I guess that most have enjoyed CS Lewis’ ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, whether as book, film or play. Our childhood fascination with the ability to be transported from one world to another in an instant is fulfilled. Children playing with toys in an imaginary world are brought back to reality by tea or bed-time. Sometimes the transition is easy and at other times not – ‘Oh Mum, just let me finish the story ….’. Older ‘children’ delight in the likes of Dr Who – not just the time-travel and the not knowing where he might appear next, but also those almost unseen boundaries through which characters can step. Sometimes it happens in an instant, at others it involves light-years of spinning galaxies. The distance seems to matter little as the difference between two worlds remains.
The different worlds can seem so close, yet are so far apart.
One of the elements of these fictional creations that creates excitement is the uncertainty of what is to be found in the new situation. Is it a world of promise or danger? The children in CS Lewis’ creation discovered a land of wonder, but also of threat. It was a land of struggle and battle, but also a place where Aslan, the Christ figure, gave his life and gained life. Dr Who has become a little more predictable, in that there is always an enemy and always the ‘get out’ of another time-travel journey when the going gets tough! We sit on the edge of our seats in the meantime. For the child living in their imagination there may be the comfort of ‘imaginary friends’, but equally fearful elements can creep in and become quite real.
In ‘real life’ we find similar boundaries that are created between ability or incapacity. We move home and in a different situation may find our lives more fulfilled, or not. The element of risk or struggle is there too. Some occurrence in our lives may move us into the world of the less able or disabled. Accident or illness may cause a lack of mobility or faculty such as sight or clarity of thought. We move in an instant or over a period of time into a different world, from our perspective.
For all of us the transition between worlds that is caused by ageing cannot be avoided. I don’t imagine that it is easy for anyone, but for some it is a gradual process that can be taken step-by-step, while for others it comes quickly. The world we live in is shaped not so much by age, but by capability, physically and mentally.
Boundaries exist for all of us - driving, travel, language, thought, imagination, physical height or flexibility, mobility, stairs etc. - and as we get older most boundaries seem to close in. Some gradually, but others quite suddenly.
The occasion of moving into a Care Home is likely to happen quite suddenly or unexpectedly. It is usually governed by ‘events’ or ‘others’, but even if it is a rational and accepted decision our world changes drastically. ‘Our home’ is left behind for this new world of both prospect and uncertainty. We seek comfort, care and security, but in the strangeness of this new world we will likely feel very uncomfortable and insecure initially. We have travelled ‘through the wardrobe’ and, while we may not have entered a world of danger, it is a place of uncertainty with the necessity of it all blinding us to any hope or possibility that this new world might hold.
Of necessity, the world of a Care Home is usually one of routine. This and the lack of human resources restricts opportunity for individual interests or activity. The boundary between independence and dependence is clearer than it might perhaps be, with the dominant characteristics of a Care Home being dependence and care.
What is the Christian perspective on all this? We understand a life that is shaped by our physical and mental capabilities, but what of the spiritual life that is shaped, not by boundaries but by eternal life? The Biblical testimony speaks of many in the Old Testament who’s worth at great age was recognised, even to the point of providing leadership and offering wisdom. The Gospel account offers examples of many who’s lives were not shaped by capability – physical and mental illness and disabilities are overcome, boundaries of culture, religion, social standing and political influence are broken through and over all is the lived-through experience of Jesus Christ – of life that promises more than death.
The reality for a Christian is of boundaries expanding infinitely, not closing in. This is the primary message that the Christian Church has to offer, but we struggle.
Although I would not want to push the analogy too far, I imagine that the Christian Church would see itself in the role of the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Here is the gateway to this other world, or rather this other world-view. As Christian communities we do seek to witness to a world where love, forgiveness and justice are the dominant values and to live it out within our church fellowships. The door, however, opens all too often onto that closed space where we meet for our worship and church activities.
What then for those who have been valued members of the Christian family but find themselves needing to be in a Care Home? For the most-part we accept the ‘dependent-care’ culture of the Care Home and make it the Church’s way of working so, while we do wish to have a caring role, we tend to omit the obligation we have to enable those in Care-Homes to fulfil their part within the life of a community.
A Christian who has grown up within and lived by a culture of love, giving and sacrifice finds themselves in a position of receiving and of care. What does this mean for their spiritual life? Do they not have something to contribute still? Their world has been shaped by capability, physical and mental, but what of the spiritual?
THE CHURCH IS THE WARDROBE
The challenge for the Church is to live the life it is witness to. To be the wardrobe that leads to Christ’s life of promise, rather than be a cupboard full of musty coats. To discover its presence beyond the ‘four walls’ and the traditional structures and practices. To enable those whose lives are naturally restricted by a different ‘four walls’ to live this same life that is spiritually free.
Recently, there has been much talk of boundaries broken through the energies of the human spirit, as we have witnessed the Olympics and Paralympics. Christians witness to a life that reaches its fulfilment through the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God.
(Originally written in relation to the Generations Project - enabling the Church in Care Homes - in Solihull, West Midlands. 2013)