Finding Narnia

December 7, 2007 | 25 comments

I keep getting stopped in my tracks as I’m out and about this month. I’ll be scrambling around trying to check items off my Christmas shopping list, putting eggnog in my cart at the grocery store, walking through a department store while trying to keep the kids from pulling things off the racks, and I’ll hear some familiar old Christmas tune begin. And I’ll stop, forget everything else, and listen intensely for just a second. Even as I go back to what I was doing, I’m acutely aware of the music in the background.

This is only the second Christmas since I’ve believed in God. And it’s the first Christmas that it ever occurred to me that the songs about the birth of Christ are distinctly, vastly different than the songs about reindeer and Santa. It’s the first time it ever occurred to me that they’re religious. These songs were not written to be light little ditties about imaginary characters; they were written by Christians about one of the central events to their faith: the birth of Jesus Christ. The event that humanity had awaited for so long, that people from many different times and places had whispered about throughout the ages, when Someone from the other world would come and somehow make everything right. It finally happened. And in our Christmas songs, we proclaim this great event.

All my life I made no distinction between Santa Clause is Coming to Town and The First Noel. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman were fairy tale songs about mythical characters, as were Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night. It never once occurred to me that it could be otherwise. Not even as a child, not even for a moment.

So it’s really impossible to describe how those songs sound to me now. I wish I could, because it’s one of the most thrilling, amazing feelings in the world. The closest I can come is to offer this analogy:

When I was a kid I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (we didn’t know C.S. Lewis was a Christian, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read it). I was so enchanted by the idea of these children discovering that a dusty old wardrobe was a secret portal to another realm full of wonder. I wanted so much to experience something like that, to stumble across some other world different from the one in which I lived, a place of great thrills, adventure and mystery. Once or twice when visiting my grandparents I would be looking for something in one of their cluttered old closets, and I would reach back through the clothes…just in case. Though I was never surprised, my heart always sank a little bit when I felt the wall.

When I hear Christmas songs now, I feel the way I would have felt if one of those times that I reached to the back of the closet against all odds, I felt cool air and a snowflake fall on my hand. It was supposed to be a fairy tale. This story of a loving God who created these creatures who scorn and reject him over and over, yet made himself one of them to suffer for them, to die for them, to save them…it’s the best story ever told. And, to my astonishment, I discovered that it is true.

When I hear the first few bars of What Child Is This? or Joy to the World! waft above the clanking of shopping cards or the ring of cash registers, I feel like grabbing everyone around me and hugging them, jumping for joy while yelling, “It’s true! Can you imagine anything so wonderful? The stuff that this song is talking about — it’s true!” I imagine that most stores have policies against that sort of thing, so I refrain. But I always smile, and I always feel overjoyed to have these reminders to rejoice, for a Savior has been born.


  1. Terri

    Oh, amen and amen again! I love this post because it captures so much what all Christians should be experiencing when we hear Christmas carols. Sadly, despite the fact that some of us grew up Christians and knew there was a difference between “Frosty the Snowman” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” we take for granted the songs that express so beautifully one of the greatest events in history. It is thrilling to hear how these songs impress you now that you have been a Christian for a few years. More of us should really listen to the words of some these carols that we so easily take for granted. If we did, we, too, might feel as overjoyed as you do when we hear the strains of “Joy to the World” over the din of all the extraneous Christmas sounds.

  2. SteveK

    When I hear Christmas songs now, I feel the way I would have felt if one of those times that I reached to the back of the closet against all odds, I felt cool air and a snowflake fall on my hand. It was supposed to be a fairy tale.

    Just like this.

  3. Anne Marie

    Christmas carols make me weepy, always have, always will. I would weep through Midnight Mass as a child only vaguely aware of the tenants of the faith. O Holy Night, Silent Night, Joy to the World, what beauty! As with the Eucharist, my soul knew what my mind failed to comprehend.

    With regards to Narnia. I think there must be something about that tale that brings kids to the faith. I never read it, but my Husband loved it as a kid and he was not a reader. Moreover he grew up a completely irreligious home. I can’t help but wonder if the seeds to his conversion as an adult were planted as he learned the story of Christ while reading Narnia as a kid. I imagine CS Lewis praying over his work as he wrote and asking God for the salvation of the souls of his readers.

