Correcting the Soundtrack in Your Head

After graduating from college, I moved to the biggest city in Maine for my first “real job,” bringing with me a wardrobe fashioned around college life south of the Mason-Dixon. Clearly, my flimsy sandals would not fit my new life as a ministry professional. However, it soon became apparent that my feet were not going to fit into any of the smooth and snappy dress shoes I admired at the Maine Mall. Navigating life with big feet has been part of my journey of self-acceptance, and a huge aspect of my mental soundtrack that I’m still rewriting.

In How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself, Amena Brown shares her own trail of super-sized footsteps from sneakers and flats to styling elegance in her Beyoncé stilettos. With footwear as a metaphor for self-acceptance, the spoken-word poet and inspirational author also remembers the freedom of learning to love her own natural hair after years of fighting it. Looking back over her shoulder with humility and gratitude, Amena honors the resiliency and courage of the women who have contributed to her story’s formation:

“My great-grandmother picked cotton
and worked in a tobacco factory
so my grandmother could work at a hospitalCorrecting the Soundtrack in Your Head
so my mom could become a nurse
so I could become a poet.”

A product of the I Kissed Dating Goodbye generation, Amena was astonished to find herself still single at age 30. Now, happily married, she writes with transparency about the disappointment of infertility and her puzzlement with the ways of God, who moves slowly and in ways that are, at times, inscrutable. Her collection of stories documents her progress in working on the broken messages that have colored her thinking (and which are prevalent in Christian circles):

“I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.” (158)

Remind Your Soul that God is Bigger than You

Solid roots in the Body of Christ and in one’s identity as a daughter of God are indispensable in embracing the hard realities that come with a complicated family tree. Amena began laying down healthy grooves in her record by honoring her roots following a DNA test, some hard disclosures, and a commitment to the challenge of painful wondering.

Like a vinyl record, the grooves in the human heart catch and preserve all manner of voices. We spend our lives layering message upon message, and in the process we come to define ourselves by what’s been caught in the grooves. It is startling, then, when words and feelings long forgotten (we thought) rise to the surface as a reminder that the healing process must continue. The God who makes all things new can also make broken things whole.

Be Humble and Kind and Say “No”

As an artist and an entrepreneur, Amena Brown lives in the tension between staying true to her calling and building a business.  Taking responsibility for her own choices, she has learned to say “no, even if it means less money, less popularity, fewer likes.” She has concluded that there is much wisdom in realizing she “must constantly lay down the weight of opinion, the chokehold of pride, the race of comparison. It is saying no to my own selfishness, no to trying my best to be god instead of walking with and learning from God how to be who he created me to be.” (119)

Brown urges women to surround themselves with a squad of warriors who will lament, pray, rejoice, and speak truth into our lives. Book-mentors and on line friends lend us courage if we read well and choose our influencers carefully.

There’s Healing in the Stillness

It takes discipline to pull away from the continual pressure to “do” when your soul requires time simply to “be.”  The healing power of sleep, the perspective that comes from pulling away, the peace of a slow listen to the voice of God: this is a humble stance and a product of wisdom.

Amena Brown invites her readers into a thoughtful parsing of our motives behind our lists and all the busy-ness that keeps us spinning. Intent on “making something of ourselves,” we forget that God is the primary Maker, and it is only He who can fix our broken records. We are made for the music of truth and hope. Healing and a healthy future are found in the groove of grace that God longs to write into your story.


This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLook Bloggers Program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.


Every blessing,

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Treasuring the Uncomfortable Church

One of my reading goals for 2018 is to tackle Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. For a myriad of reasons, I need to absorb his hard won wisdom, but most of all I want to lean into his observations about Christian community in the crucible of “life together” in a secret seminary under the looming threat of Nazi persecution. Somehow, in the most challenging of historical contexts, Bonhoeffer was able to address the disconnect between the “dream of a Christian community” and “the Christian community itself.”

Waking up from his own dream church, Bret McCracken confesses that there are a good many facets of his own fellowship — and even about the Christian faith — that rub him the wrong way. In Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community  he analyzes, laments, and offers perspective on the struggle, for as the old saw goes, even if you are fortunate enough to find the perfect church, you will surely ruin it when you join. (Did you know this came originally from Spurgeon?)

