For All Who Have Chosen Wrong Roads

Maybe it’s the bright yellow of autumn here in New England, or perhaps it’s just my affinity for Robert Frost’s view of the world, but I can’t seem to turn calendar pages past the fall equinox without mumbling phrases from “The Road Not Taken.” It’s unfortunate that a glut of 70’s-era posters and way too many graduation speeches have rendered the poem hackneyed, mooring it in its final and familiar stanza:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This simplistic portrayal of a fork in the leaf-strewn path seems to veer on past the melancholy of regret that characterizes so much of Frost’s poetry. Hear it in this earlier line from “The Road Not Taken”:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence . . .

It is both our glory and our demise that humanity has the ability to re-cycle a decision. This was nearly my undoing when I was agonizing over college choices and the selection of a major, but it has gifted both freedom and fresh air to me in my understanding of calling during these years of living past the mid-point.

Picking up C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce after a long absence, I have been surprised to find not only the expected words about the great chasm between good and evil, but also glorious truth for those who have chosen what they now see to have been a wrong road. Lewis likens the restorative process to the correction of a math problem which (after having shepherded four homeschooled sons through algebra, I can heartily attest) “can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point.”

This is good news to me, for, I can think of a number of things I’d like to “work afresh.” I invite you to join me in taking a good hard look at the elements of your own story that cause you to hang your head or avert your eyes – or go foraging in the fridge in search of something to fill you up.

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And while you’re thinking about that, come on over to SheLoves Magazine and finish reading my ponderings on wrong roads and the truth that they are not dead ends after all, so long as we don’t insist on “simply going on.”

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Musings — October 2017

The sturdy wooden stakes that supported my tomato plants through their season of growing have been pulled and re-purposed. Now that the garden lies exhausted and well past fruition, those beat up stakes have been pressed into service holding burlap to protect our rhododendron bushes from the weight of snow and the whip of howling wind that will scour my winter backyard. Fall is a season of preparation, a time for re-tooling and battening the hatches in obedience to the gentle warning that is carried on autumn’s rasping voice.

As I read slowly through the book of Jeremiah during these fall days, I’ve been encouraged that even stalwart and stoical prophets need encouragement sometimes.  Praying his loneliness, his hurt, his anger, and his fear, Jeremiah received words of strength to carry him through a long winter of disappointment:

Jeremiah: “But why, why this chronic pain,
    this ever worsening wound and no healing in sight?
You’re nothing, God, but a mirage,
    a lovely oasis in the distance—and then nothing!”

God: “Take back those words, and I’ll take you back.
    Then you’ll stand tall before me.
Use words truly and well. Don’t stoop to cheap whining.
    Then, but only then, you’ll speak for me.
Let your words change them.
    Don’t change your words to suit them.
I’ll turn you into a steel wall,
    a thick steel wall, impregnable.
They’ll attack you but won’t put a dent in you
    because I’m at your side, defending and delivering.”

Sometimes we need to hear the Truth again:  God is still faithful.

On My Nightstand

 

Picking up C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce after a long absence, I have been surprised to find not only the expected words about the great chasm between good and evil, but also glorious truth for kicking myself out of the center of the universe. When a visitor from the bus comes unglued over her perception of the unfairness of heaven, she receives this rebuke:

“Friend, . . . [c]ould you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?”

Good question.
What is God using these days to startle you into noticing your selfish choices?

On the Blog

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This thoroughly ransacked and flagged copy of Jayber Crow belongs to Pam Ecrement, one of the veterans of our ongoing discussion group. Once again, I’m reminded that community enhances the enjoyment of a reading experience. And did anyone else see that CT Magazine listed Jayber Crow among the top five books to read when you’re looking for a pastor? Click here to read the article. Those of us who are reading this delightful work of fiction by Wendell Berry have enjoyed pooling our observations of Jayber, the bachelor barber and “honorary pastor” of Port William, Kentucky.

I was thankful to be able to share Kelli Worrall’s Pierced and Embraced on the blog at the beginning of the month. In her study of the lives of women in the New Testament, she was startled to note that Jesus’  manner of dealing with women was a uniquely gentle pursuit of their hearts, a piercing embrace. It was the piercing that grabbed Kelli’s attention in the midst of her struggles with infertility and the heartbreak of three miscarriages. She raged against the unfairness and felt abandoned by God until He helped her to see the embrace of His love that came alongside the piercing.

Some of you may remember Liz Curtis Higgs polling her Facebook friends some time ago to discover their favorite verses from the book of Proverbs. Well, she narrowed the list down to the top 31 Proverbs to Light Your Patha month’s worth of daily wisdom, comfort — and jarring insights. The application of ancient truth to a thoroughly modern life begins with opening the pages of Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to speak Truth into our words, our relationships, and our motives as we are led along His straight paths.

Our gatherings around the table for feasting and fun are symbolic, a pale adumbration of a larger feast, and Sally Clarkson points her readers toward this truth in The Lifegiving TableRemembering her own family’s heritage of traditions, she shares her motivation behind it all: “The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressures and storms of life.” (5)

 

In Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia, Dr. John Dunlop asks,“How can such a tragedy as dementia be dignified, and how in the world can God be honored through it?” He’s well-qualified to seek the answer to his question. As a geriatrician (a medical doctor trained to meet the special health issues of older people), he has worked with dementia patients and their families professionally. He has also experienced the challenges of dementia from the patient’s perspective as he walked that hard path with his mother, his father, and his mother-in-law, so I was grateful to be able to pass his wisdom along to readers in my review.

And then, finally, Unseen is the product of Sara Hagerty’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge.  It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33)

Cancer Journey

Cancer is this month’s theme for The Redbud Post, and I was able to add my voice to the message that cancer does not have the final say by contributing a compilation of five book reviews from various perspectives on the topic. My hope is that this will be a resource to those who are learning the grace lessons of a day-to-day struggle with cancer.  I’d love it if you’d join me over there, and be sure to check out the other offerings and share, as appropriate, with those in your life who need the encouragement that cancer does not have the last word.

On My Mind

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Some of you may have seen my announcement on Facebook about the new Living Our Days Facebook page. This was a project that had been on my mind for quite some time, but an upcoming guest post in which the host specifically asked for a link to a “public” Facebook page pushed me into accepting the help of my gifted friend Abby to bring it to pass.  Click here to visit, and while you’re there I hope you’ll give it a “like” and share any relevant content with your own Facebook community.

I also encourage you to drop in on my friend Abby’s site, Little Birdie Blessings, a place of Christian encouragement that features vintage images she creates and shares (daily!) along with hymns, Scripture, and inspiring quotes.

This picture of Abby’s kitchen table with our two laptops glowing and our coffee getting cold while we worked and chatted has become a symbol for me of the community that has become so much a part of this blogging life. It is a privilege to write words that are read by receptive hearts. Thank you for the gift of your presence here and for your faithful encouragement.
Blessings and love to you.


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.

The Problem of Belonging: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (6)

When it comes to friendship, to a confidence of our place and belonging to a group, all of us have at least one toe in Middle School. The sense of being outside looking in is ubiquitous enough that it has its own acronym (FOMO). In a speech delivered to a young adult audience in 1944, C.S. Lewis referred to it as the quest for “the inner ring,” and had this to say about it:

 ” I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

“Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

“Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”

Whether by fear or by conscious choice, Jayber, the bachelor barber of Port William, Kentucky, describes himself at several points as an outsider, even after he has cemented his place in the social structure as gravedigger and caretaker for the local church. He takes his position very seriously — in spite of his claim to be “by nature a lazy person” (159) — wearing the mantle of responsibility like a vocation.

Ever a contradiction, Jayber confesses to a feeling of being “outside even when inside,” while, at the same time, claiming to be possessed by a deep love for The Membership and describes poignantly how this love became clear to him through a dream he had while napping in a back pew:

“I saw all the people gathered there who had ever been there. I saw them as I had seen them from the back pew, where I sat with Uncle Othy (who would not come in any farther) . . . I saw them all. I saw the creases crisscrossed on the backs of the men’s necks, their work-thickened hands, the Sunday dresses faded with washing. They were just there . . . [and] I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me.

“When I came to myself again, my face was wet with tears.” (165)

The Professionally Devout

With his theological bent toward universalism (161), Jayber’s issue may have been doctrinal as well as social, but it is his position as an “outsider” in the church that make his observations so valuable — in my opinion. Like most small churches, the Port William assembly had endured a succession of young and inexperienced clergymen who are looking for the next step in their resume development. I feel sorry for any pastor who has to face a congregation who “prefer(s) to hear what it has heard before.” However, with a glass-half-full mentality, Jayber finds the good even in a bad sermon being preached from “the mantle of power, but not the mantle of knowledge.”

“In general, I weathered even the worst sermons pretty well. They had the great virtue of causing my mind to wander. Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons.”

The same thing happened to C.S. Lewis during a boring sermon one Sunday morning at Holy Trinity Church in Headington, and the idea for his book, The Screwtape Letters was born from the imaginative overflow.

Jayber notes, once again, the insistence of the faithful in splitting the world into “sacred” and “secular” categories, a “religion that scorned the beauty and goodness of this world.”  He seems to be most astonished by it here in this land of “good crops, good gardens, good livestock and work animals and dogs.” Living close to the land breeds a love for the particular which seems to be expunged by walking into the nave.

As much as Jayber manages to miss, theologically, his thoughts on death and resurrection are thought-provoking:

“. . . I am mystified as anybody by the transformation known as death, and the Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not seen.”

The Port William Zephyr

Taking possession of an old green Dodge sedan, Jayber enters into an uneasy relationship with progress. He enjoys the freedom of traveling to Hargrave for dancing, drinks, and carrying on with Clydie. However, examining his response to the freedom that comes with speed, he was abashed to find himself succumbing to the same impatience he despised in Troy Chatham:

“Ease of going was translated without pause into a principled unwillingness to stop.”

Jayber’s love for Mattie and his resentment of Troy’s role in her life gets interspersed with Jayber’s ponderings on farming, land management, and the effects of “progress” on farming, all learned from his ties to Athey, but clearly conveying William Berry’s thoughts and voice on the topics.

What Do You Think?

Was anyone else puzzled by the figure of speech describing Uncle Stanley Gibbs?

“[He] had no more sense of privacy than a fruit jar.”

Looking at my abundant canning jars, all clear glass, I’m concluding that he meant a fruit jar would not afford much privacy as a dwelling.

Back to Jayber’s on-the-job thoughts on the dead: 

“The people [in the graves] had lived their little passage of time in this world, had become what they became, and now could be changed only by forgiveness and mercy.”

Rendered changeless by death, the people who live in our memories still, in some odd way, require our mercy, our forgiveness, for while it cannot, ultimately, change who they were or who they allowed themselves to become, it most certainly will change me. This is particularly true if I can join Jayber in the wanting for a “heart as big as Heaven.”

May we find that we, too, are “moved by a compassion that seem[s] to come to [us] from outside.” Could this be one of the benefits of reading good fiction? 

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I found these three chapters to be the most difficult to write about so far because they cover so much territory. If I left out the theme that stood out to you, or if you feel that I missed the point entirely, be sure to let me know in the comments.

And, as usual and customary, you are welcome to share blog posts (or comments) with your insights on all things Jayber or Port William.

It appears that we have already crossed the half-way point, so thanks for hanging in there!

Here’s the schedule for upcoming discussion posts:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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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.

Musings – March 2017

We’ve known for quite a while, so . . . what a relief to finally be able to share with the world the wonderful news that our second grandchild will make his/her appearance in September!  For this blessed grandmother (“Bam”), this also means that I get extra time for painting and baking and reading stories with big brother while my daughter-in-law goes to her doctor appointments.

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This picture was taken before the blueberry stains had found his chin or the molasses had streaked a brown smear over his eyebrows.

After that headline, all other news in this monthly recap will pale, but it’s been a busy and productive month in other ways as well . . .

On the Nightstand

While I’m sure that Krista Tippett and I would not agree, point for point, on a few matters theological, I devoured Becoming Wise for its respectful and listening tone, elegant sentences, and broad scope of voices.  Since I won’t be reviewing it on the blog, I’ll tempt you with a few quotes:

“As love crosses the chasms between us, it likewise brings them into relief.  Stand hospitably before those who offend and harm and drive us crazy.”

“Western Christianity lost some of the cleansing power of mystery when it became a bedfellow with empire and later, again in its headlock with science.”

“Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory.  It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

I’m also working my way (slowly) through Nancy Guthrie’s Seeing Jesus.  Each evening I receive a reminder from its pages that the Old Testament and the New Testament deliver one glorious message, and that this message needs to be at the foundation of all my writing and teaching.  And by the way, Nancy’s podcast, Help Me Teach the Bible, is currently one of my favorites.

On the Blog

It’s always a privilege and an adventure to be invited into another writing space, and this month one of my posts appeared at (in)courage, the online community that is the vision of DaySpring (the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).  The (in) means that we are in Christ, connected, and in community with each other, and that was certainly my experience as I interacted with readers on the topic of hospitality and friendship.  I’d love it if you joined the conversation over there.  If you are looking for a community that offers life-giving tools to equip you right in the midst of the chaos, you’ll want to subscribe.

Another community that is less well-known, but vibrant and growing is Ruby Magazine.  They shared one of my reviews in their March issue — A Glorious Dark by A.J. Swoboda, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.

Earlier this month, we wrapped up a ten-week long on-line book discussion group that featured C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.  Not only did we survive the process, but we also enjoyed the weekly sharing of insights and great input from people who approached the book from all kinds of perspectives.  If you love Lewis’s fiction, you’ll be challenged and inspired by his last (and, in his opinion, his best!) book.

The most-read post at Living Our Days in the month of March may possibly have been my most-read post of all time (and someday I’m sure I’ll figure out enough about the backside of my blog to actually make that comparison with confidence . . .).  Start Where I Am.  Use What I Have.  is my commentary on change and the following life; on children leaving and grandchildren arriving; and on my cranky relationship with technology and mud season.

Just for Joy

It’s not every day that I get into my car and drive away from this country hill with no husband and no children, but that’s what happened on the next-to-the-last Friday of March, and the welcome I received on the other end made me wonder what all my angst was about.  The women of North Uxbridge Baptist Church in Massachusetts invited me to teach at their spring conference.  We met over the Word of God three times that day, and the smiles and nods of that group of godly learners, the sound of all those voices lifted in worship, and the warm fellowship over coffee, around the table at lunchtime, and between sessions mirrored the welcome that God extends to all of us in the Gospel.

It occurred to me on the four-hour drive home that, although I cannot see your nods and smiles, you, my faithful readers, extend that same welcome to me here each time you visit, and so, I thank you for your continual encouragement in this tiny gathering place.  

Grace and peace to you, and may your celebration of Christ’s resurrection be filled with joy.

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As usual, I’m joining the What I’m Into party over at Leigh Kramer’s place.

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.

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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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.

Writing Her Way into Truth: Till We Have Faces (9)

Before children and homeschooling, I worked as a compensation analyst in a large hospital, so whenever a manager wanted to change a position or to reorganize a department, it was my job to look at the changes in relation to their impact on the incumbents’ compensation.  Are the additional duties essentially the same kind of work they’ve been doing all along, or do the proposed changes require additional skill or give the employee increased responsibility?  Often, I would come to the end of all my meetings and market research with a pile of information and no clear sense of what my recommendation would be.

And then I would start writing.

I laid out the facts:  changes in reporting relationships, job duties, skills required, percent of time spent in various roles.  As I wrote, it all became clear to me so that by the time I came to the end of my writing, I was ready to make recommendations and to confidently explain my reasoning.

I see something similar going on in this blogging life of mine, and, so I wonder if, perhaps, Orual might have become a blogger if the kingdom of Glome had acquired the technology in her day.  In Book Two of Till We Have Faces, she shares her discovery that her case  against the gods set forth in Book One was not what she had thought.  Coming to the end of her writing, she found that “the past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering.”  Whether she knew it or not, Orual had begun the process of writing her way into truth.

Plot Summary

Orual’s nephew and heir to her throne has been notified that she is near death. Even so, at the end of her long life and reign, the elderly queen is finding the strength to set down a revised perspective on her life.  Two events seem to have triggered the avalanche of memory:

  1.  An encounter with Tarin (her sister Redival’s old beau who was made a eunuch by their father the King) gave Orual insight to Redival’s lonely childhood during the days in which Orual was occupied first with The Fox and then with Psyche.
  2. Upon the death of Bardia, captain of the guard, Orual visited his widow, Ansit whose bitterness eventually overflowed into this (courageous) accusation:

” . . . I know that your queenship drank up his [Bardia’s] blood year by year and ate out his life.”

The rite of the Year’s birth in Ungit’s house and a series of dreams sent from the gods lead Orual into still deeper insight into what the god of Grey Mountain meant when he spoke out of thunder and chaos with the words, “You, woman, shall know yourself and your work.  You also shall be Psyche.”

Reflection

Ansit (Bardia’s widow) and Orual have a conversation that evolves from tense civility to electric warfare.  In giving up Bardia to his work, Ansit had refused to “make him so mine that he was no longer his,” while Orual realized, in hindsight, that she had been using up Bardia through his work, “heap[ing] up needless work to keep him late at the palace, ply[ing] him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice.  Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness.”  Orual is coming to the realization that she has spent her life filling up that emptiness with the lives of others, that like the Shadowbrute, her loving and her devouring are all one thing.

As Orual dreams of sorting seeds by night, she sorts through her memories by day, “separating motive from motive and both from pretext,” (Kilby, p. 177).  But that’s not the end of revelation, for, as she becomes more willing to see truth, she finds that she is “drenched with seeings.”  Visiting Ungit’s temple for the rite of the Year’s birth, Orual laments the waste of the temple girls’ lives and the endless silver that is offered to a god who offers no return on investment, and then later sees that she, like Ungit is “an all-devouring, womb-like yet barren thing.”

Lewis scholars note parallels between the gods’ pursuit of Orual and C.S. Lewis’s own encounter with The Hound of Heaven.  This is reasonable since Lewis has described himself as “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”  It is interesting that Till We Have Faces was published in 1956, the year after the memoir of Lewis’s conversion, Surprised by Joy.

Some Issues to Ponder

Orual’s growth in self-perception has been an unveiling process.  When she tore off her veil in the presence of Ansit to reveal the ugliness it hid, Ansit was also able to read the Queen’s heart and call out the love for Bardia that had been hiding behind that veil for decades, a love that, sadly, had deteriorated into something that Orual described as “nine-tenths hatred.”

In her dream of descending into Pillar Room after Pillar Room, each one deeper and smaller, she is confronted with her own image in a mirror and sees, to her horror, that, in the dream, her face is the face of Ungit.  Realizing that she is known by her veil rather than by her face, Orual begins to go bare-faced into her kingdom when she wants to go undetected.  Is it a coincidence then, that when she is unveiled, contemplating suicide, and realizing that she is even too weak for this that she hears the unmistakable voice of a god once again?  This time, there is “no rebel in [her]” and so she hobbled home to await the meaning of the god’s words:

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

Orual’s journey encourages me to embrace Truth as it comes to me, for like her, I am also a “cold, small, helpless thing.”  And yet the voice of the true God invites me into a holiness that is neither dark nor ugly, but is full of light and beauty and that calls me to deeper Truth — about God and about myself.  May we all be open to His Truth, and may we find that we, too, are consequently “drenched with seeings.”

Your Turn

Chapter 1 and 2 of Book Two comprise some truly elegant thinking and glorious insights into both human and divine nature, and since nothing I can say will improve upon them, I will remind you of one of these sections now, and invite your thoughts, insights, and interpretations on it, or upon anything else that swept you away as you read.

“Of the things that followed, I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream.  But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.”

I will remind you, too,  that links to your blog posts are welcome in the comments below, and I look forward to your insights.

Next Time

I will be here once again next Thursday, March 9, for the last installment of our book discussion.  Since those last two chapters really put a ribbon on all of Orual’s journey of self-understanding, feel free to refer back to content from earlier chapters, especially if you are blogging about the book.

Blessings to you!

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Long Live the Queen! Till We Have Faces Discussion Group Week 8

Today we come to the end of Part I!
With only four chapters remaining in Part II, I’m amazed at how quickly the time for this discussion group has flown!

Plot Summary

Queen Orual has plowed into her new role with gusto, handily defeating Prince Argan with her sword, celebrating her victory as a lone woman in a place of power among men, and then settling into the routines of running a kingdom.  Her identity as the ugly princess is continually being swallowed up into that of the mysterious, veiled warrior Queen who leads her soldiers into battle and implements far-reaching economic and social reforms.  Even so, Orual is there behind the veil, haunted by grief and weighted down with the futility of a life devoted only to a dutiful completion of the day’s round of tasks.

A long recreational journey alleviates Queen Orual’s restlessness and brings something close to joy — until she stumbles into a secluded temple and learns that the story of the goddess who “resides” there is based on the story of Psyche with some important changes in the narrative details that settle once and for all Orual’s conviction that the gods hate her.  She resolves to set the record straight by writing the story from her own perspective and by bringing before the gods her charges against them for their injustice.

Reflection

Orual is a brilliant leader, and part of her brilliance lies in recognizing the importance of tapping into the wisdom of her counselors, Bardia and the Fox.  In her own right, however, she is enthusiastic, progressive, and a lover of justice, so even though there is no joy  or satisfaction in it for herself, Orual rules well. Lewis’s friend Screwtape would grudgingly admit that his Enemy (God) would be pleased with this human who does what is required, day after day, purely from a sense of duty.

Her veil, the “treaty made with her ugliness,” serves her well as a tool of intimidation and also advances Orual’s disappearance into the identity of The Queen.  All the grief, unhappiness, and bitterness can go on behind the veil while The Queen soldiers on, keeping up appearances.  She speaks with strong verbs that unmask her self-hatred, saying that she will kill Orual (225), that she has “locked Orual up” and “laid her asleep as best [she] could” (226).  As Orual’s face is lost to the world, queenship becomes her new face.

As with any addiction meant to deaden and smother pain, Orual’s ceaseless work and her string of accomplishments don’t satisfy her for long.   Her longing for the slaking of thirst and the old memory of satisfaction comes through clearly (and poignantly) with these words:

“Oh, for that bowl of milk, drunk alone in the cool dairy, the first day I ever used a sword.”

Some Issues to Ponder

Desperate to gain some relief from the sound of wind-blown chains that sound like Psyche’s weeping, The Queen builds a formidable stone wall around the well. Later, she refers to this building project in the same breath as triumph in the Battle of Essur (235).

“I heard Psyche weeping no more.  The year after that I defeated Essur.”

The Queen may have succeeded in walling up grieving Orual, and she may have felt powerful in the face of what she perceived to be  a “weakened” version of Ungit who smelled “cleaner and less holy” (234).  She may even have been rich enough and broad-minded enough to contribute silver to the temple for the fashioning of a new replacement for the “old, hungry, faceless” Ungit.  However, it was not long before she discovered that the gods were clearly at work behind the scenes, striving to have the last word.

Remember:  Orual had told NO ONE that she had seen Psyche’s palace.  Imagine her horror when she heard in the sing-songy repetition of the “gods’ version” of her story that it included the detail that the sisters had seen the palace and, yet, still enticed their sister away from her husband.

Orual had learned on the banks of the river near The Tree, when she saw the god’s face and experienced his power:   The god of the Grey Mountain is “no tame lion.”  Moving into Part II in which the Queen plans to argue her case against the gods,  it seems certain that we’re in for some sorting of the truth and revealing of motives:

“Let no one lightly set about such a work.  Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant . . . The past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering. (253)

These are cautionary words for us as well, for it is God who writes our story and it is His prerogative alone to “set the record straight.”

 Some Issues to Ponder

If readers in the U.S. are busily completing tax forms, Orual’s attitude about her sacrifices to Ungit may have struck a chord with you.  She considers the task burdensome and the temple requirements to be an odious chasing after the prosperity of others.  Whatever we might think about the demands of the IRS, we know that whatever we give to God is simply a return of what is already His in a glorious affirmation of our free will and of our design for worship.  Sadly, this is not the case in Glome.

Orual’s heaviness and gloom reminded me of the writings of Paul the Apostle who did not lose heart — whatever hardships he endured — for he considered every difficulty to be light and momentary when weighed against the “exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  In Chapters 19-21, The Queen has her own tragic system of measurement.  On one side of the balance scale rest the adulation of the people of Glome, her huge impact for good, and all the daily doings that go into the management of  a kingdom.  They land, in her estimation, like feathers on the scale when weighed against the howling wasteland of a life without Psyche, of a relationship of cool professionalism with Bardia, and the piercing loneliness of an existence in which, in her own words, “one little stairway led me from feast or council, all the bustle and skill and glory of queenship, to my own chamber to be alone with myself — that is with a nothingness.”

We live an a world full of Oruals who keep themselves busy and fill their lives with stuff and accomplishments in order to quiet the questions and mask the ache of longing.  This ending to Part I leaves me feeling sad for our main character and her present-day sisters — and wistful about finding a way to share the hope Paul wrote about, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” which gave him the ability to view this world with its trials as light and momentary, which indeed it is.

Your Turn

I would love to read your thoughts on this section — or on Part I as a whole.  Join the conversation by linking up a blog post or by commenting below.

Next Time

On Thursday, March 2, I’ll be here having read Chapter 1 and 2 from Part II.

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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.