Till We Have Faces (6): The Demands of a Ravenous Love

Readers here at Living Our Days are working our way through Till We Have Faces, one of C.S. Lewis’s lesser known books, but the one which he claimed as his favorite of all the books he wrote.  Chapters 13-15 feature the key scene of Lewis’s tale and perhaps the best-known and most-quoted section of the book. Thanks to all who have persevered in the reading and discussion, and just a note here:  If you’re behind in your reading and want the story to unfold without spoilers, stop reading now and come back later to share your thoughts.

Plot Summary

Orual returns to Glome and finds The Fox waiting anxiously to hear of her encounter with Psyche on the Grey Mountain.  Leaving out her glimpse of the palace, she reports that Psyche is alive, happy, and full of tales of an unseen but loving husband.  The Fox concludes that Psyche is being taken advantage of by a tramp or runaway who is playing into Psyche’s delusional story of a god in a golden palace, and he helps Orual plot a second trip to the Grey Mountain to rescue Psyche.

Since the King and all his men are embarking on a lion hunt, the opportunity to execute the plan comes to Orual quickly.  However, Psyche is adamant that she must remain faithful to her husband and refuses to leave or even to question her unseen lover’s motives or his identity.  Upping the ante, Orual plunges a dagger into her own arm and promises to kill herself (and Psyche) if Psyche will not steal a look at her husband.  Providing the necessary lamp and oil to her younger sister, she camps across the river and waits, stifling her misgivings over this emotional blackmail.

The light of the lantern is followed quickly by an enormous, blinding light and a full-on view of a beautiful and terrible figure that called forth from Orual the terrified “salute that mortal flesh gives to immortal things,” (171).  Psyche’s inconsolable weeping fills Orual’s ears, and she returns to Glome with the knowledge that she and Psyche are joined forever in horrible separate exiles — along with her heavy weight of unspeakable sorrow and remorse.

Reflection

Out of a multitude of possible themes/emphases, I’ve chosen two:

One – Because I’m reading Hanna Anderson’s Humble Roots, The Fox’s nail-on-the-head identification of Orual’s prideful motives (148) reverberates with the precision of the slave’s good math:

“Daughter, daughter, you are transported beyond all reason and nature.  Do you know what it is?  There’s one part love in your heart, and five parts anger, and seven parts pride.”

I am also indebted to Hannah’s theology professor for an amazing word picture that helps me to understand Orual’s anguish in deciding what to think about Psyche’s situation.  Orual fell into the common logical fallacy of of the false dilemma which does to the mind what carrying three huge watermelons does to the body.  Bardia’s input helped Orual to wrap one arm around the large and terrible idea that Psyche could be married to a hideous beast-god.  The Fox convinced her to pick up the heavy and horrible theory that Psyche’s mystery husband may actually be one of the “vagabonds, broken men, outlaws, [and] thieves” (143) who lived on the Mountain.

Clumsily juggling those two “watermelons,” there was no room in Orual’s mind for the third possibility, especially since it, too, is a huge watermelon of thought, and also because she did not want to believe it:

  • that the supernatural may not be terrible after all;
  • that the glimpse of a palace that she saw on the far bank of the river was actually a gift and not a taunt;
  • that the whispered voice that urged her to realize she was “among marvels [she could] not understand” (152) was the truest voice in the room.

Two:  To completely switch metaphors now, Bardia, The Fox, and Orual all remind me of the tale of the Blind Men of Hindustani and their examination of an elephant by touch alone.  Feeling the tail, the trunk, and the ear, they define elephantine nature as rope, snake, and fan, when one good look at the whole creature would make all things plain.

Orual was granted that one look for a few fleeting seconds, but allowed her adversarial relationship with the gods to deprive her of the Truth of it.  With that done, she was free to come down on the blind side of trusting in her own fear as a more solid reality than a castle viewed through shreds of mist.

On the other hand, Psyche demonstrates the glorious truth that believing is seeing, but even this is not sufficient to strengthen her against the terrible demands of Orual’s ravenous love.

Some Issues to Ponder

Oh, goodness, there’s just so much to wonder about here in these chapters.

