Saturday, February 06, 2010

Week 5 - C.S. Lewis Continues - Answers

As mentioned, this week is about the conclusion of chapter 9 in The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I found it appropriate to divide the chapter into two sections last week because the chapter takes a major turn from the ideas of Heaven and Hell and focus more on different types of behaviors and activities we go through. In typical C.S. Lewis fashion, he subtly inserts the differences of attitude behind each behavior. These subtleties however play an important role in how close we are in pursuing God in our lives, thus the critical role in becoming the holy people we are called to be.

If you want to refresh yourself on last week's blog, click here.

The Ghost of Lewis now has the opportunity to oversee the conversations of other ghosts and their Spirit guides while discussing the meaning of those discussions with his own (and very Scotch) guide, George MacDonald. The first of these overheard conversations was that of a grumbling woman.

The context of the grumbling pertains to a large number of complaints about the way she's been treated by pious neighbors, her right to more respect, and placing blame on others for past events, among other things. After the exhaustive paragraph of rantings, Lewis's spiritual guide notes a troubled look on our narrator's face. The Ghost of Lewis explains that although the lady who is grumbling hasn't found her way into Heaven, she doesn't seem to be wicked and needs a bit of kindness in her life. His Spirit explains that if this is so, then she will certainly find her way, however grumbling has more dangerous consequences than we know. In fact, the real question at hand is that if the woman has turned into an all-out grumbler. Explained by quote:

The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumbling. If there is a real woman - even the least trace of one - still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there's one we spark under all those ashes, we'll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there's nothing but ashes we'll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up. ...But ye'll have had experiences - it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumbling itself going on forever like a machine.

What is being expressed here is the nature of
Philippians 2:12-18, specifically, in verse 14 about arguing and complaining. No doubt we have all found ourselves complaining about our circumstances. Maybe we've been treated unfairly by others, or maybe we're discontent with our employment (or lack of it), or even yet, an argument with a friend or financial difficulties. When we grumble about these things, we should be quick to remember what has already been given to us by God: the temporal blessings of this life and the promise of an eternal life to follow. Getting caught up by our grumblings during a "dark hour" turns our focus to ungodly thoughts and actions. Simply, a continual state of complaint and dissatisfaction drives us away from Christ. An attitude of thanksgiving is what preserves our status as only a "grumbling."

The next sections describes how those in Grey-Town come up from the depths to try an evangelize the Spirits of Heaven into Hell. Needless to say the foolishness of their acts doesn't convince the Heavenly Spirit of Hell, but the arguments used are interesting to consider from an Earthly perspective, where those Heaven-bound have not gone and those Hell-bent haven't reached their desire. New and mature Christ-Followers alike are well aware with the idea of persecution because of their choice to follow Christ. Namely, John 15 starting with verse 18. However, not all persecutions take the lives of Christ-Followers. In some sense, those are easier to endure because death comes quickly to some of those saints. Some persecutions are intellectual, mental and emotional - and can carry on for a lifetime. Just as in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes some of phrases they'll hurl at you (but I have paraphrased them): "You live a sheltered life," and, "You ignore/are negligent of truth, reason and science." To the Heavenly Beings in the realm of Heaven itself, these are vain attempts to justify their own feelings and opinions about the a second eternal life. But to us here on Earth, this is the literal expanding of Hell. They push forth their ideas on us trying to pull us away from Christ, as we in turn try to explain to them the reasonableness of our faith. Rarely does a side succeed in pulling one cause to another. Without physically writing this, I think C.S. Lewis acknowledges those who attempt the extension of Hell have little hope because they have chosen to hold on to hatred and envy. But really, the bottom line is that these people have learned to develop a contempt for joy. However, the Spirit-guide of Lewis points out before concluding the matter that, "Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already."

I think the point that is trying to be made here is that even those who seem to be perpetuating Hell seem (visually) without hope, the real heart of the matter is that they haven't experienced what true, compassionate and honest joy is all about. Perhaps C.S. Lewis is trying to say these type of people are only one thoughtful deed away from seeing the light of Heaven, since they have been staring at it so hard with bitterness for so long.

Although maybe a bit on a tangent, this reminds me of the ministry of Jesus. Through the Gospels, Jesus brings the least likely of people to the Kingdom of God: the prostitutes, beggars, the crippled and tax-collectors. Yet, the self-proclaiming holy men of the time - the Pharisees - find themselves on the outside. To me, it seems like the same type of "reversal of fortune" that C.S. Lewis explains with the previous example. It wasn't that the Pharisees never had a chance to inherit the God's Kingdom, they lacked the vision of true joy. Those who are at the bottom have no where to look but up - at joy - while those at the top find it difficult to look in any direction but down.

