Die Before You Die (Till We Have Faces Discussion Group — Conclusion)

I’m a little tentative about the practice of assigning meaning to my dreams, but there’s one that came to me when my children were tiny, and its message was clear.  In the dream, I was making piecrust and realized, to my dismay, that I had forgotten to double the recipe.

“No problem,” I thought with the amazing clarity and decisiveness that comes in dreams, and I tossed a wet dishcloth into the bowl.  Genius, right?  It mixed in rather well — until I started rolling out the crust, at which point, my makeshift piecrust was exposed in all its fraudulence.  I awoke from that dream a little shaken, but galvanized against the artifice of cutting corners with my family for the sake of appearances or easy solutions.

Whether my dream was a message from God or the product of a guilty conscience, it’s clear that the gods of Glome have Orual’s attention around the clock as she comes to the end of her long and tumultuous reign “drenched in seeings.”

Plot Summary

Orual begins Chapter 3 of Till We Have Faces Part II with a resolution to plum the depths of the god’s admonition to “die before you die” — although it’s clearly anybody’s guess whether she actually understood what the god meant by his words.  Interpreting it as a call to change “an ugly soul into a fair one” was no small project for a woman who had already set her face like a flint against the help of the gods.

A series of dreams follows in which Orual is striving to complete various tasks —  with little success.  However, she receives her long-awaited opportunity to present her complaint against the gods, only to conclude, in the end, that her elaborate arguments had shrunk to a tiny and shriveled scroll.  The Fox guides Orual through a series of picture/stories that reveal the essence of Orual and Psyche’s oneness throughout the years — and the truth that perhaps Orual’s claim that she had “at least loved Psyche truly” is not as valid as she had once thought. The sisters are reunited in the presence of the god who reveals himself once again, this time to both sisters, and Orual learns that this — the face of the God she had long feared and hated — was the answer she had sought all along.

Reflection

So often we expend our efforts, gathering evidence and building a case in our own minds to defend ourselves against the truth and then find, like Orual, that the evil in our life (which we would dearly love to blame upon another) has been, after all, of our own making and that our defense has shrunk to a toddler’s tantrum:

“That there should be gods at all, there’s our misery and bitter wrong . . . We want to be our own.” (291)

The discovery that her complaint is, indeed, the answer she has been waiting for reminded me of Job’s persistent questioning which was, in the end, answered not with words, but with a Person, causing Job to realize that only now did he truly “see” the LORD.

Lewis the story teller and Lewis the theologian have joined forces in these last two chapters, creating a tale that defies allegory.   I’m longing to put a neat little translation guide here in this final post, but, in true Lewis-ian form, there are just too many aspects of the story that will not fit.  We have empty bowls, books full of poison, and a well-timed eagle who comes to the rescue. We have Christ (the god of the Grey Mountain) as the unseen lover and Psyche as His bride, while Orual, in her dreams, wears the face of Ungit — but finds in the end that she will indeed be Psyche as well.

The sad truth of Till We Have Faces is that Orual spends her entire life striving to make herself into what she is not, losing herself in the identity of the Queen, even wasting her energy on furious last-ditch efforts at self-reformation, until, finally, at the end of her life, she becomes herself.  She finds the face she abhorred and hid when she comes face to face with the god she had abhorred and hidden from throughout all her days.

The dire warning that resonates from Orual’s history of natural love gone rogue is not a warning against love, for God makes it very clear that love is the foundation of all our works of righteousness.  However, as we were reminded in week seven of our discussion, if the lover is not healthy, then neither is the love. Once Orual found a right relationship with the gods, she was able to discover a right kind of love for Psyche that was not based in control or devouring.  When she realized that her cry for justice from the gods was met not with justice but with love, she also was enabled to see the emptiness of her accusation against the gods.

Some Issues to Ponder

  1.  Sehnsucht:  For all her days, love and longing have been two sides of the same coin for Orual.  Remember, for Lewis, Sehnsucht is attached to beauty of surroundings, memories of the past, and the continual search for joy — which is just out of reach as long as we abide on this planet.  His ending to Orual’s pilgrimage was jarring for me — one minute she’s in despair, and the next she’s standing with downcast eyes before the One who is the Answer she has sought. And then she dies.  I find myself wanting to rewrite the story with an ending in which Orual gets to live “unmade” (307) in Glome with the walking-around-living-her-life knowledge that she has been wrong in her assessment of the gods. But then, of course, the story would not be as tantalizing and thought-provoking, right?
  2. It is ironic that Lewis makes the Fox Orual’s guide through The Deadlands.  After all, the Fox had spent his life in the role of the rationalist, even though we noted that his armor cracked at times.  Still, he shows up in the end as an interpreter of all that had been going on in the unseen world he claimed to have despised. Lewis scholars claim that one of the lessons of Till We Have Faces is the limitations of reason, and that the character of the Fox is the conveyance of that lesson.  We are able to see this even in the post script by Arnom (the priest) who, along with glowing accolades for Orual, communicates her desire that her words be taken to Greece and shared with the population of rationalists who produced the Fox and his kin.
  3. Did Orual succeed in following the god’s admonition?

