Idolatry of the Heart: Till We Have Faces (pt 2)

 
The novel, “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis, has been an instrument of truth that God has used in my life over the last year. This powerful narrative story has taught my heart so much about possessive love, jealousy, and where our true identity is found. My hope through this post is that God would use my pain, His voice, and the words of a brilliant author to inspire and challenge each of you in this journey toward sanctification.
Thank you for your support. I could not do this without each of you in my life.

My own journey begins much like Orual’s.

I am the oldest child to my parents: driven, smart, resourceful, passionate. And as deeply flawed as the next. Before this August, when I finally grasped the concept of my identity in Christ (thank you, Elyse Fitzpatrick for your stunning work on union with Christ in the book Found in Him), I weighed my value on my skills. I was an avid reader by age four, an all-star softball player by age twelve, a talented musician by the time I auditioned for vocal performance in college, and a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard Master’s licensed captain (less than 1 percent of license holders are women) by the time I was twenty-five. I thought I was pretty hot stuff. BUT NONE OF THOSE THINGS DEFINED ME.

So, like any good twenty-something, I had a quarter-life crisis in an attempt to find my identity.

In Till We Have Faces, Orual has no identity either. In a patriarchal society where women are valued much like property, she is an inconvenience to the royal house. She is not beautiful, not a man, and not afraid to stand up to her tyrant of a father. After Psyche is born, Orual proves a loving caretaker. But soon Orual begins to think that her being needed by Psyche is the only thing that matters in her life. “I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I  could set her free and make her rich” (Lewis, Faces 23). It is this distorted view of love—idolatry, really—that begins Orual’s descent into darkness.

Growing up, I had always wanted a sister, a “bosom buddy,” as Anne of Green Gables calls her friend Diana. Someone to share secrets with, have tons of inside jokes, talk about crushes—typical girl shenanigans. Except I was never that girl. I was the tom-boy. I had a brother and we played “war,” and kickball, and Legos. My desire for a “best friend” constantly plagued my junior high and high school years as I gravitated toward one friend, then another, constantly cycling through them based on my needs and insecurities. With each of these cycles, I would lose myself; my interests and dreams would be put aside in favor of championing my friend’s dreams. I needed the emotional approval so much that I would become someone I thought they would favor, instead of being myself—a person I did not quite know yet.

Going to Bible college opened up a whole new side to this pattern. There was a new level of intimacy between friends: the Holy Spirit. None of my friends in high school had been strong believers, and here I was, surrounded by people who all loved God and loved me too. It was surreal. I remember one night, as a freshman, sitting on the roof of the dorm with a new friend and pouring my heart out over some grievance I had, and to my astonishment, she completely understood me. There was no judgement, only what seemed to be love and affirmation. She prayed for me, comforted me, and this natural high built up inside me. I could not get enough of these new friendships or experiences. A seed was rooting deep in my heart; a voice was beckoning me to seek after these spiritual highs.

It was the voice of longing.

C.S. Lewis defines longing as, “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” Momentary experiences of satisfaction, through sudden encounters with beauty in nature, literature, or music, more often through the memory of such encounters, only intensify the desire, and the pain always associated with it…unlike other desires, in which pain arises from the absence of satisfaction, pain is inherent in this desire. (Schakel 30)

Longing is the drive behind every poem, novel, symphony, painting, photograph, opera, relationship. Longing is the God-shaped hole in our hearts. And everyone has the hole, though what shape it distorts into over time is unique to each person. “Because we are made in God’s image, we are hardwired to love oneness and fear and despise isolation. It’s in our DNA, which is one of the reasons that we’re always hoping to find it in relationships or experiences” (Fitzpatrick 22). Our longing is the natural desire to look toward Heaven.

Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me to longing, always longing…it almost hurt me…The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing––to reach the Mountain, to find the place where beauty came from” (Lewis, Faces 74-75)

Psyche understands the longing. Christ understood it too, when in anguish on the cross he pleaded, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Orual only understands the longing of her own selfishness, her possession over the love that she shares with Psyche. It is a twisted and dark love, full of manipulation, which only leads to pain. There is no outward growth in Orual’s version of love. She tries to fill her eternal longing with another mortal being and the consequences prove disastrous.

The grief that has beset me in my adult life, realizing this longing, and how poorly I have tried to satiate it with other people is not unlike Orual’s. Only I praise God that He has allowed me to see it while still in my youth. Orual is not so fortunate. Her revelation and repentance happen at the end of her long life. Like Orual, many people resign their lives to pain and idolatry, to satiating their deepest longing with people, or drugs, or any number of vices, because it seems easier than fighting back.

It is worth fighting back!

