Feast of St Veronica, the Woman with the Issue of Blood who was Healed by Jesus
ASLAN THREW up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly’s heart jumped in her body when she heard it. She felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it and (what’s more) would be able to obey it, however many worlds or ages lay between. And so, though she was filled with wonder, she was not really astonished or shocked when all of a sudden a young woman, with a kind, honest face stepped out of nowhere and stood beside her. Polly knew at once that it was the Cabby’s wife, fetched out of our world not by any tiresome magic rings, but quickly, simply and sweetly as a bird flies to its nest. The young woman had apparently been in the middle of a washing day, for she wore an apron, her sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, and there were soapsuds on her hands. If she had had time to put on her good clothes (her best hat had imitation cherries on it) she would have looked dreadful; as it was, she looked rather nice.
Of course she thought she was dreaming. That was why she didn't rush across to her husband and ask him what on earth had happened to them both. But when she looked at the Lion she didn’t feel quite so sure it was a dream, yet for some reason she did not appear to be very frightened. Then she dropped a little half curtsey, as some country girls still knew how to do in those days. After that, she went and put her hand in the Cabby’s and stood there looking round her a little shyly.
“My children,” said Aslan, fixing his eyes on both of them, “you are to be the first King and Queen of Narnia.”
~C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
Like many, I initially read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was young; nine years old or so. Back in those days, the boxed set was sold in publication order, not ordered by Narnian time. That made The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a beginning of the great story.
I can’t remember how many Narnian centuries I lived before I reached The Magician’s Nephew, and I can’t remember when I knew it was my favorite.
It just has always been, and it is.
Though she speaks not one recorded word in all of Narnian time, Helen the first Queen of Narnia has always had a deep hold on me. Even now, I realize that in my girlhood she deeply affected my ideas of beauty and femininity in womanhood.
But my first and most lasting impression of her has always been the soapsuds on her hands.
As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who talked often of “paying your dues.” It’s a good lesson to learn; the earlier, the better.
Because of my mentor and Queen Helen’s good examples, I took a lot of jobs that involved soapsuds: cooking at two different daycares, a summer camp, and deep-cleaning dorms / student housing at my college during the summer. YUCK!!!
And it didn’t really phase me. Soapsuds are part of paying dues.
But sometimes they were a struggle.
Part of what I love about The Magician’s Nephew is how clearly you can see human nature. There is real struggle on the part of almost everyone: struggles against grief, temptation, greed, struggles to forgive, to bring healing, to love well.
The fates of the characters vary widely, but are almost wholly dependent upon their choices. By far, the ones who fare the best choose humility. They know who they are, who they aren’t, and they are content. They don’t grab. . . even when it seems unbearable to lay aside desire.
Someone with soapsuds on their hands is choosing to lay aside desire.
Our Helen shows up with soapsuds. And becomes Queen.
It was because of Helen that when I heard a friend angrily exclaim: “I AM NOT A SCULLERY MAID!!!” it fell on my ears like heresy. And if it was not heresy, it certainly seemed a shocking stance to take in the face of needing to care for one’s soul.
Queen Helen was quite an example to me in those days of soapsuds on my hands.
Twenty years gone, and I have learned that though I have paid some dues, soapsuds don’t stop.
They don’t really phase me, but sometimes they are a struggle.
For all of us, this is true. The work of adult-ing, even of being a tiny sovereign, is full of soapsuds. We work, we parent, we do care-taking for the sick and elderly, we keep our laundry, dishes, and teeth clean. . .
Not only have I learned that soapsuds don’t stop; I have learned that all the best queens wear soapsuds on their hands.
Now, more than ever, we need Queen Helen’s example.
We look the nicer for it.
Nyleen Lenk reads, writes, worships, and teaches people shorter than she is. To her, the most important thing is wonderment; and this is why she hides her life with Christ in God. She lives in Wichita with her husband the photographer, her stepsons the gamers, and her cat who is channeling Marmie from Little Women.