A Pageant Played in Vain

On my mind – Jack, Planet Narnia (Sol), and poetry. (Thank you, Mr. Ward for sharing Jack)


A Pageant Played in Vain 

 

Watching the thought that moves

Within my conscient brain,

I learn how often that appearance proves

A pageant played in vain

 

Holding what seems the helm,

I make a show to steer,

But winds, for worse and better, overwhelm

My purpose, and I veer

 

Thus, if thy guidance reach

Only my head, then all

Hardest attempt of mine serves but to teach

How oddly the dice fall

 

To limbs, and loins, and heart,

Search with thy chemic beam,

Strike where the self I know lives apart,

Beneath the surface dream

 

Break, Sun, my crusted earth

Pierce, razor-edged, within,

Where blind, immortal metals have their birth,

And crystals clear begin

 

Thy spirit in secret flows

About our lives, in gloom,

The mother helping not nor hindering, grows

The child within the womb

 

~ CS Lewis

The Small Man Orders His Wedding

Dear Robstroud,

I just read your blog post of April 22, and what you said got me thinking. Too many thoughts for a comment box, but I suppose my blog is the perfect place to speak my mind without worry about overstepping the boundaries of “elegant sufficiency.” Here is a quote from your post:

 

     “That said [comment on the bizarre matchmaking and marriage en masse of the Church of Unification], I have no doubt that—due to the earnest commitment and efforts of both parties—many of these marriages end up happy. After all, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

‘Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go… But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love”—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. . . . “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.’

In the case of Unification Church members, even if the relationship lacked an emotional stage of “being in love,” it doesn’t mean that it is destined to fail. Far from it, since, as Lewis wisely points out, true love isn’t about feelings.”

(See the whole post here)

 

That quote from CS Lewis is such a great vision of the right idea of love and the foundation of a good marriage; that once we are committed to do a good, we sometimes need to call on a deeper love (or faith) to get us through the times when we don’t feel like doing the right thing. And (thankfully) I think you are right; with good will and effort on both parts, even an arranged marriage can work out in the end, and be successful. I think I would just add the clarification that comes to mind; which is that based on several of his works and commentaries on marriage elsewhere, I don’t get the idea that Lewis is downplaying sensuous pleasures (like romantic love), as much as reminding us to know their right place. And I feel it is a difference that is worth outlining, lest we carry with us the wrong impression. Christianity is not pessimistic because it must endure hardships sometimes; it endures hardships if needed because it is hopeful; it has a vision of a better world.

Many times in life a person might choose to do something for what he considers to be a higher reason or “good;” and so he might choose to deny emotions or physical desires like “romantic love,” personal preferences and tastes. But I think it’s important to remember that while there will be plenty of moments during which sacrifices will need to be made, the proper ideal by which to judge marriage as a whole is not its sacrificial aspect. When you change the order of priorities, then your outlook, modus operandi and your results will necessarily change. It may be right or good for me to live and do the best I can within the circumstances in which I find myself, even if the circumstances are not to my liking; a stage of marriage that has less or no “romantic/in love” feelings, an arranged marriage, slavery, poverty, etc.  That is, as Lewis put it, “My Story;” what I ought to be concerned with is doing what is right for me, in my situation. But that does not mean it would be right for someone (anyone) to make another person a slave, to force others into poverty, or to force or even induce other people to marry for their reasons. (Not even a “church”.)

For marriage, says Chesterton, like most important things in life, is one of those things that “…We want a man to do for himself, even if he does [it] badly… In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.”(GKC, Orthodoxy) Why? Because life is about the man, not the man about the life. (“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27) And the reason for that is in its essence, that we are children of God, growing up into “sons of God.” In our youth we must be shown the way; and sometimes good must be imposed upon a child, so that by doing, eventually he can grasp the concept his parent is trying to teach him. But in the end, what the parent really wants is for that child to grow into a man – a man who understands the value of good, and who wants to do what is right and will be good for him and his life. And it’s the same with God. He wants us to come to understand what life is really about, what is important, and what is not, and to be able to choose good for ourselves. From a Christian perspective, life (and everything in it, including marriage and all that it entails) is for our good – the good of each and every man. But part of that good comes of and through having made the choice freely, lovingly and willingly; this is a part of what will in the end actually be able to induce us to be strong, constant and honor our word.

It has been truly said that marriage is a vehicle that will help men and women grow immensely, and if we choose to open ourselves up to the experience, we will learn how to do good, be strong, and grow in our courage and love; we will reap the precious rewards of relationship. Especially if we do it – as we ought in any thing we do – as unto The Lord, and with a whole heart to our best ability. And yet, like other good things, our Father made marriage a good thing which was meant to be enjoyed as well; the sexes are naturally attracted to each other, they fall in love, and can give each other delight, comfort, strength, and so many wonderful, beautiful and amazing things. But simply because those beauties are not always present in marriage, or because there is an aspect of utility in marriage, or food, or any other thing, does not mean we should now be solely utilitarian in their application – that would be to become less, not more. And (like the Tardis) we are bigger on the inside; we are not just flesh or spirit, but both – and probably incredibly more than we have so far imagined. As Lewis says in his beautiful essay, The Weight Of Glory:

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit….”