  4. Kristen Laurence

    I love that all those mysteries are so new for you. How beautiful your holidays will be. I can just picture you bursting with joy on Christmas day!

  5. Stephanie

    As I recently wrote about on my own blog, although I grew up Christian, I belonged to one of those slightly strange Christian groups who thought celebrating Christmas (in a religious way at least – we still did secular Christmas) was a bad thing (because the date isn’t specified in the bible, basically).

    So, I can kind of understand that feeling you describe of wanting to stop everyone around me and say “Do you hear that song? Isn’t this wonderful?”, although for me it’s more of a feeling of relief, and joy that I *can* and *do* now recognize Christmas as Christ’s birth. It makes me so happy to hear religious songs, and I think I appreciate them so much more than a lot of people because growing up, when a religious Christmas song came on I was taught to consider it as a bad thing, which often led to guilt that secretly, I tended to like the religious songs more, lol. Now I can smile and enjoy them guilt free, with the added bonus of taking a little moment to remember Christ and say a little prayer of thanks. 🙂

  6. Jeff Miller

    Strangely even in all my time as an atheist I always preferred the more traditional Christmas Carols and thought much less of the secular ones. I loved singing the traditional Carols especially in choir in High School – yes I am old enough that public schools still allowed children to sing songs with religious content. I really had no idea about the theologies of the songs, I could just recognize their beauty.

    It was in fact my love for Christmas Carols that forced me onto Protestant radios stations during this time of year since I didn’t want to hear the more secular songs predominately played on most stations. As an atheist I just put up with what else the Protestant station would be saying, but at some point I started listening. So oddly it was Protestant radio that was part of my conversion into the Catholic Church.

  7. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for your post, it brings tears of relief and joy. I stand here surrounded by the chaos of the holidays: lists of gifts and food to buy for my family and the low-income family we’re sponsering, gift receipts, order forms, catalogues, and decorations. My head is overwhelmed by the to do list and I feel restless and uptight from the stress. But I took a break to read your blog and you reminded me where to find the joy. Now, I’m going to leave the mess on my kitchen counters and table and sit to properly prepare for confession this afternoon and mass this evening. God bless you on your journey – you have others following you 🙂

  8. Melanie B

    Thanks, Jen, this is a beautiful post. You precisely capture both what I love about Christmas and Narnia.

  9. Adoro te Devote

    Oh, my gosh!

    I have NARNIA on right now, and I just wrote a post about music. Just finished, in fact.

    Wow. Odd coincidence.

    When I read the Narnia books as a child I also checked the back wall of the closet…just in case. And a couple years ago when I read the series as an adult, I had to stop myself from doing the same thing! LOL!

    There’s something about a good story and even the belief in things that transcend our experience that leads us into childlike trust.

    Congratulations…you have begun to experience the world through the eyes of a child. Spiritually. That’s an incredible grace. Enjoy it! God’s gift to you this Advent is this grace.

  10. Bruce

    Hi, I have recently started reading your thread. Sometimes I copy it off so I can read it later offline. I’m not Catholic myself (Baptist) and am not going to change churches, but you have given me a better understanding of the religion. I read your saying the catechism made sense to you and I agree – it does generally make sense.

    I want to run something someone who was raised Catholic recently posted to me in a forum. We’d been discussing the San Francisco Folsom St Fair where gay people go, have sex in public and were talking about how outrageous it was some folks – a gay couple with two adopted daughteres as it happens – had taken their kids to a happening like this – exposing them to seeing public displays of nudity and gay sexual activity.

    Any way, the conversation took a weird turn. Here is what she said:

    “Speaking of Mass– and this is coming from a pre-Vatican II- very strictly reared little Catholic girl– I now look with some amazement back on my early childhood in the Church. Here we are talking child abuse because some kids were seeing leather clad men one time, yet every week I knelt in front of a statue of an almost naked tortured man hanging from a cross with blood dripping from his wounds, and then being told that I was eating and drinking his body and blood, not symbolically, but really.
    I now think, wow, that was really kind of sick. “

    Then in a follow up post she had this to say:

    The fair is once a year, Mass is once a week– or daily if you attend parochial school. That’s what I meant by one time.

