“Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake: Mr H. Potter, The Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Winging, Surrey.”
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 30).
Integral to Christian theology is the concept of calling. We believe that those who come to God do so not because of their own advanced sense of morality or spirituality, but because God has called them. This is key to the idea of salvation by grace. Salvation, that is participation in God’s kingdom, is a gift given by God. Why don’t I just quote St. Paul on the subject.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
This is Paul’s way of saying that it is God who initiates our relationship with him and our eventual welcome into his kingdom. We do not step out of the world around us simply because we want to or choose to do so. We are called. God enters into our world and calls us out of it into his. Harry’s introduction to the wizarding world happens in a similar way.
The way in which Harry discovers that he is a wizard sounds something like the way that many people discover that they are Christians. It actually sounds to me very much like the way that Francis Thompson describes his own encounter with Christ in “The Hound of Heaven.” Thompson describes the seemingly inevitable experience of coming to know Christ. Both Harry and Thompson are pursued, they are called, they are chased down by the unstoppable messenger of another world. That chase fills Thompson with fear and apprehension because he knows how it might end. Harry’s chase does contain a note of apprehension, but is punctuated with a tone of deep curiosity, again because I think that Harry has a sense of how the chase might end.
Thompson strikes deeply at the heart of his fear of the “unhurrying chase” when he writes “For, though I knew His love Who followèd,/Yet I was sore adread/Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.” Here is the terror and the power of conversion. It is an experience that cannot be erased or removed. The person who has come to the point of decision between Jesus and what can only be called not-Jesus, can never go back. One way or another must be chosen and he must choose. You see, while salvation comes to us by God’s grace, it is mediated by our faith. The decision to take up or to let fall God’s gift lies with us. When the Hound of Heaven finally catches Thompson, he knows that his decision between Jesus and not-Jesus will finally have to be made.
Again the same is true for Harry. He is coming, at this point in the story, to what will be the defining decision of his life. The Owls and their letters are going to find him, and at that point he will have been called. He will then choose either wizard or what can only be called not-wizard.
The reason that I use the terms not-Jesus and not-wizard is simple. If Harry had chosen not to enter the wizarding world, not to attend Hogwarts, not to take on his role as Voldemort’s arch-enemy, he would not, consequently, have been a muggle. Being a muggle is not among Harry’s available options. He is not a muggle. Because he has been called, because he has received his letter, he is a wizard by nature. That nature cannot be removed and is not dependent upon Harry’s choice. If he chose not to attend Hogwarts he might spend the rest of his life acting like a muggle, but what he would really be is not-a-wizard.
The same is true of a person who has come face to face with Christ. He or she might choose not to accept Christ, but the confrontation cannot be negated. That person must always be not-a-Christian. Why? Because such a person has looked at what Christianity is and like Thompson seen a choice. However, unlike Thompson, that initial fear of relinquishing our so-called freedom is simply too much. And so there is no recourse. One can no longer pretend that he or she hasn’t heard the call, but the call has not been accepted and so what remains is simply not-Jesus.
And so we run, like Francis Thompson or Vernon Dursley. We try to escape from the inescapable. But, whether foot fall or wing beat, the messenger follows hard after us “with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace….”