Friends, I cannot implore with you just how important it is to fight back. Satan does not own us. We do not owe him any part of us: our pain, our fear, our disappointment. He uses those things to get a foothold in our hearts and fill us with doubt and self-hatred. “My aim was to build up more and more strength, hard and joyless, which had come to me when I heard the god’s sentence; by learning, fighting, and laboring, to drive all the woman out of me” (Lewis, Faces 184). Orual resigned her life to pain. She let despair dictate her future. What a bleak way to live, and yet how true is it for so many of us?

Last January, I made the courageous decision to start seeing a counselor. It has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Asking someone to help me battle Satan and the demons of my past was like asking to be burned at the stake. I wanted to break the cycle of my dependency once and for all. I wanted God to completely blast through the darkness and pain with His love and truth. I was stripped, completely emptied of myself. All my shortcomings, accomplishments, identities, relationships; God took each one away so that I was left in a room with only Him. And it was terrifying. I no longer had anything to use as a defense to guard my pain.

This last week was absolutely heartbreaking. Almost unbearable. I am in a place of this healing process that hurts so much. I am so tired of being in so much agony over my shortcomings. I need to let You fill the hole in my heart that I have clung to with mighty control. The place I have not wanted anyone to know about. I am a scared, dependent, little girl shrouded in anger, envy, deceit, pain, false pride. I am ready for the shroud—almost burned onto my heart—to fall.     (West,  Journals)

To my astonishment, a short time after I wrote this journal entry, I read this in the New Testament:

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree to another. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

With unveiled face we behold the glory of God. That shroud, that brandishing mark that I let define me for so many years, removable? Wholeness and transformation are attainable, but not in our own strength, not without divine love.

There is a section in the story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (also written by C.S. Lewis from his “Chronicles of Narnia” series), where one of the characters goes through a drastic transformation from a hideous, scaly dragon back into a little boy. The imagery is powerful and heart-breaking. The dragon-boy tries to scrape the scales off by himself, layer after excruciating layer, but they keep growing back. Finally Aslan (the Christ-type) tells the dragon that only He can remove the scales. Aslan digs His lion claws into the dragon. “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt” (Lewis, Voyage 89).

Orual has a similar experience at the final inquisition of her life. “Each breath I drew let into me new terror, joy, overpowering sweetness. I was pierced through and through with the arrows of it. I was being unmade. I was no one” (Lewis, Faces 307). God must empty us in order to fill us with Himself. When we have spent the majority of our lives filling the hole in our hearts with idols, it takes immense suffering to purge the evil out. And this process happens over and over in this life. I am not disillusioned into thinking that I have “fixed” all my issues. But the gift of security that I have knowing that my identity is in Christ, and not another person, has greatly reduced the trauma that I inflict upon myself.

This healing journey has to begin with the knowledge that we will always be seeking to fill the holes in our hearts that have been left from the effects of the fall. We will be left empty. We will be left wanting. We will feel needy. But that’s okay. It is probably the most difficult part of this life, but we must remember that Christ intercedes for us. He fills the void. He sacrificed His life so that God’s wrath would not continuously obliterate us.

One of my favorite Christian writers, Luci Shaw, quotes Gerald May in her book, Breath for the Bones, saying, “Our lack of fulfillment is the most precious gift we have, It is the source of our passion, our creativity, our search for God. All the best life comes out of our human yearning—our not being satisfied…we are meant to go looking and seeking”  (Shaw 152). We are hard-wired for this longing, these mysterious experiences that we have in bright, screaming flashes. It is God reaching down to touch the finger of Adam, to illumine the human race.

He is there: comforting us, pursuing us, fighting for us, preparing for us, refining us.

I can tell you that my desire to fill my heart with another human will always be a temptation for me. I will always desire to share my life fully with another, to feel the seduction of being fully understood, fully known, fully loved. But the truth is, I will never receive that in this lifetime. Nor will any of us. Humanity does not have the capacity for this knowledge or love. Only God does.

That does not mean that we should abandon our relationships, however. There is a healing power and a genuine purpose for friendship in this life. God has gifted us immensely with the presence of each other:

We were all created with the ability, the need to reach out, to join ourselves with others, in love, to feel with and for others. The words “sympathy” (with-passion) and “empathy” (in-passion) both tell a story. We are to stand alongside our friends, entering into their passionate struggles and trials and triumphs, feeling their pangs of pain and the brimming over of their pleasure. Mirroring back to them, sometimes, their better selves, when they need our affirmation and encouragement. Giving them permission to mirror back to us our less attractive attributes, so that we can better “see ourselves as others see us” and work on personal transformation with God’s help. (L’Engle 50)

My friends have proven to be immensely supportive and loving through this last year of tumult. There were some days that I could not see past my grief, and my friends manifested Christ’s love by praying, giving hugs, laughing, sometimes just being present. I am sure there will be more of those days to come—for all of us—but what a relief to know that God is there, and that He has sent us friends to comfort us. We are to be as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), strengthening and challenging each other through this life. Where idolatry is the false filling of our hearts, love is the purity, the purpose that will see us through until Christ comes again.   Amen.


