Courage, Dear Heart

Nov 23 / Terra McDaniel
Where Dreams Come True

I love rereading children’s books as a grown-up. They often convey a capacity for wonder and daring and joy that my sometimes-cynical soul needs, especially these days. They give me necessary breaks from hard or mundane realities while simultaneously inspiring me for the good work that is mine to do.

Recently, I have been thinking about a particular story that seems apt for this season. It’s a chapter in the Narnia series found within The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the crew encounters what might be their most formidable threat.[1]

Seeking one of the lost friends of Caspian’s father requires them to sail toward an island obscured by impenetrable darkness. They don’t know what they will encounter inside the gloom, but they are willing to risk it because they are brave, and they trust Aslan. And truth be told, it also has something to do with the fact that they’ve been successful thus far, having survived treacherous situations including being captured by slave traders; narrowly avoiding a spring of water that appears refreshing but delivers greedy madness or death; and encountering an enchanted dragon.

It’s understandable they like their odds after prevailing against all that.

But this time is different. Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, and the rest are relieved when they haul a wild-haired man aboard who turns out to be the one they have been looking for. And they are thrilled—initially—when they hear they have arrived at the “Island where Dreams come true.”[2] They imagine delightful things until the man they have pulled from the waves corrects them. They haven’t reached a place where daydreams of love or success become reality. It is a place where dreams startle one awake, hearts pounding as the dream comes to life. Where monsters come alive and mazes with horrible choices spring into existence.

Shadows and Monsters

And if that isn’t like what has been happening this year (and longer), I don’t know what is! The world is ominous and uncertain. Threats seem to be materializing out of our collective nightmares. The lines between trustworthy friends, innocent strangers, and dangerous enemies to guard against (even as we seek to love them) are fuzzier, spurring many of us to adopt a more defensive stance.

In the moment of crisis, the gallant mouse Reepicheep urges them to continue forward, fighting shadows and monsters as they materialize. He is an essential voice of courage and dignity in the Narnia stories but in this case, he is mistaken. Some battles are best engaged by what might appear to be retreat. To stay where they were would have perpetuated fear and brokenness. The same can be true for us. This is not to advocate passivity or avoidance of healthy conflict but to say some evils can only be vanquished from outside of the toxic systems that perpetuate them.

As the situation becomes dire, Lucy cries out for help. And in the midst of horror, help arrives. It starts small—only a glimmer of light. But the tide begins to turn. The darkness, thick, palpable, and full of menace, still surrounds them. But light and a beautiful bird flying within it envelops their ship and begins guiding them to safety. May we, like Lucy, cry out for more shalom even when our path forward isn’t yet clear.

Light for the Path

The good news is that like Lewis’s Lion, God does not abandon us to darkness and destruction. He joins us in it. When Hagar and Ishmael were running from her harsh mistress, God showed up and spoke hope and a future.[3] When Jacob was rightly afraid of meeting his older brother again, God kept him company on that wakeful night, wrestling with him in the darkness, leaving him changed and with a new name.[4] At just the right time, God’s Spirit overshadowed Mary and somehow Emmanuel was enfolded into humanity to demonstrate what God’s good ways are like.[5]

My favorite part is when the albatross swoops close enough to whisper to Lucy with Aslan’s voice, “Courage, dear heart.”[6] Because God is like that, too. God cares about our concerns and worries—ours in particular. I need to know this as I bear witness to strife, brokenness, and loss that makes my chest ache. If you have been weary and anxious, I hope you will listen for whispers of hope and vitality from One who draws near to empower you to stand firm in the face of real danger, speaking and acting for lovingkindness and flourishing, especially in places of injustice.

And like the crew of the Dawn Treader, we are not meant merely to save our own skins. Our invitation, as fully as we are able, is to ensure all those who come after us aren’t doomed to replay the same struggles. As we enter the third wave of the pandemic with a sitting president refusing to concede projected results of an election for the first time in modern history amidst partisan division, fear, and demonization, we need courageous hope to keep following the Light and pulling for all we are worth toward goodness and truth and compassion.

Courage, dear hearts.

[1] This is the third book published in the Narnia series or book five when they’re ordered chronologically.
[2] Lewis, CS, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harper Trophy (1952), 183.
[3] Genesis 16:6-15 [4] Genesis 32:24-31
[5] Luke 1:26-38 [6] Lewis, CS, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harper Trophy (1952), 187.  

Terra McDaniel

Terra is a spiritual director, pastor, teacher, and writer who loves making space for people of all ages to tune into their own souls. Terra is convinced that the Spirit is working both within the church and outside it and feels particularly called to host those who feel spiritually homeless. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and