Perelandra

I re-read Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet in preparation for summer school, and so, of course, after I returned home, I had to re-read Perelandra. While I would not want to choose one favourite Lewis book, Perelandra is certainly one of my very favourites….

Perelandra is a story of the battle between good and evil, but not here on earth—no, Perelandra is set on the planet Venus. The “Eve” of this beautiful new world is under attack and it is up to Cambridge academic Elwin Ransom to wage war against her tempter, knowing that the fate of a world is on his shoulders.

Perelandra offers a breath-taking vision of what a world without sin looks like, and with that as a backdrop, the plans of the evil one are horribly evil. When Ransom first meets the Green Lady, he tells her, “I come in peace”. “What is ‘peace’?” she replies. In a world where the opposite of peace does not exist, “peace” is a word that has no meaning for her. On this re-read, the part I found most moving was where Ransom realises, when he sees Perelandrian humanity in all its glory, just how far humanity on earth has fallen from where it was meant to be:

“’Do not move away, do not raise me up,’ he said. ‘I have never before seen a man or a woman. I have lived all my life among shadows and broken images. Oh, my Father and my Mother, my Lord and my Lady, do not move, do not answer me yet. My own father and mother I have never seen. Take me for your son. We have been alone in my world for a great time.’”

Perelandra has this delightful combination of both being a gripping story and being laden with wonderful insights into life. The nature of joy and the nature of obedience are shown powerfully. Evil comes across as it really is: vile. I am a believer in underlining (with a pencil, please!), but I do not normally underline novels. In fact, I think Perelandra is the only novel I have underlined. Let me share the following quotes with you and you should see why.

***

“My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call ‘good’, but I wasn’t sure whether I liked ‘goodness’ so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of it something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that is also dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played. For a second or two I was nearly in that condition.”

***

“As there is one Face above all worlds merely to see which is irrevocable joy, so that the bottom of all worlds that face is waiting whose sight alone is the misery from which none who beholds it can recover. And though there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or the Miserific Vision.”

***

“I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?”

***

Powerful, don’t you think?

My one caveat is that Perelandra contains some profanity. All in all, however, is is one of the most incredible novels I’ve read.

In fact, just working on this post makes me a little nostalgic for it!

Grace is… What?

I read something last night that got me thinking about grace, and particularly grace as manifested by forgiveness. Because, of course, if forgiveness were not necessary, grace—“love stooping low”—good things for those who don’t deserve them—wouldn’t be needed.

When the son came back, shamefaced, to his father, with the offer of becoming a hired servant, the father didn’t confront him with a stern look, and say, “You’re quite right. Since you squandered your inheritance, I can’t afford your upkeep, and I certainly can’t afford a welcome-home party. Have you any idea how expensive fatted calves are? Off to the fields with you. I forgive you, of course, but you must learn that there are consequences to your licentious behaviour”.

The father was embracing him. He was calling for a robe and a ring. He was ordering a party and he was getting that calf killed.

The son didn’t need to be reminded that there are consequences to sin. He already knew that! He didn’t need the father to add to his burden of guilt. It was weighing him down enough. He needed him, in grace, to forgive him, so that the burden wasn’t there anymore. The story is a wonderful story because… that’s what the father did.

That’s grace.

And that’s what God does with us.

When we come to God and repent, He doesn’t hold up the list of all that we’ve done wrong and remind us of it—you know, rub it in a little bit so we’ll be sure not to forget just how bad we’ve been.

When Jesus died, He tore up the paper with its ugly list of our sins.

The paper got thrown to the winds.

Our sins, on the other hand, got cast into the depths of the sea.

He doesn’t remind us of them and He doesn’t remind Himself of them. The only thing that the omniscient God forgets is our sin.

And because we have been forgiven, we forgive others.

Like that.

In that grace-filled, sin-covering, burden-lifting way.

The person who’s wronged you doesn’t need you to drive home a moral point, or remind them of the consequences of their actions.

They already know all that!

They need your forgiveness. They need grace.

I’m writing so high above me in all this. I don’t understand or appreciate or rejoice in God’s grace to me anything like I should. The hard, dry soil of my heart needs Him to keep pouring water for a long time yet before it can soften, before it can truly soak in grace. And I sure as anything haven’t got the extending grace to others—the true forgiveness—sorted out in my life.

And, really, it’s not until we understand God’s grace to us that we can truly extend grace to others….

His grace is abundant—water splashing down on us.

Let it soak in.

 

 

Of Lewis, Oxford, and Other Delights

Imagine with me the following combination: a Christian conference with a C S Lewis theme in Oxford in June…. Imagine being with eighty-something people one has never met before and being able, if one wished, to ask each of them, “So what’s your favourite Lewis book?”

That is to say, you may simply have to imagine it, but I can remember it, because it’s where SJ and I were last week.

And there are so many good things to remember….

Listening to two wise and godly men lecturing. Being stretched intellectually and spiritually.

A group meal out on the second evening we were there. The dim lighting of Jamie’s Italian restaurant. SJ and I were sitting at a table with a girl we’d only met within the last hour, and a guy and an older man to whom we had never spoken until they joined us at our table. And we had over two hours of delightful conversation, talking about differences between America and Britain, about Lewis books, and more besides. It felt as if we sat down as strangers and got up as friends.

Touring The Kilns, where Lewis lived for most of his life. It’s a red brick house with a profusion of pink roses in the garden. Inside, it is a simple home, light years away from the splendours of Blenheim Palace, which we’d visited the day before, but much more special to me because of its former occupant. Our guide had a ready supply of Lewis anecdotes to hand, which included telling us that Lewis and Warnie gave their carpets a second purpose in life by making them serve as impromptu ash trays….

Laughing with our two new friends from the north of England, as one of them ribbed the other: “Tell them about…”.

A banquet in a room which has apparently been described as the most beautiful in Europe. I can see why. The ceiling is covered with intricate carvings on light stone—that  combination of strength and delicacy which is gothic architecture at its most enchanting.

Afternoon tea at the Randolph with our kind friend C and one of the conference speakers. Eating scones with jam and clotted cream and laughing a lot.

Good memories indeed.

God is good. I think I came away recognising that a tiny bit more than I did before.

Last week also reinforced to me again that there are very good and godly people outside of the particular segment of Christian tradition with which I am most familiar. And I can learn from them and respect them even if I disagree with them on some issues–even on important issues. Furthermore, some of them have thought through their positions much more clearly than I have thought through mine. Orthodox Christianity has bounds, of course, but those bounds are wide, not narrow. Just look at church history!  And we need each other. Yes, there may be things that you can teach other Christians with whom you have areas of disagreement–but there are probably also things that they will be able to teach you. And before any of us can teach or learn from each other, we need to try to love each other (note to self here!). After all, Jesus said that people would know we were his disciples because we love each other, not because we agree with each other about everything….

It’s always sad to come to the end of an event like this—to say goodbyes, to be plunged again into the normality of day-to-day routine. The events of last week happened once and nothing will ever happen again just like them. It’s over. But instead of uttering the “encore” against which Lewis warns in Letters to Malcolm–when “God shows us a new facet of the glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one”–I want instead to give thanks for what I have had, and to look forward to new blessings. I read a quote quite some time ago which said, “No one can steal the dance you danced”. I’m thankful for the “dance” of last week, which has given me memories I can treasure.

And I look forward to new dances.