The Eternal Air

Through all the fog, through all earth’s wintery sighs,

I scent Thy spring, I feel the eternal air,

Warm, soft, and dewy, filled with flowery eyes,

And gentle, murmuring motions everywhere—

Of life in heart, and tree, and brook, and moss;

Thy breath wakes beauty, love, and bliss, and prayer,

And strength to hang with nails upon thy cross.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul. 

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

 

A Christmas Carol for 1862

(The year of the trouble in Lancashire.)

The skies are pale, the trees are stiff,

The earth is dull and old;

The frost is glittering as if

The very sun were cold.

And hunger fell is joined with frost,

To make men thin and wan:

Come, babe, from heaven, or we are lost;

Be born, O child of man.

 

Thy children cry, the women shake,

The strong men stare about;

They sleep when they should be awake,

They wake ere night is is out.

For they have lost their heritage –

No sweat is on their brow:

Come, babe, and bring them work and wage;

Be born, and save us now.

 

Across the sea, beyond our sight,

Roars on the fierce debate;

The men go down in bloody fight,

The women weep and hate;

And in the right be which that may,

Surely the strife is long!

Come, son of man, thy righteous way,

And right will have no wrong.

 

Good men speak lies against thine own –

Tongue quick, and hearing slow;

They will not let thee walk alone,

And think to serve thee so:

If they the children’s freedom saw

In thee, the children’s king,

They would be still with holy awe,

Or only speak to sing.

 

Some neither lie nor starve nor fight,

Nor yet the poor deny;

But in their hearts all is not right,

-They often sit and sigh.

We need thee every day and hour,

In sunshine and in snow:

Child-king, we pray with all our power –

Be born, and save us so.

 

We are but men and women, Lord;

Thou art a gracious child!

O fill our hearts, and heap our board,

Pray thee – the winter’s wild!

The sky is sad, the trees are bare,

Hunger and hate about:

Come, child, and ill deeds and ill fare

Will soon be driven out.

 

– George MacDonald

 

Love is Enough

Love is enough for the loving, love without self’s alloy,

Its mighty breast enfolding the flame of a secret joy.

Love is enough for the loving as pure of envy and strife,

It is poured as a fiery torrent from the brimming urns of Life.

Love is no money-changer, to weigh the return as gold,

Love is not weak nor selfish, nor faileth, nor groweth old,

Love is as strong as death, his wings to the stars unfurled,

His feet in the deepest places of the chambered underworld.

Though the frowns and smiles of the loved be as fights that are lost and won,

Though the cry on the lips of thousands be light to the praise of one,

Though the light of our life that kindleth be set in another’s eyes,

Love doth not die in the darkness or wander away in the sighs.

Love is a crown to the loving, a mystical shrine untrod,

A secret lent to the spirit by the breath of the living God.

He stands in the innermost temple, and often in hours unsought

We hear the might of his stirring through the roar of the lovers of thought.

He rings with a lingering glory the dusky shapes we see

That move in a twilight chamber in the haunts of memory.

Love is no jester and courtier, no trifler in folly and guile,

To sing at rosèd casement and watch for a wanton’s smile.

Love is an earnest spirit, so patient and lonely and strong,

And the woe of his lips is silent, and the time of his torture is long.

His hope is high and distant, his path is steep and hard,

He giveth his all and watcheth, till God shall relieve his guard.

Keep we the might of his presence, a flash of the light of the Lord,

A breath of the mighty nature that shaketh its good abroad

That so we may be as the angels and rise to the loftiest lot

Of him who is highest of all things that he giveth and asketh not,

Who giveth a self and a will and a place in the ordered plan

Gives also the love of a God for the half-hearted worship of man,

As the awful eyes that are watching and the silent lips that bless

Are turned on the ways of his thousands in a great unconsciousness.

Love is enough for the loving, and let it suffice unto me,

As the golden eve is sinking on darkening wood and lea,

As the sun streams out in glory and floods the course of the spheres,

As the humblest rose breaks out from the earth in a simple trust

So shall the gifts of the loving be the crown of a living dust,

No spot on the earth of God can take what it never gave,

None, but bounds of Hell, and the rotting space of the Grave.

~ GK Chesterton

 

The feeling I had after reading this poem was Where has this poem been all my life? And two,  How does he understand love so clearly? As happens so often, I had just been thinking I need to learn more about love – Lord, help me to learn more about love. The following day I discovered a book of Chesterton’s poetry on my husband’s book shelf. That poem was the first, and it leapt off the page into my heart. How I love the mind (and insight) of Chesterton – I don’t think I will ever get tired of reading him. As I read through the stanzas, the things I had been telling myself about love melted under the scorching light.