    Yes, I am comparing the two, B. I am not bending over for any one, this is all my opinion. It’s not about the FOlsom St Fair being bad, because it is, but that what we do to very young children in the name of religion can also be weird, kinky, and scary, and yet, somehow considered the “right” way.

    WHen you are 6-7 years old and are taught the kind of frightening garbage I was by the nuns daily, it has a profound effect on you, much more than the Folsom St stuff. THe torture of saints, the burning in hell, the appearance of the Virgin Mary to young children telling them SECRETS they must NOT reveal, magical healings, rising from the dead, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Now maybe adults get this whole rather abstact idea of sacrificial Jesus (which is also to my mind pretty scary) but kids are confused by a lot of it. I used to pray nightly with my glowinthedark rosary to Mary NOT to appear to me. I would hide under the covers begging her to go see Brenda next door.

    Kids are very very vulnerable to all kinds of things, which the Church knew quite well (give me a child til he is seven, and I will have him for life).

    But mostly my idle thought was that we do things to kids that arguably are not the healthiest thing when examined from the outside. The irony struck me is all. It was not a justification for Folsom. “

    I wonder if any of the Catholics who post here – because you seem thoughtful – have any comments on this? I’m not sure how to respond effectively.

  11. Jennifer F.

    Bruce –

    Thanks for your comment! As for how to respond to the person who posted her experiences with Catholicism, I really don’t know what to say. I frequently come across atheists making similar points, e.g. “God was explained to me in a way that scared me, so I don’t believe in him now.” These kinds of statements are almost impossible to respond to because the people seem to have made their evaluations based on emotion.

    If she would like to discuss whether or not hell exists, the reasons the Church believes that God is truly present in the Eucharist, whether or not it’s relevant to discuss the deaths of the martyrs, whether or not we should meditate on Christ’s suffering on the cross, etc., that would give you something to work with. But as it is it seems like she’s writing from a place of hurt, so love and prayers are probably the best response.

  12. Anna


    The truths of the faith can be conveyed in a gentler way than it sounds like the nuns did.

    And, I suppose I think, that when the adult in their heart finds the truths they are telling the kids to be a beautiful truth instead of a scary one, that that attitude will come through and help the child to accept it in a way that doesn’t scare them.

  13. Adoro te Devote

    Bruce ~ Well, first, I agree that the attitude conveyed in your description comes from a place of hurt. There is more to that story than just religion, and you will likely never know what that is.

    Secondly, you’re correlating sexual fetishes and the sacrificial death (and resulting resurrection) of the Lamb of God that overcame our sin. They do not compare to each other.

    If you want to draw a correlation because of the fact both can be shocking…no disagreement. Remember…read John 6 – the people in that time walked away from the Lord’s revelation because He was speaking very seriously. Indeed, we must consume the flesh of the Lamb, and He is the Lamb. The consuming of flesh is the fulfillment of the final convenant.

    Yes, this is shocking. Especially to the people of the time. Have you read of the prohibitions against blood? And yet Jesus is saying they must drink his blood. Gross!

    But that’s what we do, and it’s not just a symbol.

    I work in a church now, in the role of faith formation. Some people, even cradle Catholics, aren’t able to look at the gory reality of the suffering of Christ. They like the sterile image, and for some of them, it’s all they can handle. In a couple months, I have to give a teaching to the parents of First Communicants on the Holy Sacrifice…and I’m now weighing how much to say…and how much NOT to say. For not everyone can understand these ideas. Some believe, but their faith is imperfect, and not everyone needs the bloody gory intellectual understanding. And that is where your friend’s problem lies; she may be one of those sensitive souls who was not ready for the truth, but could have handled a portion here and there.

    That’s one thing since Vatican II that has been an improvement; a recognition that not everyone can handle all of it at nce, but this inability to see it all isn’t a criticism on their salvation, but rather, a respect for their temperment.

    I often lament the watered-down catechism we see, and indeed, it’s gotten so soft many Catholics think the Mass is all about going to dinner with a bunch of friends. No! It’s a SACRIFICIAL MEAL. That’s a totally different thing.

    Thank you for helping me to understand another view point and a reason to be gentle in delivery…although I will NOT acquiesce to the degree CCD did. (You likely don’t know about CCD…thank God for that…)

    OK, off my soapbox now. Sorry for the long post.