Of course, all this insight doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about the ideal facility, the perfect constellation of ministries, a doctrinal statement and liturgical bent that fit like a glove, and the “perfect” Sunday morning music . . . alongside a good cup of strong coffee.  We are immersed in a culture that encourages us to inflate our wants until they take on the dimensions of a need. However, part of the amphibious nature of the Christian experience is that “what we think we want from a church is almost never what we need.” (Loc 302).

“Commitment even amidst discomfort, faithfulness even amidst disappointment: this is what being the people of God has always been about.”

Why the Church Seems So Uncomfortable

Devoting one chapter to each topic, McCracken explores the difficult aspects of following Jesus:

  • The uncomfortable cross that requires an embrace of suffering and sacrifice;
  • The uncomfortable call to be a set-apart people, pursing holiness and a set of values that set us at odds with the world around us;
  • A collection of counter-cultural truths around creation, hell, and sexual ethics that wreck our cool-factor and make for awkward conversational pauses;
  • The call to love outside our comfort zone and to worship beside people who annoy or puzzle us;
  • The controversial differences in worship that arise from different perspectives on God the Holy Spirit, the role of liturgy, music, prayer, and every other imaginable preference;
  • The multiple challenges around authority, unity, diversity, commitment, and even our understanding of what it means to be “comfortable” on a fallen planet.

The End of All Our Petty Preferences

One source of all this discomfort with the church and her people is a discomfort with God Himself. Author Adam McHugh describes the God we long for who “always agrees with us, . . . who always favors our nation or political agenda, [and] feeds us candy and never vegetables.” The God who sent prophets walking naked and barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem in order to make a point will not hesitate to require a modern day saint to walk a path of growth that puts comfort aside for the sake of something greater.

The call of God is a summons to embrace the discomfort of the cross and a counter-cultural call to holiness in spite of the cost to our dreams. The startling truth is that a comfortable Christianity without an instrument of torture at its center and without a message that sits us across the table eye-to-eye with an enemy and requires a loving response is not really Christianity at all.

Christ’s call to spiritual neediness, mourning, and meekness found in The Beatitudes captures the difference between comfortable Christianity and “a kingdom where worldly comforts are nothing compared to the power of the Comforter in us; where all manner of uncomfortable things are endured for righteousness’s sake.” As we look outside ourselves and assign greater value to Truth than to comfort, we find that worship is about God and not about us. We begin to value each other’s differences as we look toward the future assembly of people and nations and tongues and tribes that will one day surround us as we worship God — and as we look back on our petty preferences and wonder what all the fuss was about.


This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

UncomfortableI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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When It’s Snowing Sideways

Meteorologists are having a field day, rummaging around in their thesauri for words equal to the task of describing the nor’easter that is hammering the east coast on this January day.
“It’s Beauty and the Beast!” crowed NPR’s morning weather guy.
“I get the “beast” part,” chirped the perky news anchor, “but you’ve got to explain the ‘beauty,'” whereupon the meteorologist launched into a riveting psalm to the raw power of the storm.

He had my attention, and for a few minutes I imagined myself out in the storm, snow-caked scarf trailing behind me, face into the wind, being scoured clean by the blinding snow — sort of an east-coast, middle-aged, female version of John Muir, the 19th century North American explorer.  He was known for climbing to the top of a Douglas fir in the middle of a wild, Sierra Mountain wind storm, holding on for dear life and riding out the tempest so that he could know and experience wind.

I, however, am known for making pot roast and home made ice cream on snowy days, so I peel another carrot and decide to use the food processor instead of the hammer to pulverize leftover candy canes for the ice cream.  Through the driving snow, I see that Lady Cardinal, out on the deck rail, is having her own issues with the wind.  Usually perfectly groomed in her red-orange lipstick, today her stylish, coiffed tuft of feathers is out of control, as, back to the wind, she struggles to maintain her dainty footing.  Then, unexpectedly, the wind gusted, pivoting her where she stood, end for end, tail for beak.

This is the work of the wind, untamed and untame-able, turning us around when we least expect it.  For the Christian, everything we do has its basis in the Wind of Spirit as both the Hebrew and the Greek render “spirit” as “wind” or “breath.”  Apparently, John Muir had the right idea about how to relish wind, how to take it all in.

