The symmetry of beauty has been on my mind, especially the way it happens in the symmetry of sacrifice. As an expression of deep love, God shouldered a cross in order to create the universe—in turn—as an expression of deep love, we shoulder our cross and the beauty is impossible to hide. (see CS Lewis’ poem, ‘Love’s as warm as Tears’). It all falls over of course the moment we allow sanctimonious pride, fear, repressed anger, score cards and so on to replace self-forgetful love as the motivation behind the sacrifice. This latter experience would be a bit like finding a flower growing in your yard but you realise that one half of it is plastic. This is what happens when our love starts out well but then slides back into a contrivance.
‘A God Delusion’ is what Richard Dawkins should have titled his book, which (in a dead giveaway of his rather pompous approach) he called ‘The God Delusion’. I haven’t finished reading it yet but every page so far is reinforcing the fact that all of us at different times in our lives—whether we are believers or atheists—harbour various ‘God Delusions’. These tend to be expressed most boldly when we are rich and healthy or angry and in pain.
And this is not all bad, we find much of this in the psalms and other writings in scripture. Putting these kind of thoughts out of there is, not uncommonly, one way of processing them and sometimes realising how silly they are, and that they are delusional. In the light of that, it may well be that Dawkins’ book will help both Christians and atheists to be rid of one particular delusion* about God.
The difference of course with Dawkins’ book is the relentless rage—even hatred—that comes through. This guy is not going to listen to reason and his outbursts read more like those of someone in stage three of faith development** where everything is either ‘black or white’, ‘this or that’. A hallmark of this stage is the inability to see inconsistency in your reasoning and the inability to hear valid criticism.
Sometimes though, it turns out that the expression of our hurts and disappointments about God is not merely delusional, not silly and is in fact quite profound. Dawkins does allude to some of this but in a manner that suggests he’s not actually serious, he just wants to hate—like a propagandist—and that is that. On the other hand, when CS Lewis said the awful pain of having a wife die of cancer made him wonder if we were just ‘rats in a cosmic experiment’, he did it in a way that spoke on behalf of millions and enabled them to go somewhere with it. Interestingly—despite what some Christians thought—he hadn’t lost his faith, he was simply expressing it honestly.
* a delusion is a false impression that’s held onto despite the contradictory evidence of reality
** James Fowler, Faith Development
‘Ye must distinguish. The action of pity will live forever: But the passion of pity will not. The passion for pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and the flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty – that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: Their weapon will be broken … Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: But we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice.’
(CS Lewis – The Great Divorce p.111)
You cannot truly love someone and simultaneously focus on being cool. It’s like offering to help a woman get her car out of a bog on the condition that you get no mud on your suit.
Be happy to do things that go nowhere
Be happy to open your mouth before your mind is in gear
Be happy to respond to whatever catches your attention
Be a cheerful event in their day
Keep ‘the spirit of the game’
Ask questions & listen
Be in no hurry
Save time by wasting time
Think more about whether God knows you rather than whether you know him.(See Matthew 7:22)
Remind yourself that life’s not fair
Assume that you are called to unhinge the forces of darkness and release a slave by making a sacrifice
Find out what it means to activate redemptive magic Owe no man anything except the debt of love.
Those who have given their lives to loving the weak and vulnerable can become so clever at heading off embarrassments and anticipating the ways of troubled people that it’s impossible for their friends or even their own children to ever have a good healthy quarrel with them about anything—and that’s not love, it’s suffocation.
There’s an ancient understanding amongst tribal elders (who are the real deal) that they as individuals have a kind of music that can be of help to each other’s children—in a way that can only be described as beautiful. We in the west have a cool indifference to this, our organisational structures having deadened the instinct to feel a responsibility—before there’s even any hint of trouble—to step into the world of our mate’s teenage son, for example. It might be an invitation to a concert, to dinner or a hunting trip and it might be the conversation of a lifetime.
It’s a dark, dingy night in the city of western Sydney. Muscle cars cruise the street with drivers with haircuts looking like the rear end of a horse. Not where you would expect to find a poetry slam, actually, come to think of it, it’s got slam all over it: fast, furious and then it’s all over—too bad if someone’s sensitivities have just been trampled into the dirt.
So here we are, upstairs with standing room only, the hat being assed around if you want to put your name in and throw word-javelins into the sky or maybe a few word-flowers too. The smiles on faces having that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look about them, somehow excited, happy and a bit loopy. Loopy works well at slams, it’s one the reasons I’ve come.
