Till We Have Faces

I said last month that I wanted to cuddle up with some C.S. Lewis during December, and I did. Thanks to my your recommendations (Jennifer, Rustin and I can’t remember who else), I chose Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold — Lewis’ “ultimate” novel.  (And Catherine, the space triology is next!)

I don’t tend to pick up fiction (not sure why), but I am sure glad I did.  As the snow started to fall here in the Midwest, the nights grew very long and dark and our imaginations turned toward Christmas stories like the original nativity and so many more, it was good to fall into a story from far, far away and long, long ago.

I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but in essence, Till We Have Faces is an imaginative retelling of the timeless story of Cupid and Psyche.  Now I didn’t know much about Cupid other than him being a big chubby baby that flings love-arrows at unsuspecting singles, but it turns out there’s more to the ancient Greek myth than that.

What’s interesting is that when Lewis heard the story of Cupid and Psyche as an undergraduate (perhaps still a teenager), there was one piece of it that didn’t make sense to him.  In the legend, when Psyche (born a mortal) is off living in a magnificent palace with her new husband, the god Cupid, it goes that her sisters were jealous of her and plotted to make her do something that would ruin her life.  Psyche did what they provoked her to do, and it did indeed ruin her happiness.

But Lewis never accepted that telling of the story.  Though just a simple detail, Lewis felt that surely the sisters could not see the divine magnificent palace.  They weren’t jealous; they simply didn’t have eyes to see the dwelling of the god Cupid.

Let me put it one other way.  When Lewis started thinking about this story as a teenager, he approached it from the angle that the humans were in the right (their doubts were well-justified) and the gods were wrong.  It wasn’t fair!  It wasn’t that they were jealous of their sister; they simply couldn’t see her new palace and concluded that she must be mentally unstable.  She must be living in a make-believe world and they had to end it for her own safety.

But as anyone who knows Lewis knows, the author of this book wasn’t the same person a teenager that he was later in life.  At the age of 32, C.S. Lewis had a profound conversion experience.  He reoriented his life away from doubt and instead, embraced Jesus Christ.  He became a Christian.

My favorite part of the book is, of course, the end.  Well now I am really spoiling it for people who haven’t read it.  Dang it, stop reading this blog now and go get the book!

Anyway, the end is satisfying and not.  I’m curious what someone whose heart isn’t open to God would think of it.  After hundreds of pages of the narrator making her firm case against the gods, she finally gets her answer in the end.  Of course, it’s not the answer(s) she expected.

It reminds me of something that Os Guinness is famous for saying to confused college graduates wondering what to do with their lives: “We are not called to something; we are called to Someone.”

Somehow, that is all the answer we need in life.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel FAR FROM fine

The worst thing I did this past summer was watch the movie Requiem for a Dream. What was I thinking? This Darren Afronsky film is a frightening, disturbing, graphic look at different forms of addictions and how our cravings and obsessions can end up devastating us.

Somewhere near the end of it where a guy’s arm is being sawed off (yeah, bet you want to know why, ugh!), I had a chill come over me unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I will tell you what happened to me: I had my first realization ever of the reality of death.  At the age of 27, it finally hit me just how real and potentially terrifying death is.

As a Christian, I think and talk a lot about death.  Realizing the reality of sin in my life and what it was doing to my soul, I thought about how sin leads to death.  Being baptized, I joined Jesus in death so that I could also join Him in new life.  Death is of course a radically more hopeful event for people of deep faith because they know it is not the end.  And our little Easter holiday, so innocent with its pastel-colored eggs and giant bunny at the mall, is the most powerful F-U to death ever.  Death has lost all its power thanks to Jesus.  Death is nothing.  It’s only the letting go of all that is temporary.  Death, in fact, is more a beginning… the start of what’s really real.  (I always loved that quote, “Death is simply blowing out a candle… because morning has come.”  Still gets me even now.)

So this is my background and I believe all this as much as I can (“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”).

Yet at the end of Requiem for a Dream, I finally realized at a very personal level that my body… this body that sleeps in my bed every night, and kisses my husband… this body whose teeth I brush, that I haul to the gym, that’s captured in so many digital images and known as me… THIS body WILL experience death!  It is a shocking and unfathomable truth.  (Or of course, Jesus may return in some way first… almost more shocking. lol)  I guess I am having a hard time articulating something that may be simple to others but to me was a very radical and incredibly scary revelation.  Death became real.  (And maybe you can tell, but I’ve never had anyone very close to me die except my Grandmas.  I am fortunate.)