Now I want to be careful with this last part because it talks about art, art of arts sake, fame and glory - all topics I heard a lot when I was attending a particular art college. Additionally, I know a good proportion of readers of this blog are (heavily) into art, so call me out on this if I missed the mark.

A conversation between two beings - one a Grey-Town ghost and the other a Heavenly Spirit - and both are interested in the arts, specially painting:

"How soon do you think I could begin painting?" the Ghost asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. "Don't you see you'll never paint at all if that's what you're thinking about?" he said.
"What do you mean?" asked the Ghost.
"Why, if you interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you'll never learn the see the country."
"But that's just how a real artist is interested in the country."
"No, you're forgetting," said the Spirit, "That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light."
"Oh, that's ages ago," said the Ghost, "One grows out of that. Of course, you haven't seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake."
"One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love for the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower - become interesting in their own personalities and then in nothing by their own reputations."

This discussion holds the difference between art (visual, audio, performance, etc.) that glories self and art that glorifies God. Art that glories self is type that gives the viewer no insight into anything that God values. However, art with true and honest intentions, that "tell something about the Light" is worthy for God's glory. Even if others along the way corrupt or pervert, the glorification of the art has to do with what lies in the heart of the artist and its subject should be that of what God values or what God is himself. Those who create for the sake of creating have become their own gods, forgetting who first created them.

The conversation takes a turn into fame:

"Of course," said the Ghost, as if speaking to himself, " there'll always be interesting people to meet..."
"Everyone will be interesting."
"Oh-ah-yes, to be sure. I was thinking of people in our own line. Shall I meet Claude? Or Cezanne? Or-"
"Sooner of later - if they are here."
"But you don't know?"
"Well, of course not. I've only been here a few years. All the chances are against my having run across them... there are good many of us, you know."
"But surely in the case of distinguished people, you'd hear?"
"But they aren't distinguished - no more than anyone else. Don't you understand? The Glory flow into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light's the thing."
"Do you mean there are no famous men?"
"They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognised by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgment."

This proved what I said before about art that glories self. This particular Ghost has been creating for so long, he has forgotten why he creates to begin with. Fallen human nature's default is to point inward and towards themselves. God's redeeming nature is to all point to the same person: Christ.
Recall that God plays no favorites (Colossians 3:23-26). Furthermore, I enjoyed how subtlety C.S. Lewis portrays God's truths. The Spirit is saying that no one is distinguished but everyone is famous and interesting. Contrast this to the existential and other like mind philosophies that no one is important, or even matters. In Heaven we will still maintain our personalities and we will recognize and want to learn about those interests that you have a keener insight toward. And if you really like talking, that's okay because you'll have as long as you want.

So that concludes Chapter 9. If you like what you read here, or want to learn more about The Great Divorce, go here, here, or your local book store or library and read it over a few times. Hopefully, through this blog you'll have at least a mild understanding on what is going on and better yet, you might have some contrasting ideas.

I'll be taking a week hiatus from my Investigation series, but expect something big the week after that. Feel free to post and comment at will. I might have some regular posts up as well.

1 comment:

quirkyskittle said...

I'm not a painter, so I can't speak to any fine-arts specifics of the paint-for-its-own-sake analogy, but I am a writer, which isn't always too different, so lemme see if I can hazard a few remarks.

The obvious concern for artists reading that passage, I think, is the idea of, is he saying God doesn't want us to value something simply because it's interesting in and of itself? Can't we love the act of telling as well as the object of the telling? After all, the act of writing a poem can take on a scientific-experiment quality where we manipulate this or that word just to see what will happen, out of sheer curiosity about how it "works," and that in itself can be fascinating and lovely.

But I think that can also be Christian at its core because it's an appreciation of life as it really exists - in other words, we're reveling in the fact that these laws (though some of them are more subjective than others) of art and emotion do exist, and the fact that we get to learn how to work with them. I think sometimes what we call "art for its own sake" because we can't really think of a better term really just means "delighting in earthly things having the qualities God has given them." I think we'd say that that's innocent. It can certainly be mixed with other things that're less innocent - we can also like the power of deciding which word we're using more than we like the different effects - but still.

So I think Lewis is just assuming that we don't need clarification, that we know what he means: he means that sometimes what artists love is really just the power (either individual or collective) of being "able" to say what the world is, rather than their either relishing life as it is or relishing telling people what it's like. The ghost's interest in "paint for its own sake" would be one thing if he meant that he loved paint's many textures and colors and what changing one of those variables meant for the picture. But we're to assume that when the ghost loves "paint for its own sake," it's really something more along the lines of loving what he can do with paint, or what artists collectively can do with it - an expression not of, "Isn't the world fascinating?", but, "Aren't I [or 'aren't we artists'] powerful?"

But you all may have figured that out already, without my saying so. :)