“Die before you die.  There is no chance after that.”

Having spent her life making a god out of being right, I do believe that, in the end, the crashing down of Orual’s elaborate case against the gods was a kind of death.  Shouting her complaints over and over, she hears her own voice and finds it strange to her ears. Witnessing the record of her brutal treatment of Psyche on the wall of paintings, she hears, once again, her own voice coming from her suffering self as her arm dripped blood.  Her words of confession to Psyche reveal a changed heart:

“I never wished you well, never had one selfless thought of you.  I was a craver.”

As with the “un-dragoning” of Eustace (Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Lewis has portrayed the “unmaking” (307) of a character through a painful and frightening process that results in an individual becoming more fully themselves than ever before.

Your Turn

This is the final installment of our conversation, and the invitation still stands for you to share the link to a blog post or your insights on this journey in the comments section below.

I have mixed feelings as we bring the discussion group to a close.  While I rejoice in the resolution of Orual’s questions and accusations, I would love for her to have listened to her momentary impulse beside the river in the land beyond The Tree.  What if, instead of holding Psyche to her horrible promise and instead of denying the vision of the castle, she had given herself over to the Truth that, at the time, seemed like such a great loss to her?

However, even in the world of story, I have to acknowledge the wisdom of Lewis’s words about this kind of wondering:

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely”

Therefore, my friends,  it is my prayer that Orual’s story will impact on “what is to come” in our own stories.

May we, too,  be “drenched in seeings” that purify our love and cause us to overflow with gratitude for the truth that it was not only Psyche for whom Another bore the anguish.

May our whining cries for justice stick in our throats as we consider the Great Love that makes all our efforts at “mending” our own souls fall like rags around our feet.

//

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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.

38 thoughts on “Die Before You Die (Till We Have Faces Discussion Group — Conclusion)”

    1. Yes, and that’s our tendency isn’t it? We put effort into all the other things, and then our families get the leftovers. Thanks for reading, Rosanna. It’s been good hearing from you today.

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  1. “We want to be our own.” Orual came to realize that she couldn’t change one whit of her being no matter how hard she tried. In our secular society today many strive for human liberation, they want to be able to define themselves however they want and be their own god. What an insightful book this has been in seeing that there is “nothing new under the sun”, human nature has always strived to “be our own”. Yet, for the believer, we are not our own, we are bought with a price. We are God’s! Hallelujah!!! Orual says, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.” “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Psalm 40:2 All praise, glory and honor to our Blessed Redeemer!!!!

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    1. Yes, Linnea, it’s so ironic that when Orual quit trying to re-define herself according to her own “rules,” she finally grew into an acceptance of herself, of the right of “the gods” to have their way with her, and in her acceptance of their motives. There is certainly plenty of reason to be grateful when we consider the resolution of this wonderful story and apply its lessons to our own faith journey. Thanks, Linnea, for leading us into praise!

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  2. Dear Michele,
    Oh, your dream about revealing our own inadequacies reminds me so much of what Orual is finally able to admit about her own love. I agree with you that I wish Orual had not waited so long to open her heart to the truth, but OH! how glad I am that she finally did. So much hope was stirred in me for myself and for those I care about. As long as there is breath remaining in us, there is always opportunity given to receive mercy. Here’s my final post for this series:

    http://raseasons.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-face-of-love.html

    Thank you for all of the effort, and praying, and guiding you have given us through this study. You are a gifted teacher! May the Lord give you some much needed rest now, my friend! And, dare I hope that after a resting time, you might offer another study here? 🙂

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    1. I’m finding myself kind of casting about in my mind for the next book, and am praying about the right time to begin. I’m sure we’d all appreciate a bit of a break, and, once again, Bettie, I have to repeat my thanks for your steadfastness in responding here. My goodness, it’s been a journey hasn’t it?

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  3. Michele, your discussion about this book has been fascinating – even for me since I was unable to make time for actually reading the book. Much to ponder!

    But did you have to step on my toes, too? I had to laugh out loud on your admonition against “cutting corners with my family for the sake of appearances or easy solutions.” I find we are all too often traveling the same road!

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  4. Michele, I’ve enjoyed your leading us through this study. You insights enriched a wonderful book. “Die before you die,” I think relates to more than just eternal life. Wherever I want to be queen and in control puts me at odds with God and is killing my relationships with people and God. I thought I might adapt it to say “die before you kill what you love.”