Today’s sideways snowstorm is a visible effect of wind, as are the sculpted drifts and tossing tree limbs.  Typically, like Lady Cardinal, I want life on my own terms, predictable as the ingredients in my crockpot, without the bother of being upended by an invisible force beyond my control.  How much I miss!  I wonder what would happen if the Wind of Spirit was set free to do something in me that only God could do?

Now, don’t be looking for me at the top of any fir tree, riding out this storm!  But what if, trusting the Wind to do His work, I relaxed my white knuckle control of the universe and let the beauty of Wind change my direction?  What if the way to ride out life’s storms, the way to live “life in the Spirit” is to wait for the Wind to blow — and then to move.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you . . .”    Acts 1:8

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One Weekend in History – For Ruby Magazine

For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  Therefore, this Lenten season, I will be re-reading A Glorious Dark, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

What we believe about one weekend in history, the three days’ journey from Golgotha to the garden tomb, impacts our whole experience of the Christian life.  That’s why I’m sharing this book review in the March issue of Ruby Magazine.  I would love for you to continue reading with me there.  Be sure to check out the other articles and be encouraged.  Click here for more information about subscribing.

capture

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This book was provided by Baker Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Veiled Life in the Sandy Waste: Till We Have Faces (7)

Welcome to Week 7 of our discussion of C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces!  As we consider the events of Chapters 16-18, I’m looking forward to another opportunity to hear your insights into this unfolding drama.

Plot Summary

Once again, Orual creeps back into the palace unseen, but after this catastrophic encounter with Psyche, it is The Fox she is avoiding, as well as her father the King, for she is ashamed of her dealings with her sister.  When questioned by the Fox, she tries to reframe the wrath of the god of Grey Mountain as a natural disaster — rather than the supernatural disaster that it actually was.

Orual’s life begins to be lived on two levels:  on the one, a dogged determination to anesthetize all thoughts and reminders of her lost sister; and on the other, a realization that she has been “doomed to live,” but has the displeasure of the gods hanging over her along with her grief and loss.

When the King is fatally injured in a fall, Orual suddenly becomes Queen, mostly out of political expediency and practical collusion between the palace and the House of Ungit to keep the peace, but she finds that she can “queen it with the best of them.”  To establish her position on the throne and in the hearts of her people — and to fix a very tangled foreign policy issue — Orual challenges Argan, the sitting ruler of Glome’s long-time enemy nation of Phars, to a duel of swords.

Reflection

As I read Orual’s progressive absorption (and disappearance) into the role of The Queen, two major themes kept surfacing:

The Nature of Love

We’ve already begun to get a glimpse of Orual’s definition of love in her dealings with Psyche on the bank of the River.  Coercion, emotional blackmail, and insistence on complete agreement are all part of the sick package, and upon her return to the palace, Orual learns that The Fox, with all his rational talk, is more equipped to demonstrate true love than she.  When it becomes apparent that she is withholding information about her dealings with Psyche, he refuses to jeopardize their relationship by forcing her to divulge her secret.  Later, he apologizes for his own emotional outburst that accompanied his efforts to convince her not to challenge Argan, and, then, ironically, succumbs to Orual’s pressure to remain in Glome even after she has freed him from slavery.  It appears that C.S. Lewis is holding The Fox up as a mirror to Orual in order to put her true self on display — but she is blind to it.  She demonstrates her complete inability to comprehend The Fox’s capacity for love when she sees him seated by her father’s death bed:

“It was not possible he should love his old master.”

She’s forgetting, or course, that her hatred for The King is not necessarily universal, and that her own relationship with The Fox may feel very different from his perspective.  This complete inability to enter into the emotions of another person is clear again when she feels only her own joy (and none of his sorrow or ambivalence) when The Fox agrees to stay in Glome rather than returning, free, to his homeland.

Lewis scholar Gilbert Meilaender cites one of Lewis’s poems to demonstrate Lewis’s scorn for those who make others miserable in the guise of “loving” them:

“Erected by her sorrowing brothers
In memory of Martha Clay:
Here lies one who lived for others;
Now she has peace. And so have they.”

In a 1957 letter to Clyde Kilby (another Lewis scholar and professor of English at Wheaton), Lewis said that Orual is an example of “human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession.”

