Till We Have Faces (5): Why Should Our Hearts Not Dance?

Welcome to Week 5 of our discussion group around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.  I haven’t taken time to figure out how many of us are reading through the book together, but I have become aware that as many of us are reading and sharing our insights, there are also many who are following along with the discussion with the plan of reading the book in the future.  Having said that, thank you for your great thoughts, and let’s get started with the . . . 

. . . Plot Summary (Chapters 10-12)

It truly was Psyche, standing alive and in good health on the far side of the river!

Leaving Bardia behind, Orual forded the river with plans of rescue and reunion, but was confronted instead with a riddle to be solved:  Should she trust her eyes — which showed her nothing but rags and wilderness — or should she believe Psyche’s account of an invisible palace and an unseen god who is now her husband?  Unable to sway Psyche from her resolve, Orual re-crosses the river for the night, but,  in the early twilight wanders back to the river and glimpses Psyche’s palace through the mist — but only for a moment.  Was this a lifting of the cloud from her mortal eyes — or a trick of the gods?  Bardia reluctantly weighs in with with a truth statement that Orual  was unwilling to reach on her own, but which strengthens her resolve that the time has come to confront the gods.

Reflection

If ever we doubted that these two sisters see the world through differing lenses, Orual and Psyche’s meeting Beyond the Tree draws the difference large!  Big-Sister remains in her adversarial position against the gods and has framed her account of all the happenings as a “charge against the gods” (117).  With multiple metaphors (“two bits of a broken bone”; “a rasping together of two worlds”) (120) Orual makes it clear that she feels that the gods have stolen her sister away from her and her world, and that the land beyond The Tree is a dreadful place.  In the midst of their stand off, she admits that she hates “all these cruel, dark things,” (124) that she wants no part of it, and she begs Psyche to come back to “the real world” (125) with her.

Bearing witness to Psyche’s tale of life among the gods brought to mind C.S. Lewis’s real-life indicator for one’s having been in the presence of God:

“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.”

According to Psyche’s experience, what Orual insisted on calling the “real world” grew pale beside her sighting of the West-wind.  Humans appear as pale as lepers beside deity, and her only awareness of her self (as a mortal) was that we are  “small” and “dirty” by comparison (111).   Psyche described her husband coming to her in “holy darkness” (137), which amounted to an appalling condition of secrecy and horror to Orual.

Once again, Lewis puts words in Bardia’s mouth that are truer than Bardia knows.  Did anyone else catch his shadowy allusion to the Professor’s assessment of Lucy’s sanity in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? As it was with young Lucy, so it is with Psyche:

“One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”  (LWW 48)

Some Issues to Ponder

Orual saw no palace, tasted no wine, witnessed no banquet, and ultimately dismissed the only vision she was granted of her sister’s new world.  Looking back to Chapter 9 and Orual’s journey on horseback up The Mountain where “the whole colored world with all its hills was heaped up and up to the sky,” I’m wondering about the glimpse of happiness she had then and the voice that came to her “like frolic” saying “Why should your heart not dance?” Was this another invitation — rejected out of pride and self pity?  Psyche repeats the invitation almost verbatim a few pages later, including herself in the merriment:  “Why should our hearts not dance?”

A glimmer of a New Testament story popped into my head as Orual was trying to decide if her vision of the palace was “real” or merely the mockery of the gods.  For a few blissful minutes (or seconds?) Peter discovered that he could walk with Jesus on water, and he found that his feet were dancing on the swells of that stormy sea — until doubt put an end to the dance.  Years later, near the end of his life, I wonder if Peter was thinking of that evening as he wrote words of encouragement about believing without seeing to scattered believers being tested by fire.  Was he recalling the momentary, inexpressible, and glorious joy of walking on waves, of joining Jesus in a watery dance of faith?

Orual is willing to “dance” only on her own terms.
She has defined happiness as a return to the way things were.
She has seen that Psyche is happy in her new life, but this new happiness is unacceptable to her.
Orual has given a name to her resolve to end this happiness . . . and she is calling it “love.”

Your Turn

Orual could not sleep during her night on The Mountain.  She listed physical discomfort (the cold and the lay of the land), “the Riddle” that was plaguing her mind,  and then she mentioned “Another Thing” that kept her awake.  Any thoughts on what that other thing was?

Psyche’s face was painted on her journey up The Mountain:  “It made my face stiff till it didn’t seem to be my own face.”  The god who comes to Psyche under the cover of darkness refuses to let his face be seen.  Orual has been limited and defined for her entire life by the appearance of her face.  C.S. Lewis is dropping hints about the odd title for this story, but we don’t have all the pieces yet.  Any thoughts on this puzzle?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of Orual’s brand of love?  Do you ever find yourself re-defining love to justify something you think needs to be done?

Next Time

Since there are only two chairs in every room — the chair of faith and the chair of unbelief — I am challenged by this tale of two sisters to be very careful before making the decision to sit anywhere else but in the chair of faith.

Next Thursday (February 9th), I’ll be here having read Chapters 13-15 and will look forward to meeting with you again.

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Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

19 thoughts on “Till We Have Faces (5): Why Should Our Hearts Not Dance?”