“I loved her as I would once have thought impossible to love, would have died any death for her. And yet, it was not, not now, she that really counted…the earth and stars and sun, all that was or will be, existed for his sake. And he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is, was coming.”

Till We Have Faces, 307


“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more.”

(Revelation 22:2-4)


Works Cited

Fitzpatrick, Elyse M. Found in Him. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Print.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. Print.

L’Engle, Madeleine and Luci Shaw. Friends for the Journey. Anne Arbor: Servant Publications, 1997. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1960. Print.

——–. Till We Have Faces. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1985. Print.

——–. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: Macmillan, 1952. Print.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. New York: Grosset and Dunlop. 1989. Print.

Schakel, Peter J. Reason and Imagination in C.S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing,  1984. Print.

Shaw, Luci. Breath for the Bones. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. Print.

West, Chloe. Personal Journals. Chicago. 2013-2014. Manuscript.

Idolatry of the Heart: Till We Have Faces (pt. 1)

I am going to submit a synopsis of the book, “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis to give you a feel for the storyline if you have not read it prior. I would highly recommend you read this novel, however, if you want a more profound grasp at what I am going to talk about in Part Two of this post. This is a brief synopsis and some parts of the story are omitted for the sake of time and also for the relevance of the subject matter which I have chosen as the central theme for this post. 
When I first read this book as a freshman in undergrad I had no idea how deep Lewis was taking this “myth retold.” It was a fascinating story, a more intimate re-telling of the Greek myth, “Cupid and Psyche.”  I understood Lewis’ use of archetype and symbolism in his references to Heaven, the Christ-type, and our sin nature. What I did not realize–until re-reading it this last year–is just how depraved and selfish Orual’s sense of “love” truly is. Read the synopsis (read the book, better still), and then I will present in Part Two why this story was instrumental in helping me realize my own depraved sense of “love,” and the neediness that has consumed my heart for the majority of my life.
                                                                                                                            ~Chloe

In the novel Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, the theme of idolatry is startlingly prominent. Not only does the author harken back to mythology, using gods and rituals to propel the story, but he also addresses most profoundly the sin of idolatry of the heart in the heroine Orual’s journey. Her obsession with her half-sister Psyche is not only unhealthy, but utterly destructive. Orual is so blinded by her need to be loved by Psyche–at all costs–that she creates a surreal world barred off from rationality and true love: the love of sacrifice, honor, and dignity. Psyche’s role as the antithesis to Orual is a startling reminder of purity and strength, not unlike the love of Christ.

In the story, Orual is the oldest of three sisters, all abhorred by their father. She is called “ugly” from a young age and is set aside as something not valuable, being born a woman in a patriarchal, mythic society. In late childhood, she begins her education with a Greek man named, “The Fox,” and begins to realize the value of her mind. Her baby sister, Psyche, is born, and something deep inside Orual begins to churn. Orual takes it upon herself to act as the baby’s mother, guardian, sister, friend. From a young age, this need to be “needed” plagues Orual and only grows increasingly worse as time passes. She feels justified in her possessiveness over Psyche, detailing the ways in which she has cared for her over the years, protected and loved her. “I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I  could set her free and make her rich” (Lewis 23).

Orual is clearly deceived about what true love is. Her tunnel vision for the absolute control of Psyche blinds her to all other types of love in her youth. Her mentor, the Fox, loves her dearly as a father figure; gentlemen suitors value her mind over her looks though she continually doubts this; Psyche loves her deeply as well, but not on the terms that Orual demands. It is not until much later, through a series of traumatic events, does Orual learn what sacrificial, untainted love truly is.

The city of Glome, where the tale takes place, is struck by a plague. The crops won’t grow, and the people are afflicted with disease. They believe they are cursed by the gods because there is no male heir to the throne, so they take their anger out on the royal family–Orual’s family. The people demand a sacrifice to Ungit, the goddess of the mountain who is their spiritual queen. They demand blood, a human sacrifice. They demand Psyche.

Orual is crushed to the core when she hears of the demand for Psyche’s blood. How could the people kill a girl who is so pure of heart? How could the gods demand to take away the person that Orual holds most dear? This further infuses Orual’s hatred for Ungit, a battle she will struggle to fight for the rest of her life. It is ironic, but well juxtaposed by Lewis, that the idolatry in the hearts of the people is the worship of the goddess Ungit, but the main character’s struggle with idolatry is solely reliant on another human being. Psyche is tangible, beautiful, full of goodness and grace; she is the embodiment of humanity before the fall. “she was ‘according to nature’ what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance” (Lewis 22).