 

But because we are not mere mortals and have free will, we can go both ways; every day we are becoming as Lewis puts it, “A creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” I think this is why we are inclined to be cautious (if overly so at times) about certain things (especially the sensual pleasures), because we know from experience that even a “good thing,” i.e. food, work, rest or sex, when followed utterly and unchecked, very quickly ceases to be a good. But while a Christian might decide to sacrifice a “lesser” good for a “higher” good sometimes, he is not also applying a “sour grapes” philosophy; that since sometimes certain things must be done without, we should lessen our natural desire for those things and learn to see those things as less important or “not good.” What we should do, is be willing to go without, if needed (Phil. 4:11). George MacDonald says, “Let me, if I may, be ever welcomed to my room in winter by a glowing hearth, in summer by a vase of flowers; if I may not, let me think how nice they would be, and bury myself in my work. I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got [or, as the Buddhist, by learning not to desire what we have not got]. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and [yet] be content without it.”

Romantic feelings may disappear, tend to be dangerous, and are not the main thing on which to build a marriage and life partnership. So are we as Christians to disregard or downplay “romantic love” when seeking marriage? Lewis says in his poem “Five Sonnets,”

 

 “Pitch your demand heaven-high and they’ll be met.

Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)

Your earthly love.”

 

Michael Ward sheds light on Lewis’ works on the subject in Planet Narnia, and points to the idea that if we have our first principles in place, as when a Father is watching over his children, then secondary things have room to come in, find their place, and be “Blessed by Jove” as Lewis says. The Pevensie children (in Lewis’ Prince Caspian) can enjoy the company of pagan festivities and even wine, while Aslan is there to oversee them, and to keep everything in its good or perfect place. “As we learn from one of Lewis’s Poems, ‘The Small Man Orders His Wedding,’ it is in

 

‘Jove’s monarchal presence bright’ that ‘Aphrodite’s saffron light’ may shine. Venus, more than any of the other planets, can properly operate only under Jupiter’s sovereign and cynosural influence.”

~Michael Ward, Planet Narnia

 

But in the end, The Small Man must order his own wedding – Why? Because it is his wedding; it is a promise he must make, and  be accountable to keep. And interestingly, the things that men decide to do on their own are larger in scale by far than the things one man can coerce another man to do. Given free will, a man invariably sets out to do the most difficult or impossible task imaginable: conquer the world, scale the highest peak, cross the oceans in a raft or the skies in a balloon, discover things no one has ever discovered before, or even save a life, devote themselves to love a small furry animal, raise children, and bind themselves to love, honor, and protect that one special person; in sickness, and in health… for as long as they both shall live. As Lewis pointed out, “Being in love was the explosion that started it… ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity [-and it is that amazing peak of emotion that leads the soul to make promises]; this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.” There are times in the best of marriages (or enterprises) when, as Lewis said, those feelings of being “in love” will not be as strong, or even seem to be there at all. And that would be the time to look to that deeper, quieter and enduring love, and choose to grow from small men into bigger men, that we may fulfill our promises. And in attempting to keep that incredible promise, we become more than we were yesterday; repeated again, and again, and again, until the small man sheds his skin, and steps out into the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

 

The Small Man Orders His Wedding

With tambourines of amber, queens

In rose and lily garlanded

Shall go beside my noble bride

With dance and din and harmony,

And sabre clash and tabor crash

And lantern-light and torches flash

On shield and helmet, plume and sash,

The flower of all my armoury;

 

Till drawn at length by tawny strength

Of lions, lo! her chariot;

Their pride will brook no bridle – look,

No bit they bear, no farrier

Ere shod those feet that plod the street

Silent as ghosts; their savage heat

Is gentled as they draw my sweet,

New tamed herself, to marry me.

 

New swell from all the belfries tall,

Till towers reel, the revelry

Of iron tongue untiring swung

To booms and clangs of merriment!

While some prepare with trumpet blare

Before my gates to greet us there

When home we come; and everywhere

Let drum be rumbled steadily.

 

Once in, the roar and din no more

Are heard. The hot festivity

And blazing  dies; from gazing eyes

These shadowy halls deliver her.

Yet neither flute nor blither lute

With pluck of amorous string be mute

Where happy maids their queen salute

And candle flames are quivering.

 

What flame before our chamber door

Shines in on love’s security?

Fiercer than day, its piercing ray

Pours round us unendurably.

