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I always give pause when these two…

…find themselves in some sort of agreement on a matter.

Listen to Tyler Durden soar to idyllic heights:

“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through  the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and right-away destruction of civilization.

This is really one of the most prominent themes in Fight Club: self-destruction as a means towards a new reality, “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer…Maybe self-destruction is the answer.” The entire notion of a fight club involves the desire to explore the possibilities of ruin. But here Mr. Durden reveals an internal motivation for all his mayhem: peace. A peace that Durden (that is, Palahniuk) believes will come with the inception of a Thoreau-goes-green sort of simplicity, “Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover.”

Imagine my surprise when I found a similar sentiment in some lines of verse by the esteemed Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. The lines are from his poem, “Pan’s Purge,” (c. 1947) found in Poems.

Lewis begins with the death of Pan, Greek god of nature, which is precipitated by “the planning of peremptory humanity”:

But the lion and the unicorn were sighing at the funeral,
Crying at the funeral,
Sobbing at the funeral of the god Pan.

The poet lingers over the mourning for another stanza before turning to the vengeance hinted at in the poem’s title:

No longer were they sorrowful, but stronger and more horrible,
It had only been a rumour of the death of Pan.
The scorpions and the mantichores and corpulent tarantulas
Were closing in around me, hissing Long live Pan!
And forth with rage unlimited the Northwind drew his scimitar,
In wrath with ringing scimitar
He came, with sleet and shipwreck, for the doom of Man.

A falling of fire and brimstone like something out of John’s Revelation commences, leading the poet to conclude:

It was the end of Man;
Except where saints and savages were kept from his ravaging,
And crept out when the ravaging
Was ended, on an empty earth. The new world began.

Perhaps I’m just a naive post-modernist, but I can hardly imagine a more fitting visualization to these lines than the cataclysmic ending of the cinematic adaptation of Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

And here is where an eerie similarity in the post-apocalyptic vision of Chuck Palahniuk and C.S. Lewis becomes apparent:

A small race – a smiling heaven – all round the silences
Returned; there was comfort for corrected Man
Flowered turf had swallowed up the towered cities; following
His flocks and herds where nameless, untainted rivers ran,
Leisurely he pondered, at his pleasure wandering,
Measurelessly wandering…
Clear, on the huge pastures, the young voice of Man.

The rural swallows up the industrial. The organic survives the mechanical. Patches of green grow atop the factory’s grave.

Now, what cannot be done at this point is to pave over all the other glaring differences between Palahniuk and Lewis. Because they are legion. What I’m doing here is playing the part of the archaeologist who has discovered the same religious artifact on opposite sides of the globe. Or different planets, for that matter.

In both Palahniuk and Lewis, there is a longing for something here. What is it?

A new creation.

Lewis loved his outdoor walks. It is obvious that they had a spiritual dimension. They allowed Lewis to behold the beauty that pointed him to its Maker. “Pure white magic,” Lewis once said in the midst of some English woods. I believe this juncture between the spiritual and the pastoral is illustrated well by one of Lewis’ walks, as recorded by George Sayers in his biography of Lewis, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. On this walk, Lewis and his brother, Major Warren Lewis (or “Warnie”), encounter the famed Tintern Abbey. Lewis comments on the sight:

Anything like the sweetness and peace of the long shafts of sunlight falling through the window on this grass cannot be imagined. All churches should be roofless. A holier place I never saw.

Some read Genesis and say that all the world was made a sanctuary. I think Lewis would probably agree. But nature is not the only holy place, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” “God’s temple is holy,” he continues, “and you are that temple.” New creation. We want to see it in nature. Ironically, nature wants to see it in us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Palahniuk and Lewis longed after the same thing. Palahniuk explores this longing with the literary device of a fight club, a kind of resurrection of medieval flagellation, where one tries to force a new creation within the self through clenched fists and violent pain. But this is like the child who thinks he can measure the moon by eclipsing it with a quarter. All the revolutions in the world can’t save the soul of a man.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says the Son of Man, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There will be an end of all things…

…but at the center of the new Jerusalem is a tree of life, the leaves of which will be “for the healing of the nations.”

“Behold,” announces Christus Victor, “I am making all things new.”

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In chapter 13, we reach the conclusion of the interview between the Lady Spirit and the Dwarf/Tragedian Ghost. The Dwarf shrinks into nonexistence upon choosing his “self-made misery” over the joy of Heaven. The Lady returns, in unaltered perfection of love and joy to the procession that celebrates her. Upon the reunion, the “Bright Spirits” come forward to receive her and sing something that sounded very familiar when I read it:

“The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her
joy.
She is the bird that evades every net: the wild deer that
leaps every pitfall.
Like the mother bird to its chickens or a shield to the
arm’d knight: so is the Lord to her mind, in His
unchanging lucidity.
Bogies will not scare her in the dark: bullets will not
frighten her in the day.
Falsehoods tricked out as truths assail her in vain: she sees
through the lie as if it were glass.
The invisible germ will not harm her: nor yet the glittering
sun-stroke.
A thousand fail to solve the problem, ten thousand choose
the wrong turning: but she passes safely through.
He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road
where she must travel.
They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her
toes in the dark.
She may walk among Lions and rattlesnakes: among
dinosaurs and nurseries of lionets.
He fills her brim-full with immensity of life: he leads her
to see the world’s desire.”

I’m certains other have caught this before (in fact, a brief Google search shows that they have), but it was still fun to realize that, in the Bright Spirits’ song, Lewis was giving us his paraphrase of Psalm 91:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place –
the Most High, who is my refuge –
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (known better to the rest of us by the name he used for all his mischief – Mark Twain) has made yet another posthumous reappearance into our daily lives with the publication of his autobiography, an event he would only allow to take place 100 years after his death.