Orual’s longing for acceptance and love are sought in Psyche. There is a constant churning in her soul, a constant waiting for approval from her beloved, a constant seething of frustration and jealousy when those desires are not met. And Psyche tries to point Orual in the right direction time and again. Psyche herself understands that the longing that they both have will not be met in this world:

Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me to longing, always longing…it almost hurt me…The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing–to reach the Mountain, to find the place where beauty came from–” (Lewis 74-75)

Psyche is able to articulate her desire for something other than the hardship this life has to offer. And through this whole conversation before Psyche’s execution, all Orual can do is cling to the possession that has kept her afloat through most of her young life.

Psyche is taken up to the mountain to be consumed by “the Beast,” a sacrifice that requires consumption of the victim by the god of the mountain’s son. It is a violent and traumatic death, but one that provides the people of Glome atonement for the sins of the royal house. Orual is beside herself, becoming so ill that she can’t even leave the royal house. She is spared the ascent up the mountain, spared watching her beloved be consumed by an angry god. But she is not spared the emotional scarring of losing the only person whom she has lived her whole life for; this is what begins to destroy her internally.

After the sacrifice of Psyche has occurred, the people of Glome go back to their normal routines. They have accepted that the gods are back on their side and resume their daily trivialities. All except Orual. She is consumed with the mission of retrieving Psyche’s bones, consumed with having the last physical piece of Psyche in her possession. She journeys up the mountain with a trusted soldier from her father’s army and searches in vain for the bones. There are none to be found. Psyche has been entirely consumed by the beast–or has she?

Orual sees Psyche on the mountain, almost in a dream, and quickly reunites with her sister. They spend time talking; Psyche chronicles the night of her execution and Orual refuses to believe what she is hearing. It sounds too mystical to be true, too supernatural to a person who has no belief system involving a higher power. And yet here is Psyche, unharmed–even healthy–in front of Orual, and still her doubts consume her. Orual demands proof from Psyche of this “god” whom she speaks of, this “husband” of hers that has fulfilled such a special place in her heart. Orual manipulates Psyche into testing her love for this god. She demands and orders and begs, quite selfishly and foolishly. And Psyche cannot help but appease her.

Oh Orual–to take my love for you, because you know it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of mastery, an instrument of torture–I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here. (Lewis 165)

This is the moment that changes their relationship forever. This dependent, selfish love is finally severed. “I know that I am betraying the best of lovers and that perhaps, before sunrise, all my happiness may be destroyed forever. This is the price you have put upon your life. Well, I must pay it” (Lewis 166). Psyche, once again, is the sacrifice. She is the lamb to be slaughtered. And she goes willingly, knowing that it will destroy her. And Orual is still clinging to her jealousy and possession. So that same night, when Psyche acts out Orual’s request in order to “prove” to Orual that Psyche truly loves her, the inevitable tragedy erupts.

Orual demands that Psyche hold a lamp up to the face of her beloved husband while he is sleeping to see whether he is truly a god, or just some vagabond that has kidnapped her. The god awakens in a fury and consumes the palace and all the surrounding land in a flood, banishing Psyche and cursing Orual to the end of her days. Utter disparity befalls both women, Psyche weeping all the way down the mountain, lost forever; and Orual, trudging back to a soul-less life leading the people of Glome for the term of her natural life. Both are condemned and love-less. Both are punished equally for their act against the gods.

For the next few decades, Orual rules the kingdom with authority and wisdom, bringing Glome back to its status as a prosperous city. She has chosen the life of celibacy, never marrying despite offers, because she believes that she deserves the punishment that the god of the mountain cast upon her. She frequently remembers and dreams of Psyche, longing to have her back, wishing she had done things differently, reeling from the loss of her beloved. She never fully learns how dependent and caustic her love for Psyche is, until the very end of her life.

She is put on trial by the gods, summoned by them for an explanation of her actions. In this last stunning chapter, Lewis recounts the whole story from Psyche’s perspective for Orual, allowing her to experience the pain and sacrifice that she went through for the love of all the people that demanded it of her. It is heart-wrenching. It is visceral. It is necessary for Orual to finally understand just how selfish and evil her heart really is. Her possession of Psyche is utterly destructive. “Never again will I call you mine; but all there is of me shall be yours. Alas, you know now what it’s worth. I never wished you well, never had one selfless thought of you. I was a craver” (Lewis 305). In this last inquisition, where her sins are laid before her and judged, Orual finally understands what it means to love selflessly, fully. It is never too late for repentance. “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer” (Lewis 308). You are yourself the answer. 


Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1985. Print.

Baptism by Fire

Annie Dillard wrote the seventy-six page book Holy the Firm while she was living in Puget Sound, Washington. It reflects her observations of the beautiful, mountainous, ocean-filled scenery, as well as her questions about theology, doubt, beauty, innocence, friendship, and love–specifically God’s love. The spiritual and emotional journey that Dillard takes through this book is shockingly articulate, full of compelling vignettes–particularly one of a moth being consumed by a flame. Her finely crafted sentences and subtle observations of the life–and death–that is revolving all around her, allow the reader to luxuriate in the English language; but more importantly, allow questions about the nature of violence to be asked in a more intimate way with the Creator-God whom Dillard captures so gracefully.