  1. Psyche has met God! She is enthralled with Him, she is His bride, ecstatic over how the Spirit treats her, cleanses, feeds, loves her. She sincerely wants Orual to “see” and to share her joy but she can’t make it happen. What a picture of our longing for our loved ones to know Christ and His salvation. And then there’s Orual who concludes that she has to kill Psyche to bring her out of this horribleness. Orual’s love is a selfish love – as a mother I see some of that selfish love in me and am convicted of it.
    Psyche’s surrender to the Spirit reminds me of a Puritan prayer which states: “O LORD God, Thou hast commanded me to believe in Jesus; and I would flee to no other refuge, wash in no other fountain, build on no other foundation, receive from no other fullness, rest in no other relief.”
    I think a book could be written about these 3 chapters!

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    1. I love the way you’ve portrayed Psche’s relationship with her husband/Lord, and the contrast just serves to clarify Orual’s position of absolute poverty of spirit. And her blindness to truth.
      As mothers, I think our “Orual-love” is most like to show itself in our relationships with adult children. We want them to be happy, and we have to be careful that we not define their happiness according to our standards.
      Thank you so much for sharing that Puritan prayer. I’m going to copy that down for further rumination.

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    2. Here I am, late to the table as usual. It’s all I can do not to race ahead and see what’s to come in the story. But trying to take it a bit at a time and absorb what is here…
      The compelling question for me this week is: “Why Should Our Hearts Not Dance?” The question grabbed me both times it occurred and I felt an answer wanting to jump to my defense, just as Orual did. I’m finding I can relate to her far more readily than I would like. This cautious, wary-of-being-duped, heart is one I know. And the grace we are extended in Christ, and all the unseen wonder of its riches…are beyond comprehension with anything but a soft heart. This story speaks volumes to me and is certainly a timely pick. Thank-you Michele!!

      Orual’s struggle to believe is explained in her awareness that ‘if all this is true, I’ve been wrong all my life. Everything has to be begun over again…’ This is the reality of the ‘new birth’ and the reason it is so difficult to come to Christ for salvation the older one gets. C.S. Lewis well knew this predicament!
      In a lesser way it is also difficult to fully receive the freedom of living by grace the longer one has spent trying to merit their position in Christ. This is where the story strikes home for me… I will be reflecting on that question and my gut responses to it: Why Should our Hearts not Dance?!

      As for the mystery of the masks. They seem ghastly and strange to me still but Lewis is doing a great job dropping hints and reminding us of the book’s odd title… Bardia is onto something when he suggests of the god that likely the reason Psyche is not allowed to see His face is that he is one ‘whose face and form would give her little pleasure if she saw them’ . The implications of being mortal are clearly here, as emphasized elsewhere by Psyche.

      “I mustn’t–not yet–see his face or know his name…” Psyche explained. Yet hers was unspeakable joy. This reminds me of Peter’s commendation to the ‘elect exiles’: Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Pet.1:8)

      So grateful for those who have gone before us in the faith and paved the way with stories such as this one. It reaches where non-fiction might have glanced right off my crustiness. Thanks Michele and all for your thoughts and time spent sharing them here!

      “All will be well; all will be better than you can dream of…”
      I love that re-assurance. God will finish what He has begun in each of us!

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      1. I was also stopped in my tracks by that lovely phrase. And, of course, being prone to Eeyore-ish-ness, it’s a good question for me to turn around onto myself. And I also have that discomfort of identifying a bit more with Orual than I would like to think I do. In fact, I’m finding myself wondering about her Enneagram number and thinking that she might possibly be a three like me . . . very uncomfortable. Another verse that came to my mind as I read was this: “Blessed are those who have not see, yet believe.” Orual, thinking she sees clearly, has seen her way through to a false conclusion — like the Pharisees did in Jesus’s time, and like we do today if we are not careful to stay in faith.

        Psyche’s faith and relationship are so lovely here that I hate to turn the page to the next section . . .

        Thanks, Linda, for all your good thoughts here.

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  2. Michele, I have never read Til We Have Faces, but my younger sister has talked about it a great deal with me–she loves C.S. Lewis, and I think that this is one of her favorites of his. Thank you for sharing such an encouraging series on this book.

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  3. Do we feel we must paint on a pretty face before we can approach God? Do we judge others by the “faces” they present? God told Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:20). I’m enjoying your thoughts Michele.

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  4. I’m loving that quote you highlighted. We’re always most at peace, when we see our smallness, aren’t we? — Glad your book club is going well. 🙂 I’m not a “good” fiction reader, but have enjoyed following your thoughts. 🙂

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  5. Dear Michele, Oh yes, I was most certainly “challenged by this tale of two sisters to be very careful before making the decision to sit anywhere else but in the chair of faith” as I read these chapters this week. I wonder if that “Another thing” was a Presence that she felt, but could not name, in the same way that we feel the Conviction of the Holy Spirit? Here again, is my blog post offering for this week:
    http://raseasons.blogspot.com/2017/02/i-will-never-forget-that-day.html
    Thank you so much for the invitation to join in this beautiful study that you are leading! –Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh. That’s a point I had not thought of. I was wondering if she was distracted by the presence of Bardia and starting to have wishful feelings toward him. I like your theory better. Heading over to read your thoughts.

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  6. I love how you tie in Lewis’ other writings here, Michele. I was not familiar with the quote about being in God’s presence … that’s really powerful! I’m looking forward to reading about how all the title puzzle pieces come together …

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