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  5. I say a hearty YES and Amen! to all the quotes shared above. I’ve found myself re-reading the final two chapters this morning and copying out quotes, unable to find a starting point for discussion…But perhaps this:

    “Infinite hopes–and fears–may both be yours. Be sure that, whatever else you get, you will not get justice.”
    –‘Are the gods not just?’
    “Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were? But come and see.” 297

    Of course we know that God is just and that His justice is satisfied in Jesus. This is the remarkable difference between our sense of justice and His. His is perfect yet still making a way for mercy to triumph. So we can rejoice in the face of judgment: “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad…Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.” Ps.96:11-13

    These closing chapters with their court scene and finally an answer for Orual, and her great unveiling have been sooo good. We too shall be Psyche when He is done with us and this long transformation which begins with our acknowledgment of all that is not right in our hearts…
    I love the idea Paul expresses of the whole creation waiting eagerly for our unveiling, even as we wait…

    19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. … 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.

    And our case is in good hands with the Judge of all the earth:

    … 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [Rom 8:19, 23-24, 33-34 ESV]

    It’s been an incredible read. Thanks again Michele for bringing me to it!

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    1. I am always thunderstruck at the paradoxes of Scripture for yes, God is just, but oh . . . thank heavens He deals with me in mercy. And the long transformation with all that God does to produce a Psyche when maybe all I can see is the groaning on any given day. Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters, so thanks for bringing it to bear upon this final chapter of our book.

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      1. This story gives me a fresh appreciation for the concept of justification in Rom.3…’and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’…..’so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ ( : This is a whole ‘nother genre of Justice! And I too love Romans 8. It was my memory project not too long back. Well worth the effort!

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      2. Me, too, and it’s one of the chapters that I would dread to “lose” from my collection, so I try to go back over it every so often. Layers and layers of truth.

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  6. If anyone is hankering for more analysis of this great and final novel of C.S. Lewis’, there is a great bit of it at:
    http://www.bethinking.org/your-studies/chronicles-of-heaven-unshackled/6-till-we-have-faces
    taken from Pete Lowman’s Chronicles of Heaven Unshackled in which he examines the presence (and absence) of God in the English novel, with particular reference to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

    If you’ve read other of C.S. Lewis’ writing you will appreciate the way this author compares and contrasts different sections and brings elements of Lewis’ personal life alongside to enhance our understanding of Till We Have Faces.

    Here’s a sample, an observation about Psyche’s wistful longing for the Grey Mountains…

    “It is one of Lewis’ best evocations of Desire. But Orual’s possessive love closes her mind to this liberation: ‘What can these things be except the cowardly murder they seem?'[42] As it will turn out, both sisters possess something that, relentlessly pursued and after divine intervention, will bring them into the presence of the gods: Orual’s passionate honesty, Psyche’s longing. (These correspond to the twin forces that led to Lewis’ own conversion, the stringent reasoning that marks his books of apologetics, such as Miracles, and the longing that is the theme of the autobiographical Surprised by Joy.[43]) Orual, however, is rejecting Desire, rejecting the foretaste of the gods, and so going the long way round.”
    –Pete Lowman

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    1. I’m smiling in chagrin, because it never once occurred to me to search high and low on the Internet for insights on this book. I’m still so oriented toward “research equals books” and really need to join the 21st century. I’m going to head over there and do some reading, and I’m so glad that you shared the link. Hmmm . . .. wonder what would happen if I Googled “Orual”?

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    1. Phew, that’s a relief, because I sure wouldn’t want to do it without you! Thanks for your solidarity in this idea right from the beginning (actually, BEFORE the beginning). Your comments and insights are always so helpful and seasoned with Scripture.

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  7. Ah yes. Now you will be lost in Google Dom for a long while. I resisted reading all that’s out there till now… Lots of info eg on the names Lewis used and their associations… Enjoy!

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  8. Michele – the line that caught me was that she spends so much of her life striving to be someone she is not.. wow, it sounds like all of man kind could benefit from reading this book. I haven’t not yet read it, but I enjoy reading your thoughts and points to ponder. thanks for linking up to #TuneInThursday today

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  9. You are indeed a wise guide for this journey through Till We Have Faces, my friend! I have been greatly blessed and impacted despite not always having a chance to discuss with everyone here. Thanks for letting me be here and peek into the group anyway. Thanks so much!!

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  10. I haven’t heard of this book but it sounds like an interesting read! I’ll keep an eye out for it and try to pick it up next time I’m out and about. Thanks for linking up to #fridayfrivolity! Xx

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  11. I’m with Jerrelea… toes stepped on a bit there. And it’s becoming somewhat of a common theme around here lately. Ick… Thanks for sharing your wisdom so faithfully, Michele!

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  12. Michele, you have me very intrigued by this book. This is the first time I’m joining the conversation but thank you so much for sharing. I am a big Lewis fan, and this is one I haven’t read. I will definitely be making a note of it for later.

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