The book is broken into three sections: “Newborn and Salted,” “God’s Tooth,” and “Holy the Firm,” from which the book takes it’s title. The first section details space and time; creation is the forefront of the conversation. The second section is about the community Dillard lives in; specifically about a little girl, named Julie, and how a traumatic accident forever changes this young girl’s life. The third section is a compelling exposé on how God can allow terrible things, like Julie’s face being burned off, to further the purpose of His kingdom. Many questions are asked; many accusations made against this arbitrary malevolence. Dillard ties it all brilliantly together with a parable about the fiery consumption of a moth.

Violence plays a main character in Holy the Firm. It is the means through which humanity must learn, must come to terms with sin, must be reflected upon as something significant in the suffering and salvation of Christ. Violence is the action that drives the plot of this life. “Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flame-faced children, to remind us what God can– and will–do?” (Dillard 61) Only through violence does Dillard question God, question His goodness and grace. In the first section of the book, Dillard chronicles an evening she spent camping in the woods and the untimely demise of one particular moth which happened to fly into her reading candle:

A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch wingspan, flapped into the fire, dropped her abdomen into the wet wax, stuck, flamed, frazzled, and fried in a second…her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly…all that was left was the glowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax–a fraying, partially collapsed gold tube jammed upright in the candle’s round pool. (16-17)

Even the vocabulary of this occurrence is violent. “Frazzled,” “jammed,” “blackened” etc, all suggest that destruction plays a central part in this life. But the plot turns most gracefully. Dillard transcends the moth’s fire-born death and instead focuses on the renewed purpose of the creature.

The wax rose in the moth’s body from her soaking abdomen to her thorax to the jagged hole where her head should be, and widened into flame…that candle had two wicks, two identical flames of identical height, side by side…She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning, only glowing within. (17)

The only place to find hope, in a life so full of destruction, is in Christ, who is our renewal. He is the wick that stands beside us, with us, in us, burning strong so that we also may burn. His ultimate sacrifice on the cross is the epitome of human suffering, so that our suffering may be comforted in the knowledge that He has gone before us. Apostle Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The moth’s flame-consumed death was only a flash, a momentary act of destruction, so that her shell could be used for the glory of the flame itself, which, “burned for two hours, until I blew her out” (Dillard 17).

God’s eternal flame of glory burns through us. Humanity is evil, selfish, deceptive, lawless; God is light, perfection, eternity. In order for life to make any sense, factual knowledge must be tempered with child-like faith, faith that allows us to see past the pain and destruction and into a glimpse of Heaven. “I came here to study hard things–rock mountain and salt sea–and to temper my spirit on their edges. ‘Teach me thy ways, O Lord’ is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend” (19).

Dillard asks the difficult questions. “Has God a hand in this? Then it is a good hand. But has he a hand at all? Or is he a holy fire burning self-contained for power’s sake alone?” (48). She even blames God for the defilement of young Julie’s face:

Of faith I have nothing, only of truth: that this one God is a brute and a traitor, abandoning us to time, to necessity and the engines of matter unhinged. This is no leap; this is evidence of things seen: one Julie, one sorrow, one sensation bewildering the heart, and enraging the mind. (46)

How can humanity justify atrocity on its own? How can life garner meaning in a world full of senseless violence and despair? “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is only through the grace of Christ that we have hope.

The last section of Dillard’s monumental work is titled, “Holy the Firm” and in it, she attempts to break down this idea of hope in Christ, meaning through oblivion.

And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do: churn out enormity at random and beat it, with God’s blessing, into our heads: that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. Who are we to demand explanations of God? (61-62)

Only in this time of intense questioning, can we seek the truth that is God’s to illumine if he so chooses. Finding meaning comes at a cost, usually a heavy one. Only in the utter violence of the destruction of our souls will we find any comfort in truth. And in order to achieve this “death,” we must be baptized into a “new life.”

Dillard uses the image of consumption by fire as an allusion to baptism; utter dependence on a renewed life. “When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is an abomination” (72). Only Christ can give the direction and hope needed to reconcile this life. “His face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm” (72). He is holy and he is firm. Christ is the tangible element to having an intimate relationship with the omnipotent Creator-God.

It is through this relationship with Christ that the gap between the veiled darkness of this life and the enthralling light of God are truly united. We are “Held. Held fast by love in the world like the moth in wax, your life a wick, your head on fire with prayer, held utterly, outside and in” (76).

Dillard knew that she–and we–must die to self, must fully realize destruction and violence, in order to turn our hearts in full repentance toward God. “So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21) This is the truth that compels. This is the fire that quenches our hearts.