It’s Aphrodite’s saffron light,

And Jove’s monarchal presence bright

And Genius burning through the night

The torch of man’s futurity.

 

For her the swords of furthest lords

Have flashed in fields ethereal;

The dynasts seven incline from heaven

With glad regard and serious,

And ponder there beyond our air

The infinite unborn, and care

For history, while the mortal pair

Lie drowned in dreaming weariness.

 

~ C.S Lewis.

 

 

 

~ Watergirl

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

When we say no to a “Higher Being”/creator (who is outside and other than ourselves), by default we choose “ourselves” as ruler; however, it is interesting to note that we do not end up ultimately keeping this power and thereby actually “ruling” ourselves. What actually happens is that our “power” is inevitably given up to our baser instincts which degrade us to less than we were before, when we were under the rule of a “higher power.” This “power” or will of ours, when taken out from the obedience to God and his rules and put into our own hands does not long remain in “our” hands.

Christianity says that it seeks to raise man to be a son of God, but we must submit our will to another in order to get the training and achieve the end result. The religion of self induces us to think if we keep our own will we “shall be as gods.” The simple truth is that man on his own can never be a god, without the help of one who IS, and can show him the way. Just like a child who cannot be an expert in algebra, a nuclear physicist, a machinist, a pilot, a neurosurgeon, and all the other sciences that have been developed, without someone to teach him. He may stumble upon a brilliant discovery, but generally he has to know a few things in order to string the ideas together. He has been given a hand up by the vast mass of men who have shared their experience of the world, and he is then said to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

~ Watergirl

Five Sonnets and Jack

Five Sonnets – have I mentioned that I ❤ Jack?

 

I.

You think that we who do not shout and shake

Our first at God when youth or bravery die

Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache

Than yours who rail. I know you do. Yet why?

You have what sorrow always longs to find,

Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;

Anger’s the anesthetic of the mind,

It does men good, it fumes away their grief.

We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate

Is equal. After that, for us begin

Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,

And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win

A high, unearthly comfort, angel’s food,

That seems at first mockery to flesh and blood.

 

II.

There’s a repose, a safety (even a taste

Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair

Which we’re forbidden. We have to rise with haste

And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.

Our Consolation (for we are consoled,

So much of us, I mean, as may be left

After the dreadful process has unrolled)

For one bereavement makes us more bereft.

It asks for all we have, to the last shred;

Read Dante, who had known its best and worst –

He was bereaved and he was comforted

— No one denies it, comforted – but first

Down to the frozen center, up the vast

Mountain of pain, from world to world, he passed.

 

III.

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock

At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found

Even a door – only smooth, endless rock,

And save the echo of his cry no sound.

It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin

To fancy that those echoes (hope can play

Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;

Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.

Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give

The thing we want. We ask what isn’t there

And by our asking water and make live

That very part of love which must despair

And die and go down cold into the earth

Before there’s talk of springtime and rebirth.

 

IV.

Pitch your demand heaven-high and they’ll be met.

Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)

Your earthly love. Why, yes; but how to set

One’s foot on the first rung, how to begin?

The silence of one voice upon our ears

Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems

A lying brag; the face we loved appears

Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.

“that long way round which Dante trod was meant

For mighty saints and mystics not for me,”

So Nature cried. Yet if we once assent

To Nature’s voice, we shall be like the bee

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

 

V.

‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,

‘And told her, “Not that way! All, all in vain

You weary out wings and bruise your head,”

Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,

“Let queens and mystics and religious bees

Talk of such inconceivables as glass;

the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,

Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!”

We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows

What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)

And shake her out – and gaily out she goes

Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,

To drink their hearts. But left to her own will

She would have died upon the window-sill.

– C.S. Lewis

 

~ Watergirl

A Dream

I had a dream, and I hope you won’t mind terribly if I tell it. I was thinking about superheroes, and I had just read MacDonald’s chapter on Sorrow, the Pledge of Joy before I slept. And in that subconscious domain of dreams, somehow these two twined together into a thread, and the thread began to weave a story.

* * *

I dreamed there was a large old mansion, and the mood in the halls was very somber and sad. It seemed that there was a gentleman who had lived there and had been master of the house; he had been a good man, and was loved dearly by all who met him. It appeared that he had been in the habit of going out in to the town to help incognito – bringing to mind the idea of the aristocratic hero with a double identity like The Scarlet Pimpernel or Bruce Wayne. He had saved the defenseless, and always appeared to help when there was a need, although his heroic deeds were done in disguise or secretly. But now the gentleman had retired for some unknown reason, and had suddenly abandoned the town, his estate, staff and people. The townspeople mourned the loss of their mysterious hero, the staff were sad that they had lost their master, and there were also rumors of a woman the master had loved deeply and had once intended to marry, but whom he had also abandoned along with the rest. The woman had apparently now gone away, and the staff were all trying to figure out what to do next, and how to find new positions in other estates.