While we wait for the show to get started I find myself in a conversation with a young guy who looks like he’s out for a bit of fun. The topic moves from this place, to some other place, to life in general. In the middle of the flow, what can only be described as a ‘conversation-stabbing-ghost voice’, makes an announcement through his lips.
‘If you haven’t got your health you’ve got nothing have you,’ he says.
‘I’m not sure I agree,’ I say.
‘What do you mean?’ he says.
‘My mum for example, she had Motor Neurone disease. “Nothing to live for” you might say, but she gave me so much. She still shines like a candle for me.’
There’s a long silence. In the darkened room around us, laughter and jokes fly thick and fast, like bats, and I stand there with my drink in the eye of the storm, wondering what’s going to happen.
‘You’re right,’ he says.
Something melts, even melts away and the two of us spend the rest of the night talking—so much so that he won’t stay away from me. He wants to talk about faith and hope and love, and confesses to me that this was the night he was going to throw it all away, to abandon faith and drink the cup of meaninglessness.
We talk and talk. I get my turn on the stage along with a dozen or so other poets, our voices ranging from hate, to heavy metal, to some more like country music, em n’ em, folk, and a few amazing voices that seem to come straight out of heaven. The audience gets a treat and we all laugh a lot. The night is over now and my friend tells me how grateful he is and wants me to pray a prayer for him. We go our separate ways.
From that day till now I’ve found myself in countless conversations where those conversation—stabbing ghost voices rise up out of the flow like nasty little eels, especially insinuating themselves when things are getting intimate and genuine. It makes you wonder if something deep in our broken-ness starts to panic when we get close to the real, and automatically releases one of these just to keep things familiar.
Even the shape of the ‘blurt’ is kind of weird: beginning by sounding like an announcement but ending as a question, as if you’re being invited to hear them out—but while you’re not looking the script changes. The other person plays on your sense of courtesy, using the polite, agreeable context to blackmail you into agreeing with their statement, even implicating you in their lie.
The examples are countless: ‘If you haven’t got your health you’ve got nothing have you.’ ‘After all you only get one life don’t you.’ ‘Shit happens eh!’ ‘If it’s meant to happen it will eh!’ ‘If God wants it to happen it will eh!’ ‘We’re all whores it’s just that we have different price tags eh.’
Don’t let them get away with it. The only proper response is an instantaneous ‘head-shot on the run’. Something like, ‘Can I ask you a question?’, ‘What do you mean by that?’, ‘Where did you get that idea?’, ‘I don’t know about that’, ‘So what are you trying to say?’, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t agree at all.’ ‘I beg to differ.’ My favourite is ‘Can I ask you a question?’ Once I had to repeat my question three time loudly before the other guy would stop and ask me what it was.
Bosses, wounded people looking for affirmation, and older people with younger people, do it all the time because they assume deference but assumed-deference is a cheap liberty being taken. You and I probably do it to people too by the way. As a man of faith I have had to apologise numerous times for jumping on my own personal conversation motor bike and just not listening.
You will already know at least someone in your world who does it all the time. But beware, we are all in trouble when we attempt to love others. George MacDonald said the first thing the ‘lover of others’ must try to do is to figure out how not to do them harm.
The preceding eight strategies ( in the management of the idolatry of beauty), are even more of an issue when you have a marriage partner. Loyalty to him or her now means demonstrating a loyalty and honour not just in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the way you relate to other potential competitors. Jealousy can be hard to deal with—and quite a learning curve—but (if it is healthy jealousy), it will bring the blessings of honesty and another point of view into your marriage. There will be conversations with your partner about dozens of awkward moments: from the way you talk, the clothes you wear and your body language, to things like your hobbies, unexplained absences, and Facebook.
You might even make it easier for them by asking what it’s been like for them being married to you, or asking them to tell you if they feel at all uncomfortable about any relating habits you have with the opposite sex. It will feel like a part of you is dying—and so it should—because a whole new thing is coming about from a seed that was planted when you married.
A tree is growing and it’s demanding space and nutrition, light and warmth, and air because it’s making a home in which children can live and grow and where friends and family can be loved and served and blessed beyond all imagination. You will have never experienced (first-hand), anything like what the great Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) will bring when he is allowed—by the one-ness of your marriage—to open the way for the great love of the Father and the Son to flow like a river through your living room and out onto the street. But some of your friends will resist this, some will take offence, and some will need to walk away.
GK Chesterton has this to say, ‘The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-favoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.
It is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilising spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it. Thus, in politics the modern Jingoes practically say, ‘Let us have the pleasure of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.’ Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say: ‘Let us have the fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.’ Thus in love the free-lovers say: ‘Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.’
Emphatically it will not work. There are thrilling moments, doubtless, for the spectator, the amateur, and the aesthete; but there is one thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights for his own flag, to the aesthetic who starves himself for his own illumination, to the lover who makes finally his own choice. And it is this transfiguring self-discipline that makes the vow a truly sane thing. It must have satisfied even the giant hunger of the soul of a lover or a poet to know that in consequence of some one instant of decision that strange chain would hang for centuries in the Alps among the silences of stars and snows. All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in back-ways and retreats, but surely, sooner or later, the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships.’18
With all that in mind it’s also helpful to consider a sobering reminder from CS Lewis. In this passage he addresses one side of the sacrifice involved (from the point of view of a husband), but it could equally be applied to a wife. ‘This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least loveable. For the Church has not beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs.’19
18 Chesterton GK. A Defence of Rash Vows http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/selected-works/the- essayist/a-defence-of-rash-vows/
19 Lewis CS. The Four Loves http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/14816053-the-four-loves
Jesus, ‘who was tempted ‘in every respect just as we are’, made it clear that the eye is the doorway to the soul when he said, ‘A pure eye lets sunshine into the soul but a lustful eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness’.13,14 The awful side of that truth came home to me a long time ago when I heard someone tell a story about a young man they knew who had become like an empty shell because he was mastered by the sin of uncontrolled eyes.
The Gruen Transfer tells us that the marketer looks for that ‘split second when the (shopping) mall’s intentionally confusing layout makes our eyes glaze and our jaws slacken….. the moment when we forget what we came for and become impulse buyers.’ But it’s not just marketers who look for this: books on witchcraft speak of a thing called the Witch’s Lunge, where the occult practitioner will wait for the right moment and then attempt to dive straight through the eyes of their victim and into their soul.
It would not be an overstatement to say that we live in a world where our eyes (and all our other senses) are the targets of those who—with the help of greed, lust and pride—would have us buy their products. But what is the price we pay? Supposedly it’s just an exchange of dollars for the merchandise, which it may well be if we’re talking groceries. But someone has said that the ‘value of a thing is the amount of life given in exchange for it’. In that case, a Playstation might actually have the value of a human soul.
The sellers of the products will often tell us to gamble responsibly or that their cigarettes cause cancer. The implication being that this was our choice and therefore absolves them of any responsibility for the hell they lead us into: a logic not that much different to the friendly witch in Pilgrim’s Regress: “And all the while the witch stood saying nothing, but only holding out the cup and smiling kindly on him with her dark eyes and her dark, red mouth. Then, when she saw that he would not drink, she passed on to the next: but at the first step she took, the young man gave a sob and his hands flew out and grabbed the cup and he buried his head in it: and when she took it from him, his lips clung to it as a drowning man to a piece of wood. But at last he sank down in the swamp with a groan…’15
So, if it’s that serious, what are you going to do about it? The only solution is to face the fact that if your eyes are not on the playing field then you cannot get hit. In other words you have to kill it. But you don’t have the power to do that, or at least you don’t have the power to do it in a way that makes death work backwards, that brings redemptive magic into play. For it is a fact that there are other ways to do this: but they are all flawed by the idolatrous motivation of doing it for yourself, for your own happiness, and in your own power. Yes, they sort of work, but they leave something hard inside you, something buddhist/eat,love,pray and made useful for the one who is determined at all costs not to die, at all costs to remain un-resurrected.
The only way to really do it is the way of Easter. To drink the cup that says, ‘Not my will but yours be done.’ You must offer your eyes to God as a living sacrifice, so that whatever it is that rules your eyes can be killed—his way! Yes it will hurt, but there’s a beautiful surprise awaiting you, and the best way to understand that is to read this excerpt from another of Lewis’ writings.
‘I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.
“Off so soon?” said a voice.
The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.
“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came, which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”
‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit: an angel, as I now understood. “Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”
“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”
“May I kill it?”
“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”
“There is no time. May I kill it?”
“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in
Nine Strategies P. Volkofsky 9
order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.” “The gradual process is of no use at all.”
“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”
“There is no other day. All days are present now.”
“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”
“It is not so.”
“Why, you’re hurting me now.”
“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”
“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”
“This moment contains all moments.”
“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”
“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”
The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.
“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent …. ”
“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.” “Then I may?”
“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One Nine Strategies P. Volkofsky 10
closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.
For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man–an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.
The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.’16
13 Luke 11:34
14 Heb 4:15
15 Lewis CS. Pilgrim’s Regress
16 Lewis CS The Great Divorce pp: 98 -103