garden by his creator with dignity and purpose. Not an accident of a careless universe, but the climax of God’s creation. But there I go again getting romantic.

2 thoughts on “A Discarded Wheel in Narnia

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  1. I think we should all feel out of place….. we are not “at Home” on this planet. Eagerly waiting for our return to where we belong….at the feet of JESUS. Longing for that day!!!
    Thanks for reminding us all!

    Liked by 1 person

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