There is but one thing
Which is both work and wage,
Both wound and healing,
Both journey and inn,
Both motive and method,
Both master and servant,
Both giving and receiving,
Both law and freedom,
Both antiquity and novelty,
Both tradition and revolution,
Both mystery and familiarity,
Both innocence and knowledge,
Both germ and consummation,
Both child and ancient,
Both origin and aim.
~ GK Chesterton, mid 1890’s
CS Lewis To Griffiths:
The tension you speak of (if it is a tension) between doing full & generous justice to the Natural while also paying unconditional & humble obedience to the Supernatural is to me an absolute key position. I have no use for mere either-or people (except, of course, in that last resort, when the choice, the plucking out the right eye, is upon us: as it is in some mode, every day. 79 But even then a man needn’t abuse & blackguard his right eye. It was a good creature: it is my fault, not its, that I have got myself into a state wh. necessitates jettisoning it). The reason I doubt whether it is, in principle, even a tension is that, as it seems to me, the subordination of Nature is demanded if only in the interests of Nature herself. All the beauty of nature withers when we try to make it absolute. Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things. 80 We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.
What indeed can we imagine Heaven to be but unimpeded obedience. I think this is one of the causes of our love of inanimate nature, that in it we see things which unswervingly carry out the will of their Creator, and are therefore wholly beautiful: and though their kind of obedience is infinitely lower than ours, yet the degree is so much more perfect that a Christian can see the reason that the Romantics had in feeling a certain holiness in the wood and water. The Pantheistic conclusions they sometimes drew are false: but their feeling was just and we can safely allow it in ourselves now that we know the real reason.
For we have often agreed, haven’t we, that one can love nothing but good–sin consisting in the love of the inferior good at the expense of the superior.
One thing we want to do is to kill the word ‘spiritual’ in the sense in which it is used by writers like Arnold and Croce. Last term I had to make the following remark to a room full of Christian undergraduates ‘A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep, in humility, thankfulness, and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride’-obvious to you, but I could see it was quite a new light to them.
I have been reading Lady Julian of Norwich. What do you make of her? A dangerous book, clearly, and I’m glad I didn’t read it much earlier. (Have you noticed how God so often sends us books at just the right time?) One thing in her pleased me immensely. Contemptus mundi is dangerous and may lead to Manicheeism. Love of the creature is also dangerous. How the good of each is won, and the danger rejected, in her vision of ‘all that is made’ 215 as a little thing like a hazel nut ‘so small I thought it could hardly endure’. 216 Not bad, you see: just very, very small.
TO DOROTHY L. SAYERS
Magdalen College, Oxford. May 29th. 1945 Dear Miss Sayers The reason why they don’t like either the narrative element or low comedy is that these have obvious immediate entertainment value. These prigs, starting from the true proposition that great art is more than entertainment reach the glaring non sequitur ‘entertainment has no place in great art’–like people who think music can’t be ‘classical’ if there is a catchy tune in it. It is as if, having learned that religious emotion is not the whole spiritual life and erotic pleasure not the whole of marriage, they then concluded that dryness and impotence were essentials. Pack of muddle headed manichaeans who got marks at their prep. school for reading ‘good’ books wh. they didn’t enjoy. Pah!, Yours C. S. Lewis
“There was no man like Shakespeare for drawing pictures of good women. Women had never such a fair man on their side as Shakespeare. Even those that he did not approve of, he was never cruel or contemptuous to. He had a tender heart for all humanity, and while he drew the most lovely women, he was forbearing and gentle towards those whom he did not approve of.”
– George MacDonald, lecture on ‘The Merchant of Venice.’
Do you have the strength to summon joy? Gratitude, sure – that is doable. But joy? A smile in the face of all the darkness? To choose laughter in the face of tears? And yet, it is joy that lifts our spirits to the clouds, when the tendrils of despair would drag us down into the mire, and suffocate us there…
He does all things well – by which I mean, he chooses to do the right thing, in the right way, every time. Do we have the strength to follow? To put ourselves in remembrance, again and again, that this all shall pass, and that he that does the will of the father lives forever? To choose joy, when our hearts would faint and despair? To choose to be strong and conquer, where we would normally react and let go, or break down and cry?
