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 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.
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.
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
“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!
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.
On Thursday, February 2nd, I’ll be here having read chapters 10-12.
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