Missing the Masterpiece

[Author’s note: If you haven’t ever read the Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis I’m about to spoil the ending. Please consider reading the books before you read this (I think the VBC Library has copies). Better yet… read the books out loud to your kids, grandkids or nieces and nephews and then come back and read this post!]

Near the very end of the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis weaves a renegade group of Dwarfs into the tale. For most of the series, the Dwarfs generally have been mostly friendly, helpful, and welcoming to our heroic children (with a few notable exceptions). In The Last Battle, however, the Dwarfs (save our dear friend Poggin of course) have decided that their own self-preservation is the only thing that matters. At the climax of the battle when the children are at their lowest point yet, they suddenly see the noble Narnian horses charging towards them and their hopes rise that this will be their rescue…until…in one of the most brutal and gut wrenching scenes of the whole series the arrows of the Dwarfs pierce the horses and prevent them from coming to the rescue. “The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!” is their jeering cry and in that instant all seems to be lost and the children are left betrayed and utterly bewildered.

Later, when the heroes of the story find the Dwarfs in the beautiful new world that Aslan has laid before them, the Dwarfs are huddled together and convinced that they are still living in a dark dirty, smelly stable. Sumptuous food put before them seems to be rotten stable garbage and fresh, lovely flowers appear to them as thistles. As much as the children plead with them to open their eyes to the beauty and glory that surrounds them, the Dwarfs cannot see past the dirty stable. According to Aslan, they “have chosen cunning instead of belief”. These dwarfs have become so wrapped up in their own self-preservation and self-centeredness that they have lost the ability to see the beauty and majesty before him.

I recently had the privilege of visiting Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in Milan, Italy. Completed in the year 1498, this priceless fresco has stood in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie and withstood much, including the effects of time, humidity, restorations, and the bombings of World War II. For a time, the room that housed this epic work may have also been repurposed as a stable for horses, yet all the while this stunning masterpiece has endured. If you ever have the privilege of visiting Milan it is a must-see...but be sure and book ahead. Tickets are a very hot commodity and approximately 2,000 visitors a day are actually turned away from the convent. I witnessed this firsthand. Our guide reminded us over and over that we must not lose our very “precious” tickets. While waiting outside for for our entrance time we saw a lady attempting to join our group before we entered. She had no ticket but was hoping that someone was sick, perhaps? “Better luck next time,” our guide told her. As terrible as it sounds, she was hoping that one of us was too sick to show up or had missed the tour due to a cancelled reservation at their hotel (long story).

When we were finally ushered through the security, metal detectors and X-ray machines and our tickets had been meticulously checked we had to stand in line again to get into the actual room. Our guide told us this was the cleanest and purest air we would ever breathe. It is strictly controlled for humidity, temperature and scrubbed for airborne contaminants by a multi million dollar air purification system. We would have exactly 15 minutes with the masterpiece. Then she said something that really resonated with me. She told us that pictures were allowed, and even encouraged. But she implored us to please, please take some time to put away our cameras and phones and actually look at this marvelous work of art. She told us to “Use the big beautiful eyes that God had given us” and look. “Stand at different angles and really study the work.” “Please…”, she seemed to implore us, “Don’t worry about uploading your photos to Instagram or Facebook until after your time is up.” She then told us that she had seen visitors leave in tears because they realized that their 15 minutes had passed and they had not spent even one of those minutes actually looking at the painting. High quality pictures of any famous work of art (certainly better than what we can capture cell phones), it turns out, can be found all over the internet but the chance to actually view one may only come once in a lifetime. Sage advice.

Thankfully I wasn’t so busy instagramming that I missed the opportunity to look at one of the most iconic Renaissance masterpieces of all time. did get me wondering if it is possible that we can become so wrapped up in our own lives that we miss out on something greater?

At VBC we are working through a series on Amos right now, one of the Old Testament Prophets. I’ve been developing curriculum for the PrimeTime Kids so I have been thinking a lot about Old Testament Prophets. In Amos’ day, the leaders were so busy accumulating wealth and power that they descended into horrific practices like slave trading and even human sacrifices. Even the kings and priests were so wrapped up in their own self-interest that they missed out on the kingdom-building work of the God that they had purportedly devoted their entire lives to serving. Eventually they fell so far away from God that they could no longer see His Glory and they ended up exiled and enslaved themselves. The prophet Ezekiel later saw a vision of the Glory of God actually leaving the temple of Israel. I wonder if, like the children in Narnia and the guide at the museum, the Prophets were imploring the people: Don’t miss out on the Masterpiece! You don’t have to live in filth! Open your eyes to the Kingdom!

Right now I am cringing and thinking about the time that I went to one of my kids’ school concerts and realized afterwards that I had forgotten to make eye contact with him during the performance because I was so busy filming it with my phone. Has technology distracted us to the point where we are missing out on actual life events and opportunities? Are we so frenetically busy that we lose sight of the value of helping others? Or volunteering? Spending time with kids? Or Hospitality? Is God calling us to be like the prophets and speak up for the marginalized and call out injustice? Is it possible that the Masterpiece of the Kingdom, (or the True Narnia) is here, right in front of us? Maybe we just need to open our eyes.

Open my eyes, that I may see

glimpses of truth you have for me;

place in my hands the wonderful key

that shall unlock and set me free.

Silently now, on bended knee,

ready I wait your will to see;

open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit divine!

(Clara H. Scott, 1895)


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