Pulled Away By Expectation: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (10)

Now that I have pulled all the carrots with my grandson and hunted down the last of the red tomatoes, the gardening season is behind me. My sunflowers stand hanging their heads in resignation, but they’re still beautiful to me because I’m already thinking ahead to next year’s planting:  strategizing (No more eggplant!  I give up!); reworking the flower to veggie ratio (definitely more zinnias); planning for at least one more row of green beans.

Gardeners are just that way, so I completely identified with Jayber Crow’s delight in the “way fresh young plants had looked in the long rows behind the shop.” I even empathize with his waxing lyrical (and a trifle cheesy) that their beauty “had been art and music” to him. With Jayber’s move from the village barbershop, the furrowed ground and the planted seeds of a new location have served as a bridge from the old home to the new, and Jayber found he could leave behind 32 years of history because “expectation pulled [his] mind away.”

As I make plans for our unwieldy 2018 garden, I also want to leave room in my heart for the expectation of realities beyond this visible world. I’ve been grumpy today, tired of this particular set of challenges and disillusioned with the steady flow of projects and maintenance that go with living in the same house for nearly 24 years. Earth-bound and mired in the here and now, my expectation is paltry and my mind is preoccupied with temporal concerns. It’s time to take myself by the scruff of the neck and to let expectation of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus “pull my mind away” from the heaviness of discouragement.

Gone!

One last time, Jayber hung the paper clock on the door of the Port William barbershop, but instead of its vague promise of a 6:30 return, he wrote GONE, and with that, came to another ending and a parting of the ways after having spent 32 of his 54 years on that piece of real estate. Leaving the land of loafing and wakefulness, Jayber is once again aided and abetted by his friend Burley who takes such “satisfaction in seeing [Jayber] well set up in the world.”

About Burley. . .
I found myself alternately charmed and repelled by this scalliwag, and Berry describes his common law relationship with Kate Branch and Danny’s paternity without commentary, of course, but I resent Burley’s lackadaisical attitude toward marriage. Somehow, though, the man who coined the term “Membership” as the descriptor for the featured families of Port William managed to settle into a very cozy domestic arrangement for himself years after Kate had passed away. I had a lump in my throat as Jayber laid out the beautiful collegiality there in the Branch household with its economy based on bootleg haircuts and family suppers,  “making something of nearly nothing,” and being “tight of pocket” but “free of heart.” Multi-generational households are challenging, but this fictional arrangement spoke to me about the importance of a sense of humor and good solid boundaries for everyone in making it work.

Good Fiction!

I smiled when Jayber described Danny’s stand-offish-ness as “favor[ing] Nathan more than Burley.” When an author has created a community and a cast of characters that can flow in and out of the books of a series and have me nodding my head in agreement over the hereditary traits of a fictional character, that’s GOOD fiction! I hope some of you will have the opportunity to read Nathan Coulter (the first in the series which I have still not read) or Hannah Coulter some time soon. (I’ve actually heard a rumor that there is going to be a group reading Hannah together next year, so I’ll keep you posted.)

Randomly Offered Observations

Jayber’s delight in his surroundings are likely an effect of Wendell Berry’s enjoyment of the outdoors as well as his keen observation skills. I found myself re-reading sections of his description of his surroundings there on the river:  the way new nailheads gleam in old boards; personification everywhere, but especially the way the “tree seemed to be offering itself to the use of the birds” — in much the same way Burley offered “the use of” the cabin to Jayber.

This section (I thought) was highly descriptive in many ways. When Jayber goes to find his boat in the fog:

“The boat takes shape at first as though it is floating in the air. And then, coming closer, I see its reflection on the water.” (322)

I could see this so clearly, but did you notice how Berry kept our attention for several pages at a time with zero action and nothing but cerebral meanderings and exquisite description? For instance, this wondering about reflections:

“When the air is still, then so is the surface of the river. Then it holds a perfectly silent image of the world that seems not to exist in this world. Where, I have asked myself, is this reflection? It is not on the top of the water, for if there is a little current the river can slide frictionlessly and freely beneath the reflection and the reflection does not move.”

