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  • Writer's pictureGrace Johnson

Shasta and the Presence of God

      The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis follows the adventures of Shasta, a boy who grew up as a Calormene slave but comes to realize that his heart truly lies in the Northern lands, one of which is Narnia. With the help of a Talking Horse named Bree, who has also been enslaved by the Calormenes, Shasta manages to escape his master, and he and Bree set out for the free Northern lands. But their journey is not an easy one, and they encounter several perilous situations—not the least of which are the lions that seem to be dogging their every move.

Early in the journey, Bree and Shasta are chased by two ferocious lions. They manage to escape, but an interesting side effect of the lions’ pursuit is that Shasta and Bree unintentionally join forces with two other escapees, a Calormene girl named Aravis and her Talking Horse, Hwin. The four continue their escape, but due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, Shasta finds himself separated from the others as they make their way through the capital city. He is eventually forced to spend the night alone among the Tombs of the Ancient Kings, the agreed-upon meeting place should any of them become separated in the capital. But strangely enough, he is not alone. A cat comes to keep him company. And in the night, when a pack of jackals surrounds the tomb, Shasta almost believes the cat turns into a fierce lion whose roar frightens the jackals away.

When Shasta’s friends finally come, the four set off across the desert, the last obstacle between themselves and the free country of Archenland. But as soon as they cross into that country, they see an army approaching behind them. The four companions know they must warn King Lune of Archenland of the danger, but the Horses are already weary. Just ahead is the home of a hermit who will take them in, but they have no strength to reach it. Then out of nowhere, another lion leaps out at them. The Horses’ terror gives them the last bit of energy they need to reach the safety of the hermit’s house. But the Horses are both spent, and Aravis was wounded by the lion. It is only Shasta who can now deliver the warning to King Lune. Though Shasta too is exhausted, he follows the hermit’s instructions and sets out to find the king.

Luckily for him, the king is only a few hours down the road on a hunting trip. He takes Shasta’s warning seriously and immediately heads back to his castle. Shasta is given a horse, but Shasta soon falls behind the hunting party. Before long, he is lost in a thick fog.

As the hours creep along, Shasta has little to do but feel sorry for himself. He recalls all the unfortunate things that have happened to him throughout this journey, how he constantly gets left out of things and has to do all the hard work. But just as he begins to cry from sheer misery, he notices that something is walking beside him—something big. Shasta is too frightened to do anything, and the thing walks beside him in silence. Finally, the tense silence becomes too much for Shasta, and he demands to know who this creature is.

What follows is a conversation that bewilders him. The thing is not a giant, nor is it a ghost. Whatever it is, it seems quite interested to know of Shasta’s troubles. So Shasta tells his story, explaining how he is an orphan who was enslaved in Calormene, detailing his escape with Bree and the others, telling about the many lions who have been a constant plague on their travels. Then, when he insists the lions alone were quite bad luck, the voice stops him. “‘There was only one lion,’” it says. And when Shasta begins to argue, the voice asserts, “‘I was the lion.’”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” pp. 164-165

What a revelation! This lion, this Voice out of the fog, is the very lion who had pursued Shasta out of Calormen. He had been with Shasta and his friends throughout the entirety of their journey, revealing himself when they needed him the most. And now, as the fog clears, Shasta sees a beautiful golden light radiating from the lion. Seeing this, he realizes that this is no ordinary lion: this is none other than the Great Lion, Aslan of Narnia. Aslan himself has been at Shasta’s side from the beginning of his life.

Aslan’s presence in Shasta’s life is a perfect picture of God’s presence in our own lives. Often, we do not see God. The difficulties of life swarm around us, threatening to drown us in their brutal waves, and the easiest conclusion is that God has abandoned us. We begin to feel sorry for ourselves, certain that we are the most unfortunate creatures ever to exist. But then, in the midst of our despair, we hear a voice. It is a gentle voice, one that prods us to share our sorrows. And as we pour out our heart, something strange begins to happen. For the voice draws our attention to things we hadn’t noticed before, little things that made the hardest moments somehow bearable. And then, the strangest thing of all: the voice whispers, “I was there. I was your friend. I was your helper. I was your counselor. I was the lion.” God has promised that He will never forsake those whom He has called. Just because we may not see Him does not for a moment mean He’s not there. He is the Lion Who guards our steps, and when we look back, we will marvel at how we could have missed Him. He is always right beside us.

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior’” (Isaiah 43:1-3a).

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