I cried a few tears thinking about what inevitably lay ahead for me and for all of us (and Tom encouraged me in his simple and authentic way that I love, calming me.  I tend to think I know so much more about spiritual things than him, but here I am always running to him for words of truth and peace when I am upset.  The first time we had a conversation like this is when I knew he was the man for me).  Yes I want to live fully in God’s presence someday (heaven!), but I also kinda like my life here on earth.  I still haven’t had children which I really want to do.  I haven’t done so many things.  And worst of all, I fear the pain and the specific way which I will die.  Again, I know it sounds so cliche to fear death, and the whole point of trusting God with my life is to replace this fear with Love and Hope.  But never had my beliefs become so real and been put to the test.

Now I’m with all of you out there who have been saying 2009 was a tough year for the world and bring on 2010.  I’m happy for the new year and the new decade, too.  But “2010” sounds a little too chronologically close to “2012” – namely, December 21, 2012.  The thought has kind of tarnished the excitement of “twenty ten” for me.

I knew about this date before it was a big Hollywood action film (which I have no interest in seeing —  I don’t like action / special effects type films anyway, and one that will freak me out about this date would not be helpful).  My Dad told me about the Mayan connection to December 21, 2012 a couple years ago.  My parents do a lot of “New Age” reading and learning.  This is the end date in a 5, 125 year cycle, recorded in the uber-accurate Mayan calendar.  The Mayans were an extremely advanced civilization, at least in understanding the universe and time.  Their calendar is much more accurate than our Gregorian calendar, what with all our changing weekdays, different numbers of days in each month and a Leap Year every so often to clumsily make up for the inaccuracies.

The reason that this date is significant is because on that winter solstice, our planet will align with the center of the galaxy (I believe… I could be wrong).

The main theories for what will happen that day are either, A. There will be a massive spiritual transformation upon the earth, a positive thing… or B.  The world will end.  We will all be annihilated.  Not positive, in my view.

Now I’m really hoping for A. lol  And my Dad is a firm believer in A being the likely winner.  But B is always a possibility.  “No one, not even the Son of Man, knows the day or the hour,” but can I just say that several civilizations besides the Mayans have come up with this same date?!

So now we’ve got Requiem for a Dream, 2012… what else is freaking me out about death?  Oh yeah, the nightly news!  Have you watched that lately?  Our world events are getting crazier everyday — more extreme weather, drought, famine, terrorism, wars, and lately I keep hearing about kids killing people… children killing!  I don’t know, maybe we just didn’t know about all of our world’s madness before globalization and the internet? but it definitely seems to be getting exponentially worse.  I even fear that the very-overstretched U.S. will eventually be attacked and at only 330 million in a world of nearly 7 billion people, we will soon become the overpowered minority rather than the superpower.  (This is partly why I am so vehemently opposed to things like torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and other violations of the Geneva Conventions.  I believe that as we do, so it will be done unto us.  If we oppress and torture others in our great power (even those who we THINK may be terrorists, but have no proof or even charges of, by the way… these prisoners have been sitting in Cuba for 9 years now with no charges brought against them in a court), then someday if the tables are turned, we will likewise be tortured and oppressed.  The other reason is that torture is just wrong, illegal and it doesn’t work — duh!)

Well enough of my fear ramblings.  I have never been a fearful person until the last year.  None of this has been really REAL to me before.  But now it is.  The world is changing very quickly and any instant, we could be devastated by one of a thousand possible scenarios — weather-related, politically-motivated, even just the crashing of our financial markets which just became much more real to most of us…

It’s time for me to choose hope over fear.  Now that death has become “really real,” it’s time for God and Life to become just as many times more real.  Each time I feel fear, I am reminded that my trust is in myself rather than in God.  Facing these fears, while just something that plays out in my head and heart, is a true test of my faith and a real chance to grow closer to the God I confess and profess.  (Quite honestly, it’s probably a time for me to learn more about Christian eschatalogical views too, but between a third of the people I know being all pre-trib, a third being amillennial and another percentage being transmillenial, there is really too much jargon for me to even want to enter the conversation.  Aren’t we supposed to be busy LOVING God and people?  I guess eschatalogical study fits squarely into those two most important commandments for most people, but for me, it’s incongruous.)

One thought helps me… We are in this together.  Regardless of what happens, I am connected to some pretty amazing people that are, thankfully, more faith-filled than me (may I learn from them!) and a blessing and encouragement.  I like to keep coming back to this thought about community.

In some ways, all of this seems kind of petty and ridiculous.  Just live in the moment, right?  Everything will be fine?  I guess I am glad I am taking these questions seriously, because I hope they will lead me to serious, deeper truth.  My search for what’s “really real” may have started with death, but I doubt it will end there.