How have I lived all these years and never wondered about that?

Jayber Crow the orphan was well-served by the Branch family’s warm welcome, and by the fatherly friendship Burley offered him for forty years. Is anyone else wildly curious about the last days of Burley Coulter? It’s hard to believe such an important character could “disappear clean out of the present world” without it being part of someone’s story. I’m wondering if Berry addresses his demise in any of his other books . . .

Danny’s understanding of The Depression is similar to Jayber’s characterization of The War — as something that’s always present, underground, and waiting to burst forth. There’s a fine line between “preparedness” (which is a good thing) and a scarcity mindset based in the notion that there’s always another boot of adversity waiting to drop. I grew up in the era of long lines at the gas pumps and dire predictions about the availability of oil. How about you? Can you identify with Danny as a “child of the Depression?”

As Jayber shares his dreams (good and bad) and as we read pages and pages of his internal dialogue, we get even more insight into the intrepid bachelor in his bootleg barbershop.

I’ve enjoyed this particular tendency in Jayber:

“I try not to let good things go by unnoticed.”

And there is so much good.
Annie Dillard joins Jayber in this paying attention, and she says it so beautifully:

“We are here to abet creation and to witness it, to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but we notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”

I look forward to reading your insights, either in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!

I’ll be here next Thursday (November 16) having finished the book one more time!

 

//

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.

Advertisements

The Necessary Work of the World: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (9)

My grandson likes nothing better than a good project, so on our days together, he and I are a force to be reckoned with. He has saved me many a bend in the tomato patch, and when he pulled orange carrots out of the ground with quivering joy, each fistful was a miracle to behold. Even at three, he enjoys meaningful work, and I think that Jayber would approve of the way we spend our time when we’re together.

In Chapters 24-26, Jayber the “married, ineligible bachelor barber” shares his favorable opinion of Athey Chatham’s relationship with his grandson, and treats us to his reckoning on many other topics as well:

  • the beauty of little jobs and the prideful air of a man who is too big to “fiddle around” with them;
  • the instinct for complaining which requires the knack for “making much of oneself” (263);
  • the “Ceceliafication” of the world in which one despises any place she can afford to live.

Perhaps it’s because I read the complete works of Dr. Seuss on repeat when my children were little, but Jayber’s lamentations on the modernization of the farming industry, the impact of the interstate road system and school consolidation on small towns, and the vicissitudes of  growth in The Economy brought to mind these lines from The Lorax:

“I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.
BUT…
business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.

I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering… selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered by money, which everyone needs.”

Writing from the vantage point of 1986 when The War had gone underground for a few years, Jayber reminisced on the loss and small-town sorrow that came to Port William when The War “broke out” again, “this time in Vietnam.” (286) Jayber was feeling the loss of a foundation and a cutting loose from historical moorings in which “the necessary work of the world” was always done in the same way with predictable outcomes and according to the “dignity of continuity” in which what was known to one generation could be passed on, known, and loved by the next.

Unfortunately, with the “biggering and biggering” of barbershops in America, Jayber was once again subject to the whims of “the man across the desk.” Again, he came to a parting of the ways, and his friend Burley was there to ease the transition.

Unforeseen Blessings

When Mattie came to Jayber asking for help, he rose to his secret calling and rejoiced in the doing. His involvement in her family life, ministering to Athey, providing support to Mattie with her wayward son, “was something [he] might have prayed for, if [he] had thought of it . . .”

I am also the recipient of many unforeseen blessings I didn’t have the sense or the optimism to pray for, and maybe that makes them all the sweeter. Truly, I find Jayber’s thoughts on prayer to be refreshing and helpful, and as the plot unfolds following his having prayed “the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done,'” (252) we can see the wisdom behind his also having prayed for strength.