 

Love doth not die in the darkness or wander away in the sighs.

In retrospect, I actually can’t remember what I was telling myself about this. But I think it was something along the lines of “If I am not loved, I cannot love; my love will fade away, until all that is left is a small dark ember, which will only come back to life in the warmth of another’s love.” Through the eyes of Love is Enough, I see love as a bigger thing – and a stronger, than I (currently) am.

 

Love is an earnest spirit, so patient and lonely and strong,

And the woe of his lips is silent, and the time of his torture is long.

His hope is high and distant, his path is steep and hard,

He giveth his all and watcheth, till God shall relieve his guard.

I think I had an impression of love as seen through the image of a mother, feminine, soft, and yet somehow persevering. I guess I had ideas about love as being soft & feminine, and yet on the other side somehow also strong. This picture of love still includes all that I see in the ideal of a mother, yet it is somehow a different picture of that strength, and more rock-solid than I had pictured it before. It now seems so masculine  – masculine in the sense that it originates, it puts into motion, it drives, it seeks, it gives, it goes on, and on and on, and never stops. Sigh. – We are indeed the lesser children of greater sires. It is a picture so beautiful, so right, so pure. How can I not love it – want it for my own, see my lack in that space, and want to be more like that? Ah love – come in to me; inhabit me, possess me. But there is no “magic pill” to be had. I cannot get love inside merely by desiring to, or by hoping I will “catch” the bug if I get close enough. (Although that is part of it too.) I must grow my love – grow in love, practice love, and shape my love, that it may look like its original at last. Thankfully we have a wonderful teacher to follow.

 

Love is as strong as death, his wings to the stars unfurled,

His feet in the deepest places of the chambered underworld.

This – wings in the stars, and feet in the deepest places of the underworld, reminded me of CS Lewis’s picture of the diver.

One has a picture of someone going right down and dredging the sea bottom. One has a picture of a strong man trying to lift a very big, complicated burden. He stoops down and gets himself right under it so that he himself disappears; and then he straightens his back and moves off with the whole thing swaying on his shoulders.

Or else one has the picture of a diver, stripping off garment after garment, making himself naked, then flashing for a moment in the air, and then down through the green, and warm, and sunlit water into the pitch-black, cold, freezing water, down into the mud and slime, then up again, his lungs almost bursting, back again to the green and warm and sunlit water, and then at last out into the sunshine, holding in his hand the dripping thing he went down to get. This thing is human nature; but, associated with it, all Nature, the new universe.

Wouldn’t that make a beautiful painting?

 

I thought I should make a list, to clarify the thoughts put forth about what love is, and isn’t.

Love Is:

⁃    Enough for the loving
⁃    Without self’s alloy
⁃    Flame of a secret joy
⁃    Pure of envy and strife
⁃    A fiery torrent from the brimming urns of life
⁃    Strong as death
⁃    A crown to the loving
⁃    A mystical shrine untrod
⁃    A secret lent to the spirit by the breath of the living God.
⁃    Rings with a lingering glory the dusky shapes we see
⁃    Love is an earnest spirit
⁃    Patient and lonely and strong
⁃    The woe of his lips is silent
⁃    The time of his torture is long
⁃    His hope is high and distant
⁃    His path is steep and hard
⁃    He giveth his all and watcheth, till God shall relieve his guard
⁃    A flash of the light of the Lord
⁃    A breath of the mighty nature that shaketh its good abroad
⁃    He giveth and asketh not
⁃    Giveth a self and a will
⁃    Gives the love of a God for the half-hearted worship of man
⁃    Eyes that are watching
⁃    Silent lips that bless

Love is Not:

⁃    No money changer
⁃    Does not weigh the return as gold
⁃    Does not die in the darkness
⁃    Does not wander away in the sighs
⁃    Love is no jester and courtier
⁃    No trifler in folly and guile

~Watergirl

The Tale of Us

Now, ere I sleep, I wonder what I shall dream.
Some sense of being, utter new, may come
Into my soul while I am blind and dumb—
With shapes and airs and scents which dark hours teem,
Of other sort than those that haunt the day,
Hinting at precious things, ages away
In the long tale of us God to himself doth say.

– George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

The Eternal Gladness

I take a comfort from my very badness:
It is for lack of thee that I am bad.
How close, how infinitely closer yet
Must I come to thee, ere I can pay one debt
Which mere humanity has on me set!
“How close to thee!”—no wonder, soul, thou art glad!
Oneness with him is the eternal gladness.

~ George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul