June 13, 2006

Surprised by Joy

I have been on a CS Lewis junket these days. I will admit to having read 'The Screwtape Letters' and 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' years ago but never really read any of his other works. I am working through my reading list (see below) and two Lewis books are listed: 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'Till We Have Faces.' I have finished both books and am now reading Alan Jacob's biography, 'The Narnian.'

I think I have fallen in love with Lewis, at least with Lewis' writing. I have been overwhelmed by the profound nature of his works and the impact they have had on my life. To quote Lewis's autobiographical title, I have been "Surprised by Joy." I cannot really put my finger on it exactly but have to say that it is as if the sheer scope of the works have ignited something within me, fueled a passion to learn more, to discover and probe the depths of my own understanding, and to just en-joy the process of reading and learning.

Some recent "tiddles" include:

Discovering the idea of "resting" in the Lord - not a new concept to me but always one that I struggled against. I was very into "working" and not really willing to do much "resting." What changed? Reading 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' especially 'The Silver Chair.' The idea expressed so delightfully by Lewis and yet so profoundly, is described as soon as Eustace and Jill find themselves transported through the school yard wall and into the land of Narnia. Jill accidentally entices Eustace to stand too close to the very edge of the cliff and as a result, he falls over the edge and plunges to his apparent death. Aslan sees to it that Eustace is carried over to Narnia -- on his breath -- and is safely deposited on the otherside of the great chasam. Jill, after looking into Aslan's eyes and repenting of her sin (her pride), is carried across to Narnia. It is in Lewis' descriptive way that the idea of "resting upon the Lord" comes to light. Jill finds herself being transported in mid-air, almost by magic to the other side. It is as if she is riding on a magic carpet and she is so secure and comforted in the knowledge that Aslan is moving her across the open sky, that she relaxes and sits back and enjoys the ride.

The truth revealed to me -- that resting in the Lord is requires nothing of my work, but relies solely on the work of God's Holy Spirit. He is the "great mover" that makes and moves us from place to place and from faith to faith and glory to glory. We must sit back and relax and let Him do the work -- the ride is magical and fills us with inexpressible joy!

Prayers that go unanswered - in Lewis' deeply mythological work, "Till We Have Faces", I realized the sheer ignorance of some of my prayers. This is a difficult book and even though I enjoy ancient literature, I found the entire book somewhat disturbing. It was engaging writing but I never quite knew what to expect -- I think my CON perspective colored my review and made it difficult for me to see it as Lewis intended -- as myth. However, the very last chapter is deeply moving and there is one small part where the title of the novel comes to sharp focus. If you have never read this book and are up to reading a myth (the story of Cupid and Pysche), I would encourage you to do so, it is wonderful. The main character, Maia, finds herself standing before the gods, to give account of her complaint against them. She has spent her entire life believing in the mythical goddess, Ungit, but has loathed her and blamed her for the misery of her life. As she prepares to give her account, she is escorted to the circle of judges by her old tutor, The Fox, long-dead but now appearing as a ghost or apparition. The Fox, takes her to the judges and along the way, shows her a rock wall covered with word pictures (the story of myth). As she sees the story of her life written on the wall, she begins to understand exactly how selfish and prideful her life has been. In the end, she sees herself praying to the gods and seeing her prayers going unanswered. The Fox gently explains to her that to the gods, her words (her prayers) were nothing more than a child's babbling which made no sense. He tells her that "till we have faces" we can never know the truth, never see ourselves properly and never see the gods for who they are. It is magical and it is beyond expression. In CON, it is Aslan's face that Lucy seeks after, it is His breath that invigorates her and encourages and strengthens her. It is only when she sees Him, that she can really see herself. In the same way, Maia cannot understand how petty and cruel her life has been until she sees the faces of the gods, then and only then does it become clear to her. She sees herself for the first time and what she sees is not very nice, nor pleasant, nor good. She must confront her sin and must repent and seek forgiveness. In doing so, she is released back to her world and back to her life. It is the perfect picture of redemption, regeneration, and restoration.

I realized that in many ways, I have been utterly selfish and my prayers also have been like a child's babble. When my prayers center around myself and my needs (not my real needs but material or temporal things), how like a little child I truly am. But when you grasp the very idea of "seeking the Lord's face", an amazing thing happens. It is as if everything becomes clear and we are finally able to "see" and "know" exactly what must be confessed and what must be brought to the Lord.

The past couple weeks have been a period of inexpressible joy for me. I feel as though I have come through a very long, dark hallway and am finally out in the sun. My vision has cleared somewhat and my heart and mind are united in one desire and one desire only...that is to spend my time seeking Him and resting in His remarkable grace.


tootlepip said...

I read "Till We Have Faces" a few years ago and found it disturbing and challenging at the same time. It really made me take a good look at my preconceived notions.

School Marm said...

Yes, I did too. I have since read some other comments about it that helped put the book into context. I came away from this book and the one about CS Lewis with a deeper appreciation of this very brillant and complicated man.

Iambic Admonit said...

I just stumbled upon your blog by searching for Till We Have Faces and am delighted with what you've written. C. S. Lewis and his associates are closest to my heart in their understanding, nay, their living and breathing relationship with Christ and with literature/myth/beauty, and the fact that they do not separate those two. I'm hoping to read Douglas Gresham's biography, Jack's Life soon, and I imagine I'd recommend it. Have you read the space trilogy? Those books are full of horror and beauty, both, and the same profound spiritual truths. I'd love it if you'd come over to my blog, have a look, and leave some comments. Blessings to you.