  14. Meredith

    What a great post! Even though I grew up hearing and believing the words of our favorite Christmas carols, reading your experience made my ears a little more sensitive to their beauty.


  15. LSK49rs

    Thank you thank you thank you…why? for accepting the gift of Faith from Our Lord…it means there’s one more person to shout for joy and one less person who thinks Silent Night is the name of a weird horror movie…..

  16. Anonymous

    Beautiful post! I became a Christian, slowly and nervously, as a teenager, and that joyous “It’s all true!” feeling is one that has come upon me many times. One of those times was when my son was born one Christmas Eve, after years of infertility. I had waited so long to be a mother, and now it’s true! When telling my church friends about my pregnancy in the summer, I’d said, “It will be a very special Advent for me,” but I had no idea just how special it would be or how this season would make me woozy with gratitude every year afterward.

    Bruce, I think this is the crucial distinction between the two situations discussed: The fair exposes kids to disturbing images with the intention of getting them to accept those behaviors as normal (even in public) and harmless. The church exposes kids to disturbing images with the intention of teaching that this terrible suffering is an extraordinary measure necessary to reveal the depths of sin and to redeem us; it’s supposed to be difficult to face, to remind us of the terrible things human beings can do and thus motivate us to do better.

  17. Bruce

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies from Jennifer, Anna, Adoro, & Anonymous.

    I had assumed she might be exaggerating or making up the negative feelings from her childhood out of a spirit of defensiveness as she is a pro-gay rights and felt a need to defend gay people from some of them looking bad over the folsom st fair. Then later she said many of her fears had come from seeing a movie called the Song of Bernadette.

    I’m still not sure how real are the feelings she communicated, but who can know whats inside another’s heart and mind for sure.

    I do like this:

    “: The fair exposes kids to disturbing images with the intention of getting them to accept those behaviors as normal (even in public) and harmless. The church exposes kids to disturbing images with the intention of teaching that this terrible suffering is an extraordinary measure necessary to reveal the depths of sin and to redeem us; it’s supposed to be difficult to face, to remind us of the terrible things human beings can do and thus motivate us to do better.”

    A very big difference.

    Thank you all again.


  18. Stephen...

    Fittingly, you seem to be paraphrasing C.S. Lewis 🙂

    Such as when he’s recounting his conversion process:

    “the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened”!

    Excellent post.

  19. Tertium Quid

    Romance is when you feel something for the first time, even if you either anticipated it well or had already experienced it.

    Christmas is about romance, the love of God renewed and made new after 2,000 of Incarnate Truth.

  20. Sarah

    I have always loved Christmas carols, both secular and religious, but since I’ve become MORE faithful have found myself singing them year round (especially when trying to calm a teething baby – there is only so many songs one knows by heart!)

    I just recently read about (and blogged about) the significance of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” recently here
    which was so interesting! I never knew about the religious aspects of this particular one . . .

    Also, thanks Bruce and the other bloggers for the comments. Very interesting to read and, I believe, handled excellently.

  21. edj

    Great post.
    I can sort of relate. I’m a Christian and have been for quite some time, but I recently spent several years in a Muslim country. Christmases there were always a little difficult emotionally. Once I was in a bakery and they were playing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in English, obviously with no idea of the meaning. I was thrilled. I wanted to shout out the meaning, although of course I couldn’t and didn’t. But I imagine I felt a little like you did this year.

  22. boomama

    This is absolutely beautiful.

  23. Antique Mommy

    Lovely and insightful post.

  24. Pamela

    Wow… so true.
    Like you, I came to faith in Christ as an adult (well, if you can call 18 “adult”). Even though it’s been nearly three decades since then, when I hear certain Christmas carols, it still hits me like a ton of bricks… especially the second and third verses, which are often filled with great theology. Sometimes I wonder how I missed the messages all those years, and how people can continue to miss them now.
    Thanks for the reminder. I loved hearing your perspective as a new believer.

  25. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Do you think that those of us (non-Christian) children enamored of Narnia were entranced by the story precisely because we were (unwittingly) receiving its message?


  1. When I am weak, then I am…weak | Conversion Diary - [...] Christmas. Normally I would have responded enthusiastically, perhaps even working in a mention of the joy I experience at…

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