“I am moth; I am light. I am prayer and I can hardly see” (Dillard 65).


Works Cited

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Thinline Ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway
Publishers, 2011. Print.

Dillard, Annie. Holy the Firm. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1977. Paperback.

Idolatry of the Heart: Jane Eyre

This post begins the series, “Idolatry of the Heart,” which I will be writing to address the nature of dependent love in a variety of forms through literature. This subject is something I am passionate about exploring because I believe we all fill our hearts with things (and people) who are not our first love: God. I am constantly challenged and convicted by this truth and I hope that these posts will stir something inside of you as they have in me. Literature is such a tangible space for us to find our humanity; to explore the severity of our sinful nature. Only through story can we better understand and be understood.
This first post is special because Jane Eyre is one of my absolute favorite novels. It is startling, honest, and full of the passion of a heroine worth looking up to. Jane is a substantial woman of character. There’s really no other way to say it.  Her tenacity and conviction are something that I long to see more of in my own character, as I hope you will too. But she is not without fault. Her singular love for Rochester, and his jealous love for her, are prime examples of what a relationship can look like if void of the outpouring of God’s love first in each party’s life. 
Feel free to email or call anytime if you have a desire to discuss this topic further. I would love to interact with each and every one of you. 
                                                                                                    ~Chloe

 

In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Jane grows up estranged from all parental and filial love because of her status as an orphan. Her guardian, a selfish and evil aunt, has no regard for Jane’s well being and in fact loathes the child. This emotional detachment causes Jane to be much more rational and guarded through the early stages of her life. Only when she meets young Helen Burns at boarding school, does Jane begin to understand what friendship and a sense of love for another truly mean. But even that is prematurely ended with Helen’s death, and Jane is left again without friends or family.

Jane grows into an accomplished young woman and decides to advertise for a governess position. She is granted one at Thornfield Hall. Upon arrival, Jane eagerly begins teaching her young pupil, Adele, and begins slowly forming companionship with her and also Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper. But something is missing in Jane’s life. A sense of deeper communion, more intimate relation. “I desired…more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach…I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in, I wished to behold” (Brontë 104).

Jane intrinsically knows that something more is out there, and within her reach; but what she does not know is that this longing will manifest itself in the complete giving of her heart to a man named Edward Rochester, her employer. Jane meets her future companion on a dark, mist-filled night in the lane between Thornfield Hall and a nearby town. He is startled and transfixed by her; she, resolute and wanting to assist him with his injury, focuses only on the task and not the man–until she meets him again back at Thornfield.

Rochester demands that Jane sit with him as he formulates an inquiry into her character. He examines her art, asks her about her childhood, her education, her family. She complies, but not without flare and conviction. Jane knows her mind, she knows what is morally right and wrong. Rochester’s manner of speaking in grey, subversive tones confuses her, and in turn her answers convict Rochester. He has never met anyone quite like Jane Eyre. Nor she, him. This theme of deeper understanding, of unmet longings being addressed, of conversation having double meanings will be the foundation which Jane and Rochester begin building their love for one another.  “I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him…every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively around him” (Brontë 167).

The arrival of a band of houseguests at Thornfield hall briefly puts Jane’s relationship with Rochester on hold, mainly because of the impediment of a young woman named Blanche Ingram. Yet, despite all the assumptions that Jane makes about marriage between Rochester and Miss Ingram, she knows deep in her soul that the union cannot possibly be acted upon. “I was not jealous: or very rarely; –the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word” (Brontë 176). Jane knows that Miss Ingram’s character is shallow and she trusts that Rochester knows it too. “She was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature…she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own…she could not charm him” (Brontë 177).

Jane knows that she is not equal to Rochester in society’s terms, yet she cannot help but love him; he is the center of her small world, a spiritual and emotional equal. And Rochester, in turn, seeks solace in Jane to mend his troubled heart. This combination proves to be an ill-fated one as their love for one another grows more inwardly by the day. “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion…I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol” (Brontë 257).

It is no surprise to the reader that Jane has forsaken much of her “religious” upbringing in favor of this profound connection to her soul mate. She has previously been battered by effigies of religious mandate in boarding school, been obscured by a society that deemed her nonessential, and cut off from any sense of familial ties. God exists only to punish Jane prior to her meeting Rochester. Her soul has been deeply punctured by a longing for companionship; a longing that will ultimately never be met by another human being. And it will take the violent act of separation and despair for Jane and Rochester to realize that their love is not enough; that God must come first. Only from the outflow of God’s love will they be able to truly love each other.

Jane leaves Rochester upon discovering that he has another wife, an invalid whom he has locked up for twenty years. She steals away in the dark of night, escaping the house and Rochester, but not escaping her own tortured soul. “May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonised as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love” (Brontë 301). Only by leaving, coming to the utter ends of herself, does Jane discover who she is and what she really wants. She still loves Rochester, but knows she cannot have him in this life under the present circumstances without ruining her soul.