The difference lies in holding on to the knowledge that this time of difficulty and darkness will pass. It lies in remembering that if we are in it, we can win it. And it lies in keeping close to our hearts the knowledge that our father loves us. And that he will not allow one straw more than we can bear – that every challenge and disappointment, every stone thrown our way, if taken the right way, can be used as another building block, another step upon which to rise higher. The challenges are medicinal – a medicine that is not given where not needed, and that when required, will bring us to health, to strength, to sanity, and in the end, to joy.
So let us fight on, and may God grant us that mystery of the laughter of Christian men, that has “Roared through a thousand tales…” May we also stand with the giants of the ages – those “Kings and clowns in a merry plight,” and learn from them how to take ourselves and the difficult situations around us lightly – that like the angels, we too may learn to fly. And in the face of dark and uncertain days, may we “Follow the star that lives and leaps… Follow the fire unfurled… For riseth up against realm and rod, a thing forgotten, a thing downtrod, the last lost giant, even God…”
And the earth shook and the King stood still
Under the greenwood bough,
And the smoking cake lay at his feet
And the blow was on his brow.
Then Alfred laughed out suddenly,
Like thunder in the spring,
Till shook aloud the lintel-beams,
And the squirrels stirred in dusty dreams,
And the startled birds went up in streams,
For the laughter of the King.
And the beasts of the earth and the birds looked down,
In a wild solemnity,
On a stranger sight than a sylph or elf,
On one man laughing at himself
Under the greenwood tree—
The giant laughter of Christian men
That roars through a thousand tales,
Where greed is an ape and pride is an ass,
And Jack’s away with his master’s lass,
And the miser is banged with all his brass,
The farmer with all his flails;
Tales that tumble and tales that trick,
Yet end not all in scorning—
Of kings and clowns in a merry plight,
And the clock gone wrong and the world gone right,
That the mummers sing upon Christmas night
And Christmas Day in the morning.
Follow the star that lives and leaps,
Follow the sword that sings,
For we go gathering heathen men,
A terrible harvest, ten by ten,
As the wrath of the last red autumn—then
When Christ reaps down the kings.
Follow a light that leaps and spins,
Follow the fire unfurled!
For riseth up against realm and rod,
A thing forgotten, a thing downtrod,
The last lost giant, even God,
Is risen against the world.
~ The Ballad of the White Horse
And Colan’s eyes with mystery
And iron laughter stirred,
And he spoke aloud, but lightly
Not labouring to be heard.
“Oh, truly we be broken hearts,
For that cause, it is said,
We light our candles to that Lord
That broke Himself for bread.
~ The Ballad of the White Horse
But some see God like Guthrum,
Crowned, with a great beard curled,
But I see God like a good giant,
That, labouring, lifts the world.
~ The Ballad of the White Horse
We are such poor and miserable beasts – rooting and clawing for satisfaction and cessation of the raging emptiness and hunger in our souls. And yet we cannot have at first, the very things our souls are dying for – cessation of strife, satisfaction of desire, and joy. We must first learn discipline and be brought to good health. The first thing is to clean the mangy beast, to heal the diseases, to wash the hair and skin, and to make the little beast less “beastly,” and more fit for living among other real human beings… So that at long last, we may be capable of humanity, of strength, of knowledge, of beauty, and of ultimate peace and joy. But the road is hard, and the wait is long. God grant us the patience to persevere, and to not give up before the bell is rung.
“We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”
~ C.S. Lewis, Man or Rabbit
It was evening. The sun was below the horizon; but his rosy beams yet illuminated a feathery cloud, that floated high above the world. I arose, I reached the cloud; and, throwing myself upon it, floated with it in sight of the sinking sun. He sank, and the cloud grew gray; but the grayness touched not my heart. It carried its rose-hue within; for now I could love without needing to be loved again. The moon came gliding up with all the past in her wan face. She changed my couch into a ghostly pallor, and threw all the earth below as to the bottom of a pale sea of dreams. But she could not make me sad. I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death. “Ah! my friends,” thought I, “how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love.”
“O pale-faced women, and gloomy-browed men, and forgotten children, how I will wait on you, and minister to you, and, putting my arms about you in the dark, think hope into your hearts, when you fancy no one is near! Soon as my senses have all come back, and have grown accustomed to this new blessed life, I will be among you with the love that healeth.”
~George MacDonald, Phantastes
“ONE of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “Robert Browning,” Chap. VI. (1903)