“The effort now sometimes made to lead a civilized life on reason alone, rejecting the emotions, the attempt of the monarchic head to rule the plebeian belly without the aid of the aristocracy in the thorax, would have seemed to Plato a rash venture; like what motorists call ‘driving on your brakes.’ It is hard on the brakes and leads to skids.  On the psychological level the individual triad depends on the doctrine of the triple soul.”

C.S. Lewis, “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages,” from Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

I don’t think that as many people nowadays make an express decision to live by the values of the Enlightenment or by strict materialism.  But the practical tendency to live by trusting in academics, finances, and other numbers as though they could override our relationships or our emotions sometimes has the same effect.  We become effective Stoics, until we start our long skid.  In some ways the unscientific medievals were wiser than we are.


On forgiveness

April 4, 2013

“A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses [for our sins] comes from not really believing in [forgiveness], from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people…forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think.One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”

–“On Forgiveness,” from The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

“…still looking at [my teacher’s] face, I saw there something that sent a quiver through my whole body. I stood at that moment with my back to the East and the mountains, and he, facing me, looked towards them. His face flushed with a new light. A fern, thirty yards behind him, turned golden. The eastern side of every tree-trunk grew bright. Shadows deepened. All the time there had been bird noises, trillings, chatterings, and the like; but now suddenly the full chorus was poured from every branch; cocks were crowing, there was music of hounds, and horns; above all this ten thousand tongues of men and woodland angels and the wood itself sang. It comes! It comes!” they sang. “Sleepers awake! It comes, it comes, it comes.” One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed–not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes. Screaming, I buried my face in the folds of my Teacher’s robe. “The morning! The morning!” I cried, “I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost.” But it was too late. The light, like solid blocks, intolerable of edge and weight, came thundering upon my head.”

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

I’ve never heard Lewis sound so much like Flannery O’Connor as he does here.


February 7, 2013

“We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them an offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if he chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, chapter on “Charity”

This has the sound of truth. But with all my heart, I want to say, “Oh, yeah? Well, you go first. I’ll follow later.” And then I remember, Lewis did go first. He had married Joy Davidman by the time he wrote this, and his heart did break.  No one wants heartbreak.  But it is the risk inherent in loving.

“We are all receiving charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault that they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be pitied, and forgiven, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times–and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit–they are receiving Charity, and are loved not because they are lovable, but because Love himself is in those who love them.”

–From “Charity,” The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis

When love means hating

January 7, 2013

This quote about Jesus words about “hating” people you care about may be relevant.  I’m not sure whether the moment has arisen or not.  But in this case it’s not really my decision; I’m just putting it here to think about: 

“To hate is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil.

…the loving of Jacob seems to mean the acceptance of Jacob for a high (and painful) vocation; the “hating” of Esau, his rejection…So in the last resort, we must turn down or disqulify our nearest and dearest when they come between us and our obedience to God.  Heaven knows, it will seems sufficiently to them like hatred. We must not act on the pity we feel. We must be blind to tears and deaf to pleading.  

What is hard for all is to know when the occasion for such hating has arisen.  Our temperaments deceive us…that is why it is of such extreme importance so to order our loves that it is unlikely to arrive at all.”

–From “Charity,” The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis

Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal?

–C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Anyone who knows Lewis will realize that he was the last person to say something gratuitously cynical. But the quote above is a reminder that all humans are subject to grief, to depression. When his heart was broken, Lewis didn’t deny the squalor of life, but he never stopped asking why the world was like a mean street, either. Finally he got his answer, and he described it as “a chuckle in the dark.” It was not at all what he expected, but the very fact that it wasn’t seemed “Reliable. Firm.” Like a voice other than his own. The renovation crew, having produced a lot of seeming squalor, was getting down to work.

“All reality is iconoclastic,” he surmised. “The notions will all be knocked from under our feet.”