Overcome by the weariness of travel, she stumbles across the threshold of St. John Rivers, a clergyman who lives with his two sisters in a small farming town. Jane is immediately taken in and cherished by the sisters, inspected by the brother, and given employment as the local school teacher. She passes time in this small world, another sphere that delights her as Thornfield once had. She discovers through a solicitor that she is actually kin to St. John and his sisters. This brings Jane much joy, and she elects to use her inheritance to support them all, sharing with them something she has been longing for her whole life: family. But even through all these events, something is still missing. Jane has to surrender her heart to God, which she finally does after an argument with St. John in which he forcefully demands she be his missionary wife.

Jane knows that going to India will lead to her death–both spiritual and physical. She cannot go with St. John without denying every part of who God created her to be. This revelation allows Jane to finally accept God as the most important and reliable source of love that she has experienced thus far. It compels her to pursue a new life, pursue a renewed relationship with Rochester, pursue the freedom that comes from allowing God to fill the longings in her heart.

Rochester also painfully learns of his need for God’s love in his life, but in a more violent way than Jane. It takes the burning down of Thornfield, the death of his wife, and the mutilation of limb and face for Rochester to finally resign his impetuous heart to God. But what a miraculous transformation he has:

My heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now. He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely…divine justice pursued its course, disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death…I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. (Brontë 416-417)

Later in the chapter Rochester also remarks, “I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life that I have done hitherto!” (Brontë 418).

Through their simultaneous–yet separate–journeys, Jane and Rochester reconcile their hearts to God and to one another. The love that once kindled between them, idolatrous and jealous in nature, is now perfected through their mutual respect and love of their Creator-God. They are equal companions pursuing life, constructing new memories in love, without the compromise of possession. Neither desire the other to be something they are not. And God blesses their union through the close of the novel.

 

 

Idolatry of the Heart: Introduction

I’m beginning a series titled, “Idolatry of the Heart” based on the readings of classic fiction and my own personal insight. I hope to someday take this series and turn it into a book about the pitfalls of idolatrous love, specifically that of a co-dependent nature. If you have not read the novels which I will be using for these posts, I recommend it prior to reading the blog–as I will most likely give away plot points to propel the theme. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, then feel free to read at your leisure.

I would also love to use this as a platform for discussion, debate, and healing. I know for a fact that all of us struggle with filling the void in our hearts with things other than God; it is in our sinful nature. Over this past year, I have sought counsel, grappled with immense amounts of pain and rejection, and unraveled to the point of despair. BUT, I have learned the most profound lesson we can learn in this life:

Only Christ can fill that empty longing in our hearts. 

Despite this knowledge changing my life and allowing me the strength to keep growing, I know that it will not be easy. Knowing truth does not mean that the pain will be any less, or that the longing won’t be severe in our pursuit of Him. But by embracing the truth that through Christ this life is bearable, we can step forward: healing can commence through filling the gaping wounds in our hearts until they are mere pin-pricks.

I am passionate about this topic; about reaching out to you all with the truth that has been revealed to me over time and much pain. I hope these posts challenge and inspire you to seek your own healing. There is nothing sweeter in this life than reconciliation, especially with your Creator-God. Nothing. I pray that these words fall from the page into your heart. Let God change you, sharpen you, fill you. That hole that you fill with idols–let Him occupy it instead.

The road is not easy. The path to purity is wrought with pain and suffering. But if we do not suffer, then Christ’s purpose was in vain. We are only being perfected through suffering so that we may be more worship-filled when we see our Lord again.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-5)

Revelation

Turpitude: vile, shameful, or base character; depravity.

       In the Flannery O’Connor short story Revelation, Mrs. Turpin is the embodiment of the stereotypical southern church lady. Her belief in her own perfect, seemingly innocent impression of herself and lack of knowledge of how the “other half” lives is ultimately what causes her spiritual demise by the end of the story. This self-discovery, or “revelation,” as the title so appropriately suggests, manifests itself through the use of harsh dialogue within the small confines of a doctor’s office, and then later in the symbolic scene of Mrs. Turpin hosing down the hogs on her farm. Both scenes create a palpable discomfort for the reader and an obvious call for Mrs. Turpin to finally realize her sin of self-righteousness, arrogance, and pride.

     The scene is set. A comical batch of misfits find themselves jammed into the small lobby of a local doctor’s office in the deep south. Within the twenty or so minutes it takes for our timely drama to unfold, all hell breaks loose. Set in motion by Mrs. Turpin, the anti-heroine; Mary Grace, the pock-faced college girl and seer; her mother, the passive, southern image of church going perfection; and the white-trash woman whose comments exacerbate and enlighten, the dynamics of this story have enough edge to slice up some fresh-baked biscuits, certainly piled with heaps of lard for taste.

