Take 4

I just got through a fresh listen to Till We shave Faces, and it’s been a great & deep experience every time for me, with room to see & appreciate more on subsequent reads. I really like the aspect of Lewis’s treatment and answer to lament of “Job” in this book, much like GKC’s The Man Who Was Thursday. I remember thinking after reading one of GMD’s books that it was much the same idea, but I can’t remember now which book that was. I liked the development of the idea of what happens when we go against the little ray of light we have been given. Which is usually all we get – a glimpse; John said no man hath “seen” God at any time, and maybe relates to truth as well, we can’t “see” it clearly because we are not such as are *able* to see it yet. Not till we have faces. And I liked how Orual was able to help make reparations for the damage she had caused, and that as she tried to find a way to do her work, she was always given help. And of course, that to be heard at all, and to know that there is “one who hears” and knows, is in some sense to be answered. Perhaps at this stage in our growth, it is the only sense in which we can be answered. As a babe cries out in its anguish, not even knowing what the cause of his pain is, just to hear the voice of his mother is a consolation, because he knows that help is on the way. So we, not having a full knowledge of the universe (or even of our own selves) cry out our blind complaint against the gods. And the God comes, and hears the cry of our hearts, and we have been heard. Help is on the way. 🌸

Thou Who Knowest

When I am very weary with hard thought,

     And yet the question burns and is not quenched,

     My heart grows cool when to remembrance wrought

     That thou who know’st the light-born answer sought

     Know’st too the dark where the doubt lies entrenched—

     Know’st with what seemings I am sore perplexed,

     And that with thee I wait, nor needs my soul be vexed. 
– George MacDonald

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

 

By His Side Needs Must They Stay

He knew their hearts were foolish, eyes were dim,  And therefore by his side needs must they stay.

Even when their foolish words they turned on him,He did not his disciples send away;

He knew their hearts were foolish, eyes were dim,

And therefore by his side needs must they stay.

Thou will not, Lord, send me away from thee.

When I am foolish, make thy cock crow grim;

If that is not enough, turn, Lord, and look on me.
— George MacDonald

The Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

   Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

            Up vistaed hopes I sped;

            And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

           But with unhurrying chase,

           And unperturbĂ©d pace,

       Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

           They beat—and a Voice beat

           More instant than the Feet—

       â€śAll things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
   I pleaded, outlaw-wise,

By many a hearted casement, curtained red,

    Trellised with intertwining charities;

(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,

            Yet was I sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)

But, if one little casement parted wide,

    The gust of His approach would clash it to:

    Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

    And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,

    Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars:

            Fretted to dulcet jars

And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;

    With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

            From this tremendous Lover—

Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!

   I tempted all His servitors, but to find

My own betrayal in their constancy,

In faith to Him their fickleness to me,

    Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.

To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;

    Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.

          But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,

        The long savannahs of the blue;

            Or whether, Thunder-driven,

          They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,

Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—

    Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.

            Still with unhurrying chase,

            And unperturbĂ©d pace,

        Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

            Came on the following Feet,

            And a Voice above their beat—

        “Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
I sought no more that after which I strayed

            In face of man or maid;

But still within the little children’s eyes

            Seems something, something that replies,

They at least are for me, surely for me!

I turned me to them very wistfully;

But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair

            With dawning answers there,

Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share

With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;

            Let me greet you lip to lip,

            Let me twine you with caresses,

                Wantoning

            With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,

                Banqueting

            With her in her wind-walled palace,

            Underneath her azured dais,

            Quaffing, as your taintless way is,

                From a chalice

Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”

                So it was done:

I in their delicate fellowship was one—

Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.

            I knew all the swift importings

            On the wilful face of skies;

            I knew how the clouds arise

            SpumĂ©d of the wild sea-snortings;

                All that’s born or dies

            Rose and drooped with; made them shapers

Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;

            With them joyed and was bereaven.

            I was heavy with the even,

            When she lit her glimmering tapers

            Round the day’s dead sanctities.

            I laughed in the morning’s eyes.

I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,

            Heaven and I wept together,

And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;

Against the red throb of its sunset-heart

            I laid my own to beat,

            And share commingling heat;

But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.

In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.

For ah! we know not what each other says,

            These things and I; in sound I speak—

Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;

            Let her, if she would owe me,

Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me

            The breasts o’ her tenderness:

Never did any milk of hers once bless

                My thirsting mouth.

                Nigh and nigh draws the chase,

                With unperturbèd pace,

            Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;

                And past those noised Feet

                A voice comes yet more fleet—

            “Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!

My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,

                And smitten me to my knee;

            I am defenceless utterly.

            I slept, methinks, and woke,

And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.

In the rash lustihead of my young powers,

            I shook the pillaring hours

And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,

I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—

My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.

My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,

Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.

            Yea, faileth now even dream

The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist.

Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist

I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,

Are yielding; cords of all too weak account

For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.

            Ah! is Thy love indeed

A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,

Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?

            Ah! must—

            Designer infinite!—

Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou can’st limn with it?

My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;

And now my heart is as a broken fount,

Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever

            From the dank thoughts that shiver

Upon the sighful branches of my mind.

            Such is; what is to be?

The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?

I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;

Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds

From the hid battlements of Eternity;

Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then

Round the half-glimpséd turrets slowly wash again.

            But not ere him who summoneth

            I first have seen, enwound

With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;

His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.

Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields

            Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields

            Be dunged with rotten death?
                Now of that long pursuit

                Comes on at hand the bruit;

            That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:

               â€śAnd is thy earth so marred,

                Shattered in shard on shard?

            Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

            Strange, piteous, futile thing!

Wherefore should any set thee love apart?

Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),

“And human love needs human meriting:

            How hast thou merited—

Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?

            Alack, thou knowest not

How little worthy of any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,

            Save Me, save only Me?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

            Not for thy harms,

But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.

            All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:

            Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

    Halts by me that footfall:

    Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?

    “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

    I am He Whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

From the Deeps, Love Thee

“Might I but scatter interfering things–

Questions and doubts, distrusts and anxious pride,

And in thy garment, as under gathering wings,

Nestle obedient to thy loving side,

Easy it were to love thee. But when thou

Send’st me to think and labour from thee wide,

Love falls to asking many a why and how.
Easier it were, but poorer were the love.

Lord, I would have me love thee from the deeps–

Of troubled thought, of pain, of weariness.

Through seething wastes below, billows above,

My soul should rise in eager, hungering leaps;

Through thorny thicks, through sands unstable press–

Out of my dream to him who slumbers not nor sleeps.” 
– George MacDonald