After Jimmy Chatham’s death in Vietnam, Jayber found himself unable to pray while at the same time imagining prayers for restoration that demonstrated incredible faith in the power of God to make things right. He recognized in himself the terrible tendency to “advise God” and likened it to the kind of mockery that Jesus received from the lips of the chief priests and scribes: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  Jesus did not take them up on their dare because, in mercy, He saw my sin, but also “from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then.”

Jayber’s words are a corrective to my desire for a “vending machine” God who responds in predictable and controllable ways to my requests.

Another Great Moment Lost

After delivering a zinger to his despised rival, Jayber could have rested on his laurels and made favorable comparisons between his own repartee and Athey Chatham’s hammering comeback to Hiram Hench, the racist. (214)

Troy had just finished a tirade against the communists when Jayber stopped cutting hair, looked at Troy, and said:

“‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. ‘Where did you get that crap?’
I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’
And Troy said,’Oh.'” (287)

A stunning triumph for the Sermon on the Mount. However, Jayber is learning to see himself; he is being schooled in the self-awareness of love. And so, standing in the momentary spotlight of our admiration, he comes clean:

“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

Amen and amen.
How easy it is to love “the world.”
How difficult it is to love the annoying person who stands before us in the moment.

Questions to Ponder and an Invitation for Your Insights

I will confess that I am often grumpy about technology, but I am determined to persevere, knowing that the other option is to become obsolete. As I read Jayber’s observations about the building of roads, I remembered my annoyance at highway noise around many of the places we have gone camping. I guess if we want to tent in the company of crickets and owls, we have to do it in our own back yard. How are you managing change and progress? Even with all its obvious blessings, is there some aspect of life in the 21st century that particularly rankles you?

Have you ever found yourself “listening to yourself with some interest” as you shared a dream or a plan out loud for the first time? (296) This was an example of Wendell Berry’s brilliant characterization alongside his clever turn of a phrase.

A quick mention of Troy at his son’s graveside service was poignant and cautionary:

“Afterward, it seemed for a while that Troy had been almost unmade by his grief, but then, having nobody else to be, he became himself again and continued on.”

How sad if we do not allow ourselves to be unmade and then remade by the hard things that come into our lives. Reading this observation of Troy leads me to pray for grace and strength not to waste any of my grief — past, present, or future.

And so with Burley passing on “the use” of his little camp house to Jayber, we’ll spend the next two weeks following Jayber’s observations from the banks of the Kentucky River.

I’ll be listening for your thoughts “with some interest” as I look forward to reading themeither in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!

I’ll be here next Thursday (November 9) having read Chapters 27-29.

Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

//

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 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!

//

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.

//

In case you missed last week’s post, click here to catch up!

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.

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.

//

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.

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.

//

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.

January Musings — 2017

Having never chosen a #OneWord365, I was surprised when Standing chose me!  What a delight to be reminded of God’s wide open door, and of the truth that an ongoing relationship with God is more than enough reason to rejoice!

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.    ~Romans 5:1,2 MSG

Here at Home

hat-guys-1

It has occurred to me that I’ve never shared much in these recap posts about what’s going on around the dining room table here on this country hill in Maine.  With two high school boys still homeschooling, we get up from the breakfast table five days a week and dive into all kinds of learning.  My senior and I are squinching up our faces with the effort of unraveling all the formulas needed for two-dimensional vectors, and my freshman and I have regular arguments about the relevance of all the grammar lessons I inflict  assign.  Having said that, I’m thankful for those hours around the table, and very aware that next year I’ll be down to only one student!

That youngest son and I share an obsession with recorded books, and right now, we’re listening our way through anything we can find by Gary Schmidt, a two-time Newbery Honor-winning author whose delightful protagonists seem to hover around the age of fourteen and who “think out loud” in ways that make Gary’s writing both entertaining and instructive — especially for those who are interested in the business of living amidst all the tangled angst of those early teen years.  I can recommend Trouble, O.K. for Now,  First Boy, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.  We’re hoping to listen to more soon!