     Mrs. Turpin is demanding: in her physical largeness, as well as in her assertion of voice. She is the queen of this lobby. She makes that very clear with her passive-aggressive way of refusing a seat, when she could humble herself and ask the group for admittance into their meager world. When a seat finally does open up, it takes all her effort just to squeeze in. “Well, as long as you have such a good disposition, I don’t think it makes a bit of difference what size you are” (O’Connor, 406). This is the first justification addressed. Gluttony. Mrs. Turpin has been affected body and soul with it.

     As the characters begin to assert themselves into meaningless banter to pass the time, we see O’Connor settling into a social commentary of the day in the grotesque, harsh way in which she is best known. She does not stray away from the colloquialisms and vocabulary usage of the deep south, often including the n-word and “white trash” to harshly juxtapose the more gentile. O’Connor chooses to narrate from an objective third-person voice, but then frequently interrupts herself–rudely–with Mrs. Turpin’s inner dialogue, informing the reader’s opinion and distorting the objective voice.

If Jesus had said, “you can be high society and have all the money you want, and be thin and svelte-like, but you can’t be a good woman with it,” she would have to say, “Well don’t make me that then. Make me a good woman and it don’t matter what else, how fat or how ugly or how poor!” Her heart rose. He had not made her a n— or white trash or ugly! He had made her herself and had given her a little of everything. (O’Connor, 413)

     Mrs. Turpin is the very essence of a “good” person on the outside. She loves Jesus, she puts up with unfortunates, she dotes on her husband, she is outwardly kind, blah blah blah. It is disgusting to watch her interact with the other people in the lobby, clearly saying one thing, and then be forced to hear what goes on inside her head, her genuine opinion. And her justification is the worst of it! She truly deceives herself that what she thinks is right and that God should listen to her and act accordingly. As if she was God’s champion judge of who is to be deemed “worthy” to live on this earth! Her self-righteousness is appalling.

   Ironically, the person who sees right through the facade of this lobby conversation is not the negro delivery boy, the nicely dressed woman, or the white-trash, snuff-stained woman; it is the pock-faced college girl who is speechless until her abrupt condemnation of Mrs. Turpin spews out of her in a sudden act of violence. O’Connor uses the awkward, educated “northerner” to deliver Mrs. Turpin’s social death sentence. “‘Go back to Hell where you came from, you old warthog’ she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target” (O’Connor, 416).

    Using the apropos image of a hog (the Turpin’s own a pig farm), the girl’s judgment strikes a deep chord in Mrs. Turpin. Her pride is at stake. What uglier, meaner, dirtier animal could the girl have used to convey her hatred for everything Mrs. Turpin stood for? It is the ultimate disgrace. And all the lobby attendees witnessed it. Of course Mrs. Turpin recovers with great charisma and shakes the whole incident off, but it penetrates to the very core of her being. It scares her. It makes her question the almighty God, the who she is so quickly disposed to thank for his provision in her life, as seen earlier.

   Back at home, the day is wrapping up for the Turpins. They both end up sleeping off the trauma from the doctor’s office for most of the afternoon. When they awake, the sun is low in the sky, the workers done in the field, and another day has consumed their lives. Mr. Turpin takes the negro farm workers home and Mrs. Turpin finishes his work down in the barn, hosing down the pigs and having a row with God. “The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hard-working, church-going woman. The tears dried. They instead began to burn with wrath (O’Connor, 418).

    Her anger grows with each jab she hurls toward the sky. The internal conflict she is having is full of self-righteousness. Mrs. Turpin feels that God is singling her out when he should be teaching a lesson to the “white-trash” and the “n—.” Irony is wound tight, almost to a breaking point. It is in this final, excruciating wind-up that Mrs. Turpin has her true revelation. The words of the acne-riddled girl are still reverberating in her head, but something changes. The sun sets calmly, methodically, creating a space for one last vision to puncture Mrs. Turpin’s thick soul.

There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black n— in white robes…and bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like Claud and herself, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it…they alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away. (O’Connor, 423)

   In a magnificent sweep of justice, O’Connor forces Ruby Turpin to come to terms with herself, her God, her view of humanity. And it disturbs her deeply. Not only does Mrs. Turpin see the processional is all its gross indecency (that she would be marching at the rear?!), she fully understands that God has created all people equally; Ruby Turpin may have “God-given wit,” but she is no more valuable in God’s eyes than those she shares this earth with, even the unfortunates. As the sky fades into darkness, Mrs. Turpin’s soul awakens to a new reality. “What she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah” (O’Connor, 424).

“Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourself, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”  

-Matthew 23:13

 
 

 

Works Cited

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Thinline Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway    Publishers, 2011. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery. “Revelation.” Three. New York: Signet Classic, 1983. 405-424.

“Turpitude.” dictionary.com n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.