On Christmas Eve: Opening the Ancient Door


On Christmas Eve 1960

It was a childhood discovery, more than 50 years ago, within the 1920’s home of my grandmother,  in North Carolina:

In the center of the house was a fully enclosed, square hall.

Four doors, located north, south, east, and west, opened up from the hall, into various rooms.

The hall contained the stairway to the second floor.

I climbed the stairs and located two doors, one on either side of the landing.

I opened one of the doors, which revealed a guest room.

Inside the room, I opened an interior door, which led to a clothes-closet or “wardrobe.”

I stepped inside:  It was small, dark, musty, and crowded with hanging clothes.

I pushed aside the hanging clothes and discovered that – lo and behold!  A secret door was hidden at the back of the wardrobe!

I opened this concealed door and stepped into a cavernous attic room, filled with sunlight.

I squinted my eyes, to adjust to the brightness.

I positioned a chair underneath a large window.  I climbed up and opened the window latch.

 

I stood on tip-toes to scan the wide, clear sky and to breathe in the crisp, cold air.

” . . . ‘Mere’ Christianity is like a hall out of which doors open to several rooms . . . it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.   

The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.”

~~~C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,”  1952

[Note: The complete excerpt is below.]

On Christmas Eve 2000

“Not all who wander are lost.”  [J. R. R. Tolkein]  

No; I was not lost — but I was a wanderer for 25 years, within the “hall” of contemporary evangelical churches, which endeavored to be inter-denominational or non-denominational.

I began to yearn for a more permanent residence:  one that embraced Community and Creed, Doxology and Theology, Faith and Reason.

Within this “hall,” on Christmas Eve 2000, I found a heavy, solid, ancient door and opened it:

Inside, I found a spacious room with fires and chairs and meals:

Fires: Here was the warmth of community with believers, not merely contemporary and local, but also historical and global.


Chairs:  Here was the sturdy foundation of Doctrine, based upon the Authority of Holy Scripture, assisted now by Faith, Reason, and Tradition.

Meals:  Here also was nourishment, not only from the reading and preaching of the Word, but also from the real and living Presence of Christ, in the Holy Eucharist.

Opening the heavy, solid, ancient door revealed yet another door:  a portal to the Creeds, Prayers, and Hymns of Ancient and Historic Christian Faith.

My wandering search had returned me full circle:

As a child, I attended Liturgical Worship Services, which shaped me in ways that were subtle, yet strong and sure, for as N. T. Wright reminds us:

The Liturgy is a means of grace; it is God ministering to us.”

The Language of Liturgy slowly unveils to us the meaning of its metaphors.

The Words of Worship strengthen and sustain us; they form and transform us.

The Language and Words, vast and ageless, are filled with Light and Life.

~~~Margot Blair Payne, Advent 2007; Revised Advent 2012

From the Introduction to “Mere Christianity:”

“I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions – as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open to several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  For that purpose the worst of the rooms [whichever that may be] is, I think, preferable.  It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at.  I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that is good for him to wait.  When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good, which you would not have had otherwise.  But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping.  You must keep on praying for light:  and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.  And above all, you must be asking which door is the true one, not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.  In plain language, the question should never be, ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true:  Is holiness here?  Does my conscience move me toward this?  Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”

~C. S. Lewis, excerpt from the book, Mere Christianity, 1952, Macmillan Publishing.

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