  • Did anyone think of the fourth figure in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace when Orual saw the figure of the god that was “something like a man”(172)?
  • Have you ever prayed like Orual, stretched out in “piety” before God while delivering an ultimatum and a deadline?  Have you ever interpreted God’s silence as abandonment and then gone off to solve your problem on your own?
  • Permit me a nerdy moment to revel in the fact the the word ferly (142) was Dictionary.com’s word of the day on October 23, 2011, and the citation they used to illustrate it was the excerpt from Till We Have Faces.  “I had had half a thought, at the outset, of telling him about the ferly, my glimpse of the palace. But I couldn’t bring myself to it.”   It means “something unusual, strange, or causing wonder or terror.”  The hoplites (147) that The Fox wishes for are “citizen soldiers armed with spears and shields” and are part of his ancient Greek culture.  (Leave it to C.S. Lewis  . . .)
  • Let us pray to steer clear of Orual’s self pity and consuming love and, instead, to know Psyche’s brand of faith that weighs the evidence, listens to objections with love, and then concludes, “What is that to me? . . . I know.”; that fiercely defends the right of Deity to be incomprehensible, seeing this not as a weakness, but, rather, as a divine prerogative (159); that fears the shame of disobedience more than the shame of ridicule (163).

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from these chapters. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. I’m thrilled that we have been reading this book together.

Next Time

On Thursday, February 16th, I’ll be here having read chapters 16-18.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

27 thoughts on “Till We Have Faces (6): The Demands of a Ravenous Love”

  1. Michele, I’ve been following your journey through this book, also via Bettie and while I haven’t read the book itself, I am gleaning so much from what you both have shared.

    This speaks to me the most today:

    that fiercely defends the right of Deity to be incomprehensible, seeing this not as a weakness, but, rather, as a divine prerogative (159); that fears the shame of disobedience more than the shame of ridicule (163).

    Last night, my eyes were suddenly opened to that divine prerogative over each part of our lives. I realized my past (in blindness to who God is) was just as much a part of His will as my now. Before my eyes were opened He led me to people and places I never would have met had I not been down this same path. People He has used to teach me more about Himself and to make me hungry and thirsty for more of Him.

    Where I at first saw nothing but shame and forsakenness- He showed me He’d never left: even through the dark of my turning away in pain, caught in a web of enemy lies. This long season of turning away has in fact deepened and enriched my faith and trust in the way I’d prayed for as a little girl. Yes, I decided to turn away (sin), but even then His Spirit never ever departed.

    And all that leads to your last point. Through His sovereignty over every single part of my story, He is teaching me now to listen to what He tells me to do (even if it is so so counter intuitive), above the voice of human reason 😆 I so naturally like to safely hide behind.

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    1. I am also enjoying Bettie’s input to this discussion! Your words, Anna, about the sovereignty of God are so applicable to Orual’s situation that I would think you had read this week’s chapters! Orual is being given every opportunity to turn toward “the unseen,” but persists in her blindness. We see His goodness, His sovereignty, and His patience with us in the same way, and your story certainly illustrates that beautifully!

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    2. That was beautifully expressed! Thank-you for sharing it. Your testimony encourages me as I hold on to hope at what God will yet do in the lives of ones I care for dearly that are keeping Him at arms length in this season of their lives and suffering for it.

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  2. My brain is still a tad fuzzy from anesthesia (6 days from hip replacement surgery) but I read anyway and love all your comments, Michelle. One phrase that caught my heart was Orual’s comment – “. . .I saw that for years my life had been lived in two halves, never fitted together.” We are so influenced by everyone’s opinions around us – even as believers we have trouble with mixing ideas from friends and what the Word says. Only as we stand on the Word alone will our two halves be fitted together and we can be whole.

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    1. Wow, I’m impressed that you are functioning at all! Thanks for reading along. I also find Orual’s situation (and her mind set) to be heartbreaking, but am so thankful for Lewis’s portrayal of her brokenness, because I’m learning from her negative example. I’ll continue to uphold you in prayer during this healing and rehabilitation process.

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  3. Michele, I like the holding 3 watermelons illustration. It explained why Orual wouldn’t ponder the 3rd option. How many times do we do that, I wonder. If Orual had been willing to consider the 3rd option, I feel sure more evidence for it would have come. But as Aslan says, we can’t talk about what would have been…

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    1. Yes, the illustration was originally used to show the problem of accounting for God’s goodness and God’s sovereignty when trying to pick up the third watermelon of evil in the world. But I thought it applied to this situation too. Thanks for throwing in some of Aslan’s wisdom, Deb!

