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Author's Reflection

The Snail and the King

by Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O.Praem.

The Snail and the King Reflection
Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O. Praem.


      The difference between a snail and a king is a vast one, and the distance between their statures and statuses in the world make it unlikely that their destinies would necessarily intertwine. And yet, it is this expansive distance between them which is the very landscape of the story The Snail and the King: a story which explores the astonishing distance between Almighty God and His lowly creatures and the even more astonishing reality of just how near He is to us.

The Beginnings

      I first wrote the story eleven years ago. The story’s concept—a snail on long and difficult
journey—came to mind came to mind while I was on a retreat discerning my vocation. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty slow, being twenty-five years old at the time and with little sense of clarity about my future. Yet in the midst of this struggle, I remember being struck by the confidence which the Scriptures and the saints place in our weakness. As God told St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). In this same spirit, St. Therese wrote the following about God to her sister Marie:

 

What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I
have in His mercy… understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one
is…the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming love.


      I had read verses and writings like this many times before, but now it was time to really live them out. However slow, God would lead me along His path and would continue to do so—through all of the twists, turns, and trials along the way. And with this is mind, I started feverishly drawing in a sketchbook, scribbling many ideas and images, until suddenly this story was born. For more than a decade it remained patiently in a sketchbook, and now I am pleased to be able to share the story with you.

The Story

      The narrative begins with a King who sends his son, the Prince, into the wild to invite all the creatures there to escape the dangers of their world and come dwell forever in his castle. Upon entering the wild, the Prince welcomes anyone willing to journey to the ship that will take them to the safety of the royal castle. While the invitation is a most generous one, the Prince is straight forward, frankly admitting that the journey will not be easy and that ship will leave in just three days’ time.
      As to those who embarked on this difficult journey, certain creatures consider themselves strong enough to make the trek. In particular, we find a bear, lion and horse who, solely relying on their own strength, set off on the path. And yet, it is in this sole reliance upon their own strength that we discover their true weakness. For in the end, they are not strong enough to overcome the trials they face on the path, and not seeking a strength beyond their own, they never reach their goal: “Their own strength could not save them; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them” (Ps 44:3).
      As to this story’s protagonist: the snail is the smallest animal depicted in the story and has the least natural chance of completing the journey. But his strength lies in the fact that he never lets go of his desire to reach the King. He is ever aware of his weakness, and with this self-knowledge, he looks for a strength beyond his own to reach his goal. And so he gratefully receives the help offered to him along the way, taking no credit for his success, but instead crediting the King who sent him all the help he needed.
      This gracious assistance offered by the King is particularly manifested within the story in the characters of the Prince and the dove. As already mentioned, the King sends the Prince to invite the creatures to the castle, giving them the map to show them the way; the dove is sent after him, inspiring and enabling the creatures to stay on the path while making the intense journey. Both the Prince and the dove reveal the depths of the King’s generosity, for in them we discover that the King’s invitation to His castle also includes the means that will get everyone there.
      All throughout the story, we find the dove arriving just in time to help the snail move forward when all hope seems lost. In the highest expression of this—literally—the snail takes flight on the dove’s back and is brought, at last, safely to the shore. There, the Prince returns again to help the snail in his final battle to board the ship. So, in the end, we see the King, the Prince and the dove all working together to help the snail on his journey to their homeland.

The Meaning

      The story is a parable, of sorts. And although the images and text are very cheerful, the symbolism is meant to reflect a rather serious, supernatural message. For the Christian reader, it will not take long to see the Holy Trinity reflected in the King, the Prince, and the dove. The King is the Father who reigns in Heaven; the Prince is the Son who enters our world to save us; the dove is the Holy Spirit who leads us along the right path. In no way does this story try to encapsulate all the ways the Trinity is at work in our lives, but it will hopefully be for the reader an encouraging reminder of the Holy Trinity’s generosity to us and providential care over us.
      The path through which the creatures of the wild are travelling represents the spiritual life. Each trial along the way expresses the battles we face. In the story, many of those battles come from the various environments through which the snail travels. The desert and its scorching heat reflect our dryness in prayer: “…Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them” (Is 49:10). The uncrossable waters are reflective of the many moments in which we are overwhelmed and cry out to God for compassion: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck” (Ps 69:1). The skies represent that environment which we simply cannot travel through unless we are given the special grace of God: “O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps 55:6).

      The other trials which we endure in our spiritual lives are also represented in the story by the various characters we meet along the way. The horse, bear, and lion reflect the three struggles with the main enemies of the soul: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The horse, having lost faith in the King’s invitation, prefers to stay behind in the world. The bear forsakes the King’s invitation in order to fill his flesh with earthly food. And the lion rejects the King and chooses to rule over those creatures who also decided not follow the King, thus becoming a figure of the devil, the “prince of this world” (Jn 14:30). In the end, all three figures choose not to overcome their trial, and thus aligning themselves with their temptations, they fail to reach the King’s castle. Their failure at the end of the story is directly connected to their failure at the beginning, as we so often experience: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
      On the other hand, the snail’s successful voyage is reflective of the power of God “made perfect in weakness.” The snail represents those souls who understand that their weakness is not incompatible with God’s grace; on the contrary, their weaknesses are the circumstances in which God wants to reveal His strength:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the
world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things
that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in
the presence of God
(1 Cor. 1:27-29).

This does not mean that we stand still and do nothing, but we move forward on the journey to Heaven trusting that our weakness will not prohibit God’s grace to assist us, provided we keep moving forward, trusting in Him.
      So while it seems like there was a great deal of distance between the statuses of the King and the snail, it is the love between them which is continually bridging that gap all throughout the story. The snail responded to the King’s invitation, and the King granted the snail everything needed to successfully reach him. Once home in the King’s castle, the snail undergoes a wonderful transformation that makes him more like the King than he ever imagined possible. And so, while the expansive distance between them made up the very landscape of the story at the beginning, it is their very nearness which makes up the eternal landscape of the story’s happy end.


The Snail and the King is available at www.joannespress.com

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