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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

". . . being dead, yet speaketh." Literature

My wife saw a quote from a previous post of mine, which said this:

"I am constantly struck by the strangeness of reading works that seem addressed, personally and intimately, to me, and yet were written by people who crumbled to dust long ago." (source)

She told me that she wanted to know some of the statements that seem addressed to me. In other words, who speaks to me, though dead? (Hebrews 11:4, KJV, says "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.")

In the first installment of this series, I quoted 10 brief sections from the Bible which particularly speak to me. This is the second installment. In the third installment, I quote from important scientists, including Darwin, Einstein, and Newton.

In this installment, I'm going to quote from some literature by persons now dead, that speaks to me. I am using only three authors. There are many more good ones. I'm using only a few quotations, out of the many important passages written by these three. The authors are C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J. R. R. Tolkien. As you may know, they are related, in that MacDonald was one of Lewis's favorite authors, and that Lewis and Tolkien were friends for many years. Tolkien and MacDonald were important influences in the conversion of Lewis to Christianity. It is also true that all three of them wrote some pretty good fantastic literature.

"Don't you mind him," said Puddleglum. "There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this." C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 131.

And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like water-weed. And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great Lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond. . . .
"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and bring it to me."
Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.
"Drive it into my paw, son of Adam," said Aslan. . . .
"Must I?" said Eustace.
"Yes," said Aslan.
Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the the thorn into the Lion's paw. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. . . . And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them--a very young man, or a boy. . . . And he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go round the huge neck; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a King, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion. C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, pp. 203-4.

To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you. Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, "You must do this, I can't." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. pp. 129.

For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, "live for others" but always in a discontented, grumbling way--always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. p. 167.

I hope you do not think I am suggesting that God made the spiral nebulae solely or chiefly in order to give me the experience of awe and bewilderment. I have not the faintest idea why He made them; on the whole, I think it would be rather surprising if I had. As far as I understand the matter, Christianity is not wedded to an anthropocentric view of the universe as a whole. The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, give the story of creation in the form of a folk-tale--a fact recognized as early as the time of St Jerome--and if you take them alone you might get that impression. But it is not confirmed by the Bible as a whole. There are few places in the literature where we are more sternly warned against making man the measure of all things than in the Book of Job: 'Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant? Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?' [Lewis has a footnote to Job 41:4, 9] In St Paul, the powers of the skies seem usually to be hostile to man. It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. But that does not prove that man is the sole end of nature. In the parable, it was the one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of: it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable--save in so far as the most desperately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love. The doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also that there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen, and who needed redemption in the same mode, and that they had not been vouchsafed it. But we know none of these things. It may be full of life that needs no redemption. It may be full of life that has been redeemed. It may be full of things quite other than life which satisfy the Divine Wisdom in fashions one cannot conceive. C. S. Lewis, "Dogma and the Universe," in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 38-47. Quote is from pp. 42-43.

The laws of physics, I understand, decree that when one billiards ball (A) sets another billiards ball (B) in motion, the momentum lost by A exactly equals the momentum gained by B. This is a Law. That is, this is the pattern to which the movement of the two billiard balls must conform. Provided, of course, that something sets ball A in motion. And there comes the snag. The law won't set it in motion. It is usually a man with a cue who does that. But a man with a cue would send us back to free-will, so let us assume that it was lying on a table in a liner and that what set it in motion was a lurch of the ship. In that case it was not the law which produced the movement; it was a wave. And that wave, though it certainly moved according to the laws of physics, was not moved by them. It was shoved by other waves, and by winds, ans so forth. And however far you traced the story back you would never find the laws of Nature causing anything.
The dazzlingly obvious conclusion new arose in my mind: in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. But how do you get it to do that? How do you get a move on? The laws of Nature can give you no help there. All events obey them, just as all operations with money obey the laws of arithmetic. . . . Up till now I had had a vague idea that the laws of Nature could make things happen. I now saw that this was exactly like thinking that you could increase your income by doing sums about it. The laws are the pattern to which events conform: the source of events must be sought elsewhere. C. S. Lewis, "The Laws of Nature," in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 76-79. Quote is from pp.77-78.

I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 308.

Excerpts from George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of a Diary of an Old Soul (Public Domain, 1880):

February 17. Lord, I have fallen again--a human clod!
Selfish I was, and heedless to offend;
Stood on my rights. Thy own child would not send
Away his shreds of nothing for the whole God!
Wretched, to thee who savest, low I bend:
Give me the power to let my rag-rights go
In the great wind that from thy gulf doth blow.

March 2. Gloriously wasteful, O my Lord, art thou!
Sunset faints after sunset into the night,
Splendorously dying from thy window-sill--
For ever. Sad our poverty doth bow
Before the riches of thy making might:
Sweep from thy space thy systems at thy will--
In thee the sun sets every sunset still.

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?--not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. . . . In whatever way it may be accounted for, of one thing we may be sure, that this feeling is no cheat; for there is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part lay hold of the meaning. Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land. George MacDonald, Phantastes, 1905. Chapter X.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. . . . Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-stories," in Tree and Leaf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, pp. 3 - 73. Quote is from p.55.

'You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,' said Frodo. I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.'
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh. 'Wise the Lady Galadriel may be,' she said, 'yet here she has met her match in courtesy. Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?
'And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!'
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a simple elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
'I pass the test,' she said. 'I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.' J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 381.

Thanks for reading. Lewis was born on this date, in 1898.

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