On the Nightstand

capture

Choosing my first “before I go to sleep” book of 2017 was, of course, nearly a ceremonial affair in which I looked at everything that I have by Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, and a few others and then tried to decide.  Since I’m still finishing up Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones (thoughts on creativity and faith), I went with Be Still My Soul for a blast of Elisabeth Elliot’s no nonsense commentary on various Scriptures.

On the Blog

I’m finally past the white knuckle stage of leading a book discussion group focusing on Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  We’ve “met” four times so far, and the comments have been as diverse as the participants:

“Well, I had to sit down and read the book cover to cover (couldn’t put it down!) first. Now as I am reading it again I see things I didn’t see the first time.”
“I am not a great fan of mythology but I did love the Narnia stories and their powerful analogies so I am hanging in here to try to understand how such a ghastly fearful character as Ungit can have about her the smell of holiness! I’ll admit to being repelled and very unsure where this analogy is heading”
“Even though I feel that I may be “out of my element” by joining in with an Online Book Discussion Group while being such a Newbie to this world of Blogging, my Stilling Heart is longing to hear the poetic sharing about such a great storyteller as C.S. Lewis.”

If you haven’t joined us yet, you can grab the reading schedule here, and our most installment in the discussion is here.

The most widely read post for January was my review of Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren.  The folks over at The Englewood Review of Books were kind enough to share my review on their site, and I heartily recommend their weekly publication which presents and analyzes books that “point toward a new world that is characterized by the justice and shalom of God.”

Just for Joy

Having made peace with the demise of the cassette tape, I am thrilled to have discovered podcasts in the past few months.  You may already have an overwhelming list of regular “shows” that you listen to, but just in case you’re interested in hearing about some new ones that challenge your thinking, here are my five favorites:

  1.  All the CT Podcasts:  I always look forward to Quick to Listen, Theology for Life, and The Calling for their interesting interviews and sharp thinking and reporting on issues that affect the church.
  2. Listening In is an interview podcast produced by World News Group.  They interviewed author Les Sillars about his book Intended for Evil at the exact time in which I was in the process of reading and reviewing it!  What great insight that provided!  They have also introduced me to a new (to me) musician:  Chad Lawson‘s piano work is a glorious melding of jazz/classical that is perfect — just perfect.
  3. Nancy Guthrie hosts Help Me Teach the Bible, and she and her guests have fascinating and helpful discussions about faithfully presenting Truth in a teaching ministry.  This month, I reviewed her bookWhat Grieving People Wish You Knew, and her story gives weight and depth to her astute grasp of theological truth.
  4. I think I’m all caught up on the programs of The Road Back to You.  Authors Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron talk about life through the lens of the Enneagram by talking to people who represent various types on the Enneagram.  I started listening to the podcast as preparation for my review of their book, but  I keep listening because it’s so fascinating!
  5. Living a Redeemed Life by Holly S. Barrett is another of my favorites because Holly interviews writers, bloggers, and friends, chatting in a casual way about their lives and where they see redemption at work in their every day living.  She invited me to chat with her back in December, and after I got over my initial horror at the thought of branching into another post-cassette tape medium, it was a wonderful experience. The visit is scheduled to air on Friday, February 3.

Thank you, friends, for your warm encouragement during these cold January days.  The wind is howling outside my window right now, but the sun is pouring through the windows, and I’m thankful for the gift of a wood stove and a well-stocked wood pile, hot tea in my favorite mug, and the love of family and friends.

capture

//

As usual, I’m sharing this post with the What I’m In To community over at Leigh Kramer’s place.  Be sure to swing by for great recommendations of books, podcasts, and, well . . . see for yourself!

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.

Till We Have Faces (4): Work, Weakness, and Sweat

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.  This is week four, and the insights offered by readers have been both encouraging and insightful.  It’s not too late to join us — click here for last week’s post to get you started.   

