This piece originally appeared on the Story Sessions website. That website is being reworked, which lets me share this with my own blog readers. …all five of you.
“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe. […]
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
“The lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you,’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me—”
“Dressed you. With his paws?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, un-dragoned, for another.”
“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.
~Excerpt from Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
There was a period of my life when I wore an extra skin emotionally as if it was heavy chainmail or a coat of dragon scales.
It was knobby, thick, suspicious, sarcastic, and dismissive.
I grew this layer of protection over time. The barrages of arrows whose poisoned tips bore insults hedged as jokes about my body, necessitated this thick skin – the arrows didn’t hurt as much when they met hard scales. Snide comments about my lack of intelligence or critical thinking skills couldn’t meet their mark when repelled by bony skin. The repeated defense of my family’s expectations or my role as the pastor’s daughter, the constant sense of being different than everyone else, called “weird” for my sense of humor or mocked for my vocabulary, these things built layer upon layer of cartilage armor.
I was quick with a joke or a biting comment, even if it was about me – better to be aware of my weakness than to let others announce it.
I became skilled at assuming the twist of a statement, rather than believing it was said straight. It made me paranoid about what any sentence meant.
I grew weary with the analyzing, stony in the silence I adopted rather than open myself to hurtful responses that were bound to come, should I offer the opportunity.
Any gentleness I once had slowly shrunk and hardened until it was only a pebble.
In the excerpt above, Eustace’s dragon scales are the result of greed and selfishness.
My scales were the result of a perceived need for self-preservation and protection.
The image has returned to me time upon time, the image of scraping away dragon scales, peeling them back as a snake slips its skin. The effort of learning a new way to relate to the world, the hard work of retraining my brain synapses so messages wouldn’t travel the same well-worn canyons, and the strain of finding new thought patterns felt like ripping off layers. I worked to allow myself to believe the compliment that came from the lips of the one I loved, rather than hearing its reverse, and the awareness that the former was still my first response, felt like Eustace when he thought he had scratched away the dragon skin, only to discover he was still wearing it. Try as I might, my best efforts only removed the outside layers with no impact on those that were thicker, those that were deeper.
There comes a point when, if we want real change, we have to admit we can’t do it ourselves.
We have to lie down in the grass and allow Aslan to undress us.
It feels vulnerable and intimate.
It feels defenseless.
It feels like a death.
And it can hurt like a bitch.
While we lie there, letting our defenses be stripped away, we might feel like we’d rather continue wearing the dragon skin, except for the sublime gratification that comes with the removal of it, like peeling a long strip of wallpaper after you’ve been laboring and only getting scraps, or the feeling of finally getting all the snarls out of your daughter’s beautiful long hair so you can drag the comb through it unhindered. We become our truer selves, closer to our clearest essence, unhindered by the bulky armor we accumulated. Only once it is removed are we released to feel earth on flesh, breeze on face, and warmth of embrace.
It is only once our dragon scales are removed that we learn the strength of being vulnerable, the confidence that undergirds gentleness and the freedom that comes when we are our most unfettered selves.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NKJV) “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Have you built up your own coat of dragon scale defenses? Is that dragon skin still serving you, or has it begun to hinder your freedom? In what ways might you allow some of those scales to fall away?