There was a new person at the head of operations in the grand old house, and preparations were being made to sell all remaining items that had not already been sold, and to liquidate the property. This new property manager was inspecting all the furniture to be sold, and reviewing and making inventory of everything with the master’s old butler. A courier appeared in the doorway to receive a package (it appeared that many items that had been sold from the estate were now regularly being delivered in this fashion). Waiting for his charge, the courier walked into the room and began to observe as the property manager and butler were inspecting the pieces. As they looked over an old bureau, a ring was discovered in the bottom drawer. The property manager looked at it, and not deeming it worth much scrutiny, gave it to the servant to inventory. The old butler had just been referring to an old family history and records book, and this book not only had the family records, but also had records of all the important pieces of jewelry, sculpture, art that were owned by the master. The butler took the ring in his fingers, held it up to the light and inspected the piece closely. It was a ring with three clusters of diamonds (three in each cluster), and tiny delicate leaves. Then he glanced back at the book he had just been consulting, and on the open page there was a family tree drawn across the two page spread, embellished and flowing with scrollwork, flowers and tiny birds. As he looked back at the ring, he noticed that it was a replica or representation of the little flowers that appeared here and there throughout the flowing embellishments on the page. It seemed to the butler that perhaps this had been the engagement ring, intended for the master’s fiancée.

At this, the master’s old butler took the courier aside, and along with some private instructions gave him the ring. The courier took the ring to the address given by the butler, and rang the bell. As the as the door was opened by the servant, it revealed the hall of a beautiful penthouse mansion filled with beautiful furnishings, pieces of art and other decorations. Golden sunlight streamed through the windows, and its beams shone softly and beautifully throughout the whole entryway, and the courier could not help but be drawn in by the scene that shone so beautifully before him. His gaze followed the rays of light as they glimmered on the pieces of art, the vases and statues which basked in the sunlight.  As the servant who opened the door accepted the ring, the courier began to notice that everything looked rather familiar, as if he had seen these very decorations, pieces of art and furnishings somewhere before. He suddenly realized that he had just seen these very pieces depicted in the pages of the book of records the old butler had, and which they had just been inspecting at the old mansion. The more he looked around, the more it seemed to him that everything that had been sold and taken away, had been brought here and placed in this new house. It dawned on him that perhaps this was the new home of the master of the old mansion, and that he was quietly transferring his prized possessions so as not to arouse suspicion. Knowing the state of affairs at the old mansion, the courier was suddenly sad. How could anyone do that to his staff, the people he supposedly cared about and even to the woman he loved? He had to know, so he requested an audience with the master of the house.

The master saw the courier out on his terrace, and the courier began to question him – how he could have left everyone behind, and how he could be so callous and uncaring? How could he abandon not only the village people who had come to depend on him, his household servants who had been so very loyal to him for so many years, but even the woman he claimed to love? The master looked at him, and then looked out over the terrace and said “I need you to do me a favor. Will you do it?” And the courier thought about it, and said that he would. So the master brought a rope, and asked the courier to lower himself down the side of the building to the fourth floor down. Once there, he must photograph what he saw in the window. So the courier took the camera, and with much difficulty (being his first time) let himself carefully over the side of the building. He swung from side to side, slipped, and struggled as he tried to hold on to the rope, not drop the camera, and somehow also get himself down the rope; but he finally did so, and arrived at the window on the fourth floor. Looking in the window through the glass, he raised the camera to capture the requested image. As the scene came into focus through the viewfinder, he saw a woman, sitting in a small apartment, crying. Slowly, recognition hit him – this was the woman the master had loved, in the very same apartment building – under his very roof and possibly even his provision and protection, and yet not even knowing it. Why would the master do that? Slowly the courier began to see that perhaps the master had not been so callous after all. He began to see that the whole time the master had been away, he was making preparations to make a new and better home for his love, and even his loyal servants. He had not abandoned those he loved, but had them in his mind the whole time as he prepared for their change; he had simply been unable to tell them about it for some reason. A reason which, now seeing with his own eyes the enduring love and care of the master, must have been a very good one.

* * *

The significance of the dream did not hit me till I woke up and reviewed it in my mind, and all of a sudden it hit me. At the time I had been desperately seeking answers to some of my questions, and it encouraged me so deeply to have a picture painted for me that tells of a story in which we are not just nothing, worthless or forgotten. (It reminded me of the film Anthony Zimmer, actually.) It whispered in my ear hope that the answers are coming; that there is a plan for taking care of a person even as small as I am, and that my questions are not cried out in vain. And it showed me a vision of a plan that is actually good, bright and beautiful; that even if I cannot see or have the answers I seek right now; there are answers, and that the answers will come when the time is right.

 

Watergirl