It’s almost as if Twain realized that only a ghost lacking ambition would haunt a single house – he has apparently determined to haunt all the bookshelves across the nation. The Centennial Layaway, according to Twain, was intended to allow him the opportunity to be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent.” This has led some to believe that this gave Twain every opportunity to be as open as painfully possible. It is rumored that the text divulges certain details of  the author’s private life, including his relationship with an Isabel Van Kleek Lyon: a secretary he became romantically involved (such a powerfully deceiving past participle) with after his wife’s death (A note of potential interest: Twain was 69 when his wife died). This is, without doubt, a treasure for lovers of American literature. You can find it for about $35 here.

Another book of Mr. Clemens’ that I’ve recently thought to crack open: Letters from the Earth. Ironically, this is another book that was published after decades of hesitance. In this case, it was actually Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens, who voiced her objections over the book’s publication. After reading a bit of it myself, I can see why. According to the preface of the edition I’m reading, “Since 1960, the fiftieth anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, at least a dozen books about him have been published. In this abundance of knowledge and interpretation all his writings can be allowed to speak for themselves, and Clara Clemens has withdrawn her objections to the publication of Letters from the Earth.” Regardless, this book provides an intriguing glimpse into some of Mr. Twain’s religious notions.

In Letters, Twain, controversially enough, takes on the mantle of narrator in the form of Satan. It should be noted that this Satan probably isn’t the one we’re generally used to. Think William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This is a kind of diplomatic representative of heaven, who shares the same name as the traditional Satan, but only as a kind of tongue-in-cheek element. But, of course, we won’t look past the connotations of the name. I doubt Twain meant us to. The rest of the book follows suit with a kind of inversion of the Christian worldview. I’ll give you some samples of Satan’s letters back to heaven.

“This is a strange place [earth], an extraordinary place, and interesting. There is nothing resembling it at home. The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the earth is insane, Nature itself is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel…”

“…he [man] thinks he is the Creator’s pet. He believes the Creator is proud of him…He prays to Him, and thinks He listens. Isn’t it a quaint idea?”

“He [God] has one code of morals for himself, and quite another for his children. He requires his children to deal justly – and gently – with offenders, and forgive them seventy-and-seven times; whereas he deals neither justly nor gently with anyone, and he did not forgive the ignorant and thoughtless first pair of juveniles their first small offense and say, ‘You may go free this time, I will give you another chance.'”

“In your country and mine we should have the privilege of making fun of this kind of morality…”

I really felt as if I were reading a kind of sequel to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. However, where Lewis confesses, “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment,” I feel Twain feels more at home with this voice. That is not to suggest I consider Clemens to be a diabolical figure, only that he had certain frustrations to get off his chest that it does not seem Lewis possessed. In his lifetime, Twain lost both his wife and one of his daugthers, in addition to consistently finding himself in and out of debt. (in)Famous for his skeptical insight, Twain also turned his observing eyes upon certain notions of God.

(Note: C.S. Lewis lost his mother, his father, and his wife to cancer.)

I had a thought not long before thinking to read Letters. How the human condition is God’s greatest masterpiece.

Now, I’m going to have to ask you.

Don’t think I’m stupid.

Please.

I was thinking how the human condition is a beautiful metaphor. How we exist in this paradigm in which, as human beings, we are like sometimes-brave-sometimes-shivering creatures that walk down a hallway, towards a door from which no one enters. But all exit.

And we have never, can never, see what is beyond that door.

And so we wring our hands and write books and make solemn speeches. We play our violins and our drums. We eat oranges and sigh over pictures. We take trips and make babies. We climb trees and bake cakes. We let people cry and we go to help them cry less. We take communion and give vows. We make toasts and final bows.

And brace for the exit.

Because, after all, this could be it.

(I had a dream. I had the great existential moment in this dream: “You will die.” It was of cowboys and indians. I fled on horseback with another. But he always had the head-start. They clipped my partner. I try to drag him to safety through the tall grass and swaying trees. But there I stand. In western overalls and a cotton shirt. Sweat stings the eyes. Hat long gone. The man in black has his dark gun on me. “Go ahead,” I say, “Just shoot.” In this dream I feel the bullet. It hits me like a smiling Roman candle, incense fragrance erupting. Eyes shut in the slow motion dream dark. Afterwards, utter only, “Hello?”)

The floor beneath keeps inevitably moving, endlessly leaning, towards the door.

And people suffer. And some exit early. (Though Enoch and Elijah took some side door. We must ask them about it.)

And we decide what we are.

And our souls are in this convection oven. The pressure of the hot air is undeniable. Lewis wrote Grief Observed. Twain wrote Letters from the Earth. Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Paul wrote Romans 7. I write things. You probably have as well.

I can’t show you what’s beyond the door. Any more than Mayan “scholars” can tell you we’re all done in 2012.

It’s one of those things you kind of have to figure out for yourself.

“Suppose someone asked me, when I see a man in blue uniform going down the street leaving little paper packets at each house, why I suppose that they contain letters? I should reply, ‘Because whenever he leaves a similar little packet for me I find it does contain a letter.’ And if he then objected – ‘But you’ve never seen all these letters which you think the other people are getting,’ I should say, ‘Of course not, and I shouldn’t expect to, because they’re not addressed to me. I’m explaining the packets I’m not allowed to open by the ones I am allowed to open.’ It is the same about this question. The only packet I am allowed to open is Man. When I do, especially when I open that particular man called Myself, I find that I do not exist on my own…”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 25

 

daniel