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With Us In Exile

Hennessy is a past recipient of the Meyer A. Nathan Scholarship for Holocaust Education awarded by the Anti-Defamation League.

Both in this world and in realms of the imagination, God goes with us into exile

“One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion."

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (1950)

Of course, the heretofore mentioned untame “lion” is Aslan, a literary metaphor of Jesus Christ in Lewis’ timeless classic. I understand this idea… that God is omnipotent but for our inattentiveness... to be true now, but went through a period of my life when I was as alone as I would ever be, three thousand miles from home, without a friend who knew me for more than a matter of weeks, days, hours, or minutes, or so it seemed. I was residing, ironically, in the “City of the Angels,” Los Angeles, invaded by an alien inner darkness while living under a perfectly clear golden sun. The God of my childhood seemed to have left me. I’d been exiled. For what? My sins? My failures? A lack of faith?

I fully believe that God is omnipresent from a providential perspective, but I also believe that I can move away from Him while He never moves away from me. During those years of exile in the “land of the angels,” it seemed that I’d been forced to find my own way through my own darkness, left to my own devices. While others danced in the sun, I stumbled through a bombed-out inner landscape. Even when on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in at Malibu, the cold, hard stone that had taken up residence in my heart was set to plunge me to the bottom at any moment. But, in reality, I wasn’t in exile at all, in fact, I’d exiled myself, placed myself in self-inflicted quarantine, overly dependent upon my own perspective for answers to questions I could not find. There is a saying in an old blue book of great renown: “When I’m in my own mind I’m behind enemy lines.” I was behind enemy lines.

I see this most vividly when looking at our world through windows into other worlds. For instance, when I was experiencing that ominous feeling of exile from God, I read “The Hobbit”/“Lord of the Rings” saga for the second time and found myself intensely sensitive to the fact that the great Gandalf, spiritual guide of the Fellowship, often disappeared quite unexpectedly, leaving the Company on its own at some of the most dangerous moments of the quest. For example, when they get into trouble with the trolls he’s nowhere to be found, but returns just in time to save them. The explanation? An obscure one:

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.

“To look ahead,” said he.

“And what brought you back in the nick of time?”

“Looking behind,” said he.

In Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” divine intervention is ongoing through the character of Aslan. However, the great lion, like Gandalf, isn’t always present in times of danger. During their journey to the fords of Beruna, Aslan explains to Peter Pevensie, the eldest of the four siblings who found themselves transported into Narnia, his plan of campaign. The young soon-to-be-king nervously wonders why he’s being advised how to conduct the operation. Finally, he floats a leading statement toward Aslan:

“‘But you will be there yourself, Aslan.’

“‘I can give you no promise of that,’ answered the Lion. And he continued giving Peter his instructions.”

At the end of his suffering, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Forsaken. A hard word. A horrible word. Yet one might say that Jesus was in a state of self-exile as well, but for the right reason: to willingly save an entire planet, itself in exile by fact of sin, facing eternal enmity.

No matter our place of exile, as believers, we’re also here with a good reason… to point the way out of exile to the pearly gates Jesus opened-up to all. Exile and self-quarantine are two different things. One is forced, the other, chosen.

© 2021 Daniel A Hennessy