Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Till We Have Faces
I just finished a book by C S Lewis called Till We Have Faces. Some have said it is his best work. I might agree. It is amazing how shallow we have come to think about God today, compared to people like Lewis.
The book is a retelling of a Greek myth. In the myth Psyche, a beautiful young woman marries Cupid the son of Aphrodite. There are two parts to Lewis' retelling of the myth. First, is his argument against the gods. He said he had been thinking of this part of the book since he was a boy. Orual, Psyche's sister and virtually mother, loses Psyche to 'the gods'. The 'god' who Psyche is united with is mysterous: is he hideous or is he beautiful? Orual voices her argument against the gods:
“Do you think we mortals will find you gods easier to bear if you’re beautiful? I tell you that if that’s true we’ll find you a thousand times worse. For then (I know what beauty does) you’ll lure and entice. You’ll leave us nothing; nothing that’s worth our keeping or your taking. Those we love best—whoever’s most worth loving—those are the very ones you’ll pick out. Oh, I can see it happening, age after age, and growing worse and worse the more you reveal your beauty: the son turning his back on the mother and the bride on her groom, stolen away by this everlasting calling, calling, calling of the gods. Taken where we can’t follow. It would be far better for us if you were foul and ravening. We’d rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We’d rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal.” (Till we have faces, 290-291)
The second part of the book, is Lewis' answer to his argument against the gods. This part Lewis says could only put together after becoming a Christian. The 'speech' he is referring to is that honest recognition of who we are, how we have lived.
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” (Till we have faces, 294)
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? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you long did I fear you.” (Till we have Faces, 308)