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      1. I often mention to my daughter that we fall for a false dichotomy. Its either this thing or that thing with no room in our minds for a third watermelon.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your review again this week, Michele. — And, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word “ferly” before. (haha, apparently my spellcheck hasn’t either as it’s underlining it in red. 🙂 ) I’ll have to give my husband (whom we call the walking dictionary) a pop quiz and ask him if he’s heard it. 🙂

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  5. Oh, Michele, you give us so much to ponder in your summary and questions this week! Although my own heart was stopped by the conviction of selfish love being lived out, your thoughts, and the responses of those joining here have brought to light so many good points! Yes, when “Orual saw the figure of the god that was “something like a man”(172)?” I was so caught up in the grandeur of it all, but did think of “the Son of Man” when picturing that scene. And, oh, I know too well, the temptaion that wants to run ahead my own way when the silence of God seems to be too long for my own timetable! Thank you for hosting such a great study. And here is my own offering for this week:
    http://raseasons.blogspot.com/2017/02/love-or-self.html

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    1. Bettie, you’ve been so thorough and so faithful in your participation here. I’m heading over to your place to read, and will be sharing your post on FB to make it easier for “casual” followers of the discussion to find. Blessings, my friend!

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  6. I thought Orual’s overwhelmed response to seeing for a split second the face of Psyche’s Lover was telling–‘the Shadowbrute… would have subdued me less than the beauty this face wore’. I was reminded of Moses’ desire to see God and God’s response: ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.’ Ex.33:20 It is of God’s mercy that in these mortal bodies our relationship and ‘seeing’ of God must be by faith.

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    1. Such good insight here. And I haven’t looked for specifics, but I’m reminded of God’s self-revelation in Job — so much beauty in who God is and what He has done and at the same time unspeakable power.
      And thanks for your forbearance with the inclusion of “ferly” in the conversation. Lewis has his characters speaking in ways that reinforce who they are, and never ceases to amaze me.

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  7. I was so intrigued by Orual’s reaction to meeting Psyche’s lover. ‘He knew all I had thought, done or been…He made it to be as if, from the beginning, I had known that Psyche’s lover was a god, as if all my doubtings, fears, guessings,…questioning…had been trumped-up foolery, DUST BLOWN IN MY OWN EYES BY MYSELF.’
    First of all it reminds me of the testimony of the woman at the well when she had met Jesus. But also it echoes the truth of Romans 1 that those who reject God have themselves suppressed the truth which can be plainly seen in Creation. So they are without excuse.

    What seemed harsh and not god-like was the utter rejection that Orual felt–the ‘measureless rejection with which it looked upon me’ There seemed to be no hint of mercy. Was this just her perception?

    Likewise, in Psyche’s case, though she herself showed a shining confidence that her Lover could not be as cruel as Orual was being…and though she was confident He would understand her reason for disobedience and would forgive her, yet she had no idea how great the consequences would be of her disobedience. This is somewhat like Adam and Eve’s story but different. She disobeyed from a different motive it seemed to me (albeit a wrong one)…but the consequence seemed so merciless.
    Obviously I need to keep reading…things are not always as they seem ( :

    Thanks again Michele for leading the charge here and fielding the comments ( ;

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    1. Your observation about the woman at the well and Romans 1 is brilliant. And it is classic Orual, I think, for her to just assume a negative response from the god — from any of “the gods.” I have a hard time with Psyche’s punishment, too. It does seem too harsh. But then, I hear myself arguing that she was operating out of love for her sister, etc. and what it comes down to is that Psyche had made an idol out of Orual’s love just as Orual had made an idol of her love. Who knows what would have happened if she had stood her ground — like Elisabeth Elliot’s speculation about Eve: “What sort of world might it have been if Eve had refused the Serpents offer and had said to him instead, “Let me not be like God. Let me be what I was made to be — let me be a woman?” Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments — and for persevering in the reading!

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      1. Yes, idolatry is no small sin. Good point, Michele. And who are we to judge God’s harshness! Is this not the original sin? Thinking my thoughts are as good or better than God’s. Eek. A story like this exposes or hearts doesn’t it…
        Let me not be God but a grateful creature blessed to know the edges of His ways!

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  8. Michele,

    This is the second Linkup that I’m you’re neighbour on today and I still have one more to go to so you might see me again 🙂 This was through the #FreshMarketFriday #Linkup I should have gone through this book with you since I love CS Lewis and I’ve read a few of the blog posts on your book club through the linkups. This morning I’ve been reading your words and listening to your voice. What a great start to the work day. Have a blessed weekend.
    ~Sherry Stahl
    xoxo

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  9. I have not been keeping up to date on comments here, but could not resist finishing the book about a week ago. I was enjoying it so much. (Last week we were with our daughter and her family to celebrate a granddaughter’s 16th birthday and I gifted the book to them. They have all read much of C.S. Lewis, but never this book.) I love the two themes you identified here and the second is one I had considered as well. Thanks for the richness of your sharing and reflections and letting me pop in whenever I can.

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