The Purpose of the Veil

It is not until page 180 that Orual confesses her resolve to go through life wearing a veil, but, to the reader, it is apparent that Orual has been in hiding for some time.  There is evidence for this in her actions and reactions:

  1. Her attempt to avoid contact with The Fox (177) and the fact that she never does actually disclose the entire story to him (and even less to Bardia).  Her barriers of secrecy and silence cost her the comfort she had formerly found in the relationship with her old tutor.
  2. Her literal closing of the door to Psyche’s room and the figurative closing of her mind behind an equally well-sealed door that refused to think of Psyche or to hear her name.
  3. All the grief of her loss of Psyche is barricaded behind a dam, a barrier that serves her well as long as nothing triggers the anguish, but which has to be carefully maintained by the distraction of work and then meticulously rebuilt after every episode of “weeping and writhing.” (184, 189)  Joe R. Christopher writes about a difference in tone in this section of the story.  Orual has “no religious visions” and she “works without hope . . . so that she may forget what she has done to Psyche and may forget the god which appeared to her then.”

Orual first wears the veil when she traveled to the Holy Tree so that she would not be recognized.  Her decision to be perpetually veiled is symbolic of her desire to be continually hidden, to be swallowed up in the duties and the identity of The Queen, presenting an outward appearance of decisive composure while grieving and bitter behind the mask.

Without pressing the point or making more of it than Lewis intended or the text supports, I think of Orual whenever I read  Paul’s discourse on Moses’ veil in II Corinthians 3.  Moses’ understanding of the ultimate significance of the Old Covenant was, at best, veiled and shadowy (I Peter 1:10, 11), and the Israelites’ veiled hearts were a symbol of unbelief.  The believer, on the other hand, is privileged with unimpaired spiritual perception: the ability to see the glory of God revealed in Christ, an unobstructed view.  Eugene Peterson masterfully describes this in the Message:

“With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us.”

. . . or, at least it can be if we are willing to take the risk.

Whether or not Moses’ veil proves to be a helpful metaphor, Orual reminds me that the believer comes before God unveiled, and she warns me of the dangers of damming up emotions, slamming the door on things I’d rather not deal with, and working hard to project an image that does not line up the the “me” that lives and breathes (and fails and falters) on this broken ground.

Some Issues to Ponder

If the lover is not healthy, neither is the love.
Orual’s story is a cautionary tale for all of us, but particularly, I think, for those of us who are mothers.  Open-handed love is so hard to practice when those precious people begin to make decisions on their own.

 Your Turn

When Bardia describes Orual’s decision to challenge Argan as “something out of an old song,” did anyone else think of Peter’s challenge of Miraz in Prince Caspian?  I love the “old songs” that I remember from the land of Narnia.

How are you feeling about Orual these days?  She is such a bundle of strengths and weakness, leveraging the psychological value of her veil to appear powerful, and yet reduced to a puddle of grief at the mere sound of the chains on a well blowing in the wind — because they sound like Psyche’s wails.

Be sure to share your insights on these and ANY topics that have come to mind in your reading so far.  Again, I’ll remind you that you are welcome to share links to entire blog posts if you have the time and inclination to write them — we’d all love to know what you’re thinking, and I know that my understanding and appreciation for the text is enhanced each week when I read the thoughts of other readers.

Next Time

Next Thursday (February 23rd), I’ll be here having read Chapters 19-21.  That will take us to the end of Section I!

Thank you for making this experience so fruitful and fun!

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Resources:

Bright Shadow of Reality:  C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect. Corbin Scott

The Longing for a Form.  Essays on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis.  Peter J. Schakel, editor.

The Taste for the Other. The Social and Ethical Thoughts of C.S. Lewis.  Gilbert Meilaender.

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Till We Have Faces (2): Longing for the Grey Mountain

I have invited the readers who visit Living Our Days to join me in reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and to return here each Thursday for a discussion.  If you’re just joining us, you can find the reading schedule here.  

Approaches to C.S. Lewis’s brand of fiction vary widely, ranging from “This is a great story, and I love it.  Please leave me alone and let me enjoy it,” to those who seek a point-by-point application for every possible allegory.  Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s clear that Chapters 1-3 set the stage for many of the major themes that permeate the book.  Even if you have not yet started to read with us, this short summary of the first three chapters may serve as a teaser to get you started!

