The Triple Fool

I am two fools, I know,
      For loving, and for saying so
          In whining poetry;
But where’s that wiseman, that would not be I,
          If she would not deny?
Then as th’ earth’s inward narrow crooked lanes
    Do purge sea water’s fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
    Through rhyme’s vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.
      But when I have done so,
      Some man, his art and voice to show,
          Doth set and sing my pain;
And, by delighting many, frees again
          Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
    But not of such as pleases when ’tis read.
Both are increased by such songs,
    For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three;
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.
-John Donne
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To Know One’s Self

“To know one’s self amid storm and darkness, amid fire and water, amid disease and pain, even during the approach of death, is to be a Christian, for that is how the Master felt in the hour of darkness, because he knew it a fact.”

– George MacDonald, Castle Warlock

Deus Absconditus, and Reading Between the Lines

Image result for christ on the tree, painting

“Of all Biblical passages, the one which occurs most frequently in Lewis’s writings is Christ’s cry from the cross: ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matt. 24:46 and Mark 15:34, a quotation of Ps. 22:1a). Not only are its appearances in Lewis’s work very numerous, they are also spread across the whole range of his corpus In one form or another, the cry of dereliction appears in his diary, poetry, fiction, apologetics, journalism, literary criticism, correspondence, autobiography, and in his MacDonald anthology.  No other scriptural verse comes close to receiving a treatment in so many and various of Lewis’s works; and, interestingly, two of these nineteen mentions occur even before his theistic conversion.

The cry of dereliction, although not directly quoted in The Last Battle, may be heard echoing in Tirian’s cry from the tree, where he stands bound and bleeding:

And he alled out, ‘Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.’

But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.

In spite of such desolation, Tirian persists with his prayer:

‘Let me be killed,’ cried the King. ‘I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.’

And still there was no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger.

We observe here a felt abandonment, followed by self-abnegation, followed by the awakening of the contemplative faculty, the perception of spiritual presence despite unchanging external circumstances. It is admittedly vague. Tirian experiences a ‘kind of change,’ but it involves no ‘knowing why,’ it comes about ‘somehow.’ But it is not nothing; it is something. As with Jane’s experience of sorrow, things are not visibly changed, but they are changed. Aslan does not ‘come and help’ in the way Tirian wants, but ultimately the King is stronger for calling on him. Aslan evidently becomes present to him in the role of Luther’s ‘hidden God,’ the deus absconditus, who can only be discerned with what Lewis calls ‘the seeing eye.’ Tirian conceives this gift of insight; Aslan appears to him, as it were, like a transparent silhouette: nothing subtantial, but at least the outline of a shape. In that gap is the thing that Lewis is trying to communicate, ‘the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1).  Tirian demonstrates what Lewis (following MacDonald) called ‘The highest condition of the Human Will… when, not seeing God, not seeming itself to grasp him at all, it yet holds Him fast.’ He exercises ‘obstinacy in belief,’ finding Aslan perceptible despite his invisibility: ‘I give myself up to the justice of Aslan,’ he says; ‘in the name of Aslan let us go forward’; ‘I serve the real Aslan.’ He is resolved to take the adventure that Aslan would send,’ for ‘we are all between the paws of the true Aslan’: ‘Aslan to our aid!’ Jewel likewise sustains faith in the face of failure, trusting that the stable ‘may be the door to Aslan’s country and we shall sup at his table tonight.’ In all this we are to discern a parallel with Christ’s faithful contemplation of his Father, for even in his cry of dereliction he addressed the One by whom he felt abandoned. ‘He could not see, could not feel Him near; and yet it is ‘My God’ that He cries.’ (52, GMD)

Tirian, Jewel, and the others see Aslan with the eyes of their heart, thus sharing in his own resignation when, bound and shorn on the Stone Table, he had looked up at the sky and had endured its blank response in quietness and sadness. Lewis argued in The Problem of Pain that ‘only God can mortify,’ that is, put sin to death. Tirian accepts the calamities that befall him as necessary tribulations, understood from within by Aslan, that furnish him with an occasion for utter submission to the holy and perfecting purpose of the divine surgeon. As a result, after death, he receives the divine accolade: ‘Well done, last of the kings of Narnia, who held firm in the darkest hour.’

 

– Michael Ward, Planet Narnia; IX – Saturn

 

Will to Die

Lord of essential life, help me to die.     To will to die is one with highest life,

     The mightiest act that to Will’s hand doth lie—

     Born of God’s essence, and of man’s hard strife:

     God, give me strength my evil self to kill,

     And die into the heaven of thy pure will.—

     Then shall this body’s death be very tolerable. 
— George MacDonald

Love is Life, & Love is Death

But love is life. To die of love is then

The only pass to higher life than this.

All love is death to loving, living men;

All deaths are leaps across clefts to the abyss.

Our life is the broken current, Lord, of thine,

Flashing from morn to morn with conscious shine—

Then first by willing death self-made, then life divine.
—George MacDonald

Lord of essential life, help me to die.

To will to die is one with highest life,

The mightiest act that to Will’s hand doth lie—

Born of God’s essence, and of man’s hard strife:

God, give me strength my evil self to kill,

And die into the heaven of thy pure will.—

Then shall this body’s death be very tolerable.

—George MacDonald

Love’s Perfect Will- No Duty but a Joy

I cannot see, my God, a reason whyFrom morn to night I go not gladsome free;

For, if thou art what my soul thinketh thee,

There is no burden but should lightly lie,

No duty but a joy at heart must be:

Love’s perfect will can be nor sore nor small,

For God is light—in him no darkness is at all.

The World’s Tragedy

I come, I come, o sons of men, my triumph roars at last,

Yet with the weight of this my staff I scarce can tread so fast.

‘Twas worth the patient wandering years, the fight with want and sin,

To see, with pomp and crowded streets, my kingdom ushered in.

My mantle trails along the stones, man’s best imperial crown

Sits hard about my brows – so hard, methinks, the blood runs down.

 

I come, I come, o sons of men, Jerusalem I come,

My mighty men the halt and lame, my counsellors the dumb.

Raised on the highest steeps of time, with power to bless and ban,

I come, I come, o sons of men, the crownèd son of man.

O brothers, sisters, little ones, whose homes were poor as mine,

My heart went to you through the mists of all the dreams divine.

 

I dropped the crust, I siezed the staff, I trod the homeless wold,

No king of all my foes could fling the hateful taunt of gold.

I sought the meanest lives that felt the Father’s rain and sun,

I bent above the harlot’s shame, and she and I were one,

Lower and lower down I bent, and still my heart was full.

O brothers, sisters, broken ones the world’s hard judges slay,

O captives at the gibbet’s foot, I join you too today.

 

O brothers, sisters, toiling ones hereafter that shall rise,

To break the glebe in other lands, to sweat ‘neath other skies,

That age’s dust and sage’s doubt may turn your hearts from me,

That you in glare of newer times, again may join the cry

With rulers and with men of wealth, the shout of “Crucify!”,

That yet again the noise may come, the lazy sophist’s scorn,

That ye too may deride me dead, whom I have loved unborn.

 

~GK Chesterton (ca. 1893)