There is nothing on this planet that can bear the weight of all one’s hopes and dreams.
No relationship.
No set of circumstances.
No profession or vocation.
No political outcome.
They were never meant to bear that weight, and the laser focus of our longings will crush any earthly object, forcing us to admit that all our loves are pale adumbrations of a love for God. They are like the “the cords of infinite desire” that drew Ransom into the stillness on Lewis’s Perelandra.

In Chapters 7-9, with her mind cleared of pain, Orual learns to muffle the longings of her heart with hard work, but has not taken into account the plans of the god of the Grey Mountain who, in our world, has a reputation for loving His way past our defenses.

Plot Summary

Orual and Psyche’s final visit before Psyche’s sacrificial death is marred (for Orual) by Psyche’s calm acceptance of her fate, her willingness to be food for — or to be wed to — the god of the Grey Mountain.  Devastated and incapacitated by her loss, Orual loses days and weeks of time and then returns to consciousness to learn that (either by chance or by the efficacy of Psyche’s death) the threat of war, the scourge of plague, and the heaviness of drought have all been “scattered” (84) from Glome.  The birds have returned and the King is the darling of all the land.

Turning herself to the task of retrieving Psyche’s bones for a proper burial, Orual receives from Bardia the unexpected gift of a new skill and the offer of his assistance with her mission.  The balm of work, weakness, and sweat carries her through the days of healing and preparation for her pilgrimage to the Grey Mountain.  After the emotional roller coaster of the journey, Orual finds no sign of Psyche’s body and is plunged into hopelessness.  Capping C.S. Lewis’s glorious description of the lush beauty of the land beyond The Tree, chapter nine ends with the “quivering shock” and “terror” (101) of Psyche standing — very much alive — on the far side of the river.

Reflection

Glome has followed the pattern of all human civilizations:  create a religion; work to keep the gods happy; designate a religious class so that the average citizen can “out source” his religious duties; and perpetuate rituals that keep the gods happy — or at least at arm’s length.

An amazing repudiation of this human tendency came blasting onto the scene with words like these, spoken by the God of the universe:

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
 Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
 Offer to God thanksgiving,
And pay your vows to the Most High.
 Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”  Psalm 50: 12-15

Or these:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

And of course:

“For by grace you are saved, through faith — not of works lest anyone should boast.”   Ephesians 2:8,9

The gospel looks all the more glorious when viewed against a system like Glome’s in which the whole point of life is to get the gods to like humans more than they do.

Orual wastes not a thimble-full of love on the gods, blaming them for her loss of Psyche (71), and even viewing the return of her strength (90) as a curse from them that increases her mental anguish.

One thing is certain:  After the cliff-hanger ending of Psyche’s appearance at the end of chapter nine, we’re all poised for just about anything to happen and to hear just about any explanation of Psyche’s survival and well-being.  And that’s not a bad place to be, for whenever Divine influence comes to bear upon a scene, the outcome is unpredictable.  And that’s not true only in Glome . . .

Some Issues to Ponder

For all Orual’s loyalty and love for her sister, do you see any disturbing tendencies surfacing during their visit in Psyche’s prison cell?

Orual may not have much truck with the gods, but she certainly has formulated a position on the theodicy question.  While Psyche’s view of the deity in the Grey Mountain is all of a piece with Lewis’s Last Battle (“Further up and further in!”), how would you characterize Orual’s view of suffering as it relates to the gods?

What do you make of Lewis’s inclusion of Iphigenia and Antigone’s stories in the conversation between The Fox and Orual?  Is this a device to set the story in time with Greek culture or is there something else afoot?

Are you noticing Lewis’s incredible descriptions of landscape and scenery?  Whenever I read his words about the outdoors, I picture him on one of his walking tours, swinging his walking stick, and mentally stringing together combinations of adjectives to describe the beauty — which will show up later in his writing!

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 2nd, I’ll be here having read chapters 10-12.

//

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.