Plot Summary

In the semi-barbaric kingdom of Glome, in a time before the fall of the Greek empire, there lived a homely princess named Orual.  Her mother has died, and the king remarries and fathers, to his dismay, yet another daughter, making three in all.  Transfixed by the baby’s beauty and good nature, Orual raises and dotes on the child who grows in beauty and goodnessand is beloved by the people.  The young Princess Psyche is rumored to have healing in her hands, and chapter three ends with an ominous sense that the jealousy of the middle daughter (Redival), two years of poor harvest, and the onset of an epidemic of fever may, together, signal the end of happy times for Orual and Psyche.

standing

Reflection

The word “standing” reached out from Romans 5:1,2 and chose me for its own this year,

 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

and it leaves me wishing that Orual (and her present day sisters) could see and know this God who “has always wanted to do” good for us, to be “all together” with us so that we would see the wide-open door which He has already flung aside in welcome.

With her opening paragraph, Orual makes it evident that she is (and has long been) at enmity with the gods.  She has concluded that the gods hate her, but clearly, she is not in a position of unbelief:

  • She recognizes but disregards their power to do her harm, and describes Ungit as a “very strong goddess,” (pg. 4).  Dressing traditional Christian concepts in pagan clothing, C.S. Lewis portrays Ungit as a nature goddess and Ungit’s son is the “god who lives on the Grey Mountain.”
  • She acknowledges that the gods have knowledge that is unavailable to humans, “and gods do not tell,” (p. 33).
  • As a child, even the smell of Ungit’s temple was frightening to her, and she continues to refer to it as a smell of holiness, “the Ungit smell,” (p. 11).

By contrast, Psyche seems to have been drawn since childhood toward the Grey Mountain:  “When I’m big,” she said, “I will be a great, great queen, married to the greatest king of all, and he will build me a castle of gold and amber up there on the very top,” (p. 23).  Even when she succumbs to the fever, her delirious ravings are all about the Grey Mountain.

In the midst of these two polar opposites stands The Fox, a Greek slave who has been assigned to tutor the girls.  Spouting rational explanations for all the mysterious actions of “the gods,” and insisting that all the murky evidence for the numinous all around them is “just lovely poetry,” he still trembles before the mystery of death, and fails to convince anyone with his reason-based protests. Throughout the book, we will see that Orual continually struggles to reconcile the teachings of The Fox with the teachings of Ungit’s priests.

C.S. Lewis, in his writing, frequently ties the distant hills to the sense of longing that formed the backdrop to his formative years — “sehnsucht” he called it, a German term that manages to convey deep yearning and nostalgic longing.  The theme permeates much of what Lewis wrote, and at this point in the novel, the longing is tied to the distant hills and their “otherworldliness” that draws Psyche. Of course, C.S. Lewis was famous for having said,

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Some Issues to Ponder

  1. Do you see any similarities between Orual’s devotion to Psyche and the people of Glome’s failure to look beyond Psyche to the god of Grey Mountain?
  2. Lewis used the term “myth” not as an opposite to the word “fact,” but instead to label a device of meaning-making. For instance, he referred to “the myths of the Bible,” referring to the stories and themes we all know.  Converting to Christianity at the age of 31, Lewis found that Christ “is the reality which all myths are suggesting.”  In Miracles he refers to “a long preparation [of all previous myths which] culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so . . . the truth first appears in Mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.”  He believed most myths were initially theological; for instance, that all nations’ myths of blood and sacrifice arose from “initial revelation,” all pointing toward the same truth of Christ crucified.   Do you find Lewis’s portrayal of Christian concepts in a strange context to be helpful — or distracting?
  3.   Lewis scholars claim that his wife, Joy Davidman, was quite influential in the development of Orual’s character.  This does give insight to the amazing ability of a nearly lifelong bachelor to develop the interior landscape of a strong female character.  But . . . then there is Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew. And Mrs. Beaver.  And Lucy Pevensie is no slouch either!  Any thoughts on this?
  4. How are you pronouncing Orual’s name as you read?  I’ve always said “Or-oo-all” which is a bit awkward.  Anyone saying “you” for the middle syllable?

Your Turn

I hope that you will share your thoughts on the first three chapters in the comments below.  I will be thrilled if you choose to link up your own blog posts for all of our benefit and enjoyment!

Next Time

On Thursday, January 19th, I’ll be here having read chapters 4-6.

I hope you are enjoying the experience of exploring this beautiful, complex, and compassionate story.

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