Posted April 3rd, 2011 by Jen in book reviews, features, religion
Kenneth Grahame’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter from The Wind in the Willows is just gorgeous, sheer magic. First published in England in 1908, this classic talking-animal book includes lovable characters like Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, and right there in the middle, seemingly out of place, is the piper at the gates of dawn. While the piper appears as the ancient Greek god Pan, you dear reader have the prerogative to make him what you will. I make him Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn opens with Rat and Mole setting off at night down river to search for Little Portly, the misadventurous and now missing young son of Otter. Presently, with dawn approaching, Rat becomes entranced by a distant, clear piping.
The call? I bring to the reading of The Piper all that I believe, and while the god Pan is pure pagan myth, I extract the goodness, for every good thing comes from God. And so I hear the call as from Him who created all things, and even His creation calls out to us.
Rat and Mole continue on until they come to a small island fringed with willow and silver birch and alder, and it is here, whispers Rat, “in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him.” And find Him they do, and what a glorious picture of what it may be like to stand before God in all his holiness.
When finally the pair have the courage to raise their heads, they see a creature described clearly as that ancient demigod with the pipes, the legs and horns of a goat, that god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds and music. And they call him Friend and Helper, and there sleeping beneath his watch is the round little otter. Then Mole and Rat, breathless and filled with love, “bowed their heads and did worship.”
Did you see our Friend, Jesus?
Did you see our Helper?
The Vision vanished and then Mole and Rat and even Little Portly forget. The gift of forgetfulness was bestowed upon them, lest they dwell only on that most beautiful moment, the memory of it overshadowing all the rest of life and spoiling it. Even this was familiar to me, and I thought of Jesus transfigured.
The account described in the gospels (Matthew 17:1-13, Luke 9:18-36) comes to mind, in which Christ reveals his glory to some of his disciples, and Moses and Elijah appear. Peter reminds me here of Grahame’s Rat in his request that Jesus allow him to put up shelters there on the mountain for them–he clearly never wants this out-of-the-world experience to end! But it must. It’s not an earthly possibility to live as if in Heaven. We must wait, lest our world lose all color and purpose.
There are times for not forgetting, to be sure. Israel is warned again and again to not forget the goodness of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:11, Psalm 78:11). But the point I draw here in The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is that it’s impossible to look upon the full glory of the Lord and remain there until we ourselves are glorified in that eternal state. (Romans 8:17-19). Paul says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” (I Timothy 6:16.)
Have you ever woken from a beautiful dream only to forget it? Have you grasped a deepest truth only to lose it? The Piper at the Gates of Dawn ends this way. Rat has finally understood it all and is about to share it with the wondering Mole.
After I read the chapter to the children, I asked them about the piping creature. “He’s like God,” and “He’s like Aslan,” were some responses. Though C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is so much more developed and clearly a Christ-type, Graham’s piper is still so revealing of the character of God, and, to borrow Rat’s words, it was very surprising and splendid and beautiful.