Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Weight of Glory

So, while blogsurfing, I came across "The Weight of Glory" which was inspired by the essay of C.S. Lewis of the same name.

Having never read the essay, I downloaded it. Quite expectedly, it's just brilliant. And beautiful. A few excerpts to whet your appetite.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.


Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere.


Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? "Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread." But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man's physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man's hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, thoug I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it is a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called "falling in love" occurred in a sexless world.
Read on!

(Passing thought: I've been toying with doing a reading group next year, maybe during Lent, where we read Mere Christianity together. I've always found that to be a fantastic text, and I've gotten a lot from rereading. Let me know what you think!)


assiniboine said...

Hmmm...are you sure you agree? I'm far from sure I do. Presumptuous though it seems, I sometimes do differ from C.S. Lewis (I find his "The Four Loves," for example, singularly unconvincing) in matters of religious interpretation, as to which he was an admitted amateur, though of course not with respect to literary scholarship, as to which even the singularly unimpressionable Northrop Frye (who was a clergyman first and a literary giant second) acknowledged Lewis's mastery during a miserable time at Oxford.

My reading of 2 Cor 4.7-18 is quite to the contrary. I appreciate that I stick my neck out in joining issue with old Jack, never mind thine own self, but surely St Paul is at least open to the interpretation here that we are in fact not to concern ourselves with the sensual or other delights of the world to come. That unlike the apparent inducements in the Qu'ran to the godly life -- limitless fountains of wine that delights but does not intoxicate; houris to titillate -- we are enjoined not to concern ourselves with what is beyond our imagining. To let the next world take care of itself, that is, because it is indeed a weight of glory beyond comparison, and to concern ourselves with what is indeed within our ken (visiting widows and orphans in their affliction, inter alia); that, as the 17th c. Latin hymn "O Deus, ego amo te" has it, "My God, I love thee not because I hope for heaven thereby...[but] solely because thou art my God...."

I should think there are some extremely good Methodist sermons in this text.

Gashwin said...

Actually I do agree (with Lewis), at least in the sense that we have this deep, in-built desire for heaven, and in some sense, our longings here are reflections of that desire for God.

Of course, what you say (and, possibly, many a Methodist sermon) isn't an incorrect reading of that beautiful passage from Paul. I don't see how it completely contradicts Lewis though. I surely wouldn't say that one should not at all think of the reward. The Lord himself urges us to! As long as it doesn't lead to a kind of purely hedonistic motivation for the 77 virgins of paradise or what have you.

Besides, even Paul can talk about the eye not seeing and the ear not hearing what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

assiniboine said...

Well yes, I think that that's what I had in mind as to what St Paul has to say. The very little indication we have in Holy Writ as to the circumstances of the
dead is pretty thin gruel and I stand by my view that St Paul is telling us not to worry our pretty little heads about it. And, fanatical Muslim terrorists aside, how many of us really do govern our behaviour by the expectation of a specific reward in the world to come?

It doesn't seem to bother Buddhists that they aren't promised much of anything at all (not, at least, as autonomous identities -- though I confess that my mind quickly wanders when Singhalese acquaintances start monologuing about their faith), but formerly Buddhist Muslim South Asians aside, Buddhism seems to be doing pretty well, and the historical record indicates that they probably converted because of the tax concessions in this life, not the promise of virgins (or raisins, depending on one's interpretation of the sura in question) in the world to come. (See Derryl N. MacLean, Religion and Society in Arab Sind (Boston: Brill, 1997)). So does Hinduism with its "If you're very very good you might come back as a cow," though Hindus tell me that is a dreadful monotheistic calumny on the reality of Hindu doctrine. And Judaism seemed to survive quite nicely for rather a long time with only Sheol on offer.

Oh, there's the prospect of nestling like Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, I suppose, but that doesn't, to be frank, hold much appeal for me. And "though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" is OK as far as it goes but its immediate implications are not very consistent with other austere indications of what awaits us. Far more in keeping with the general tenor of the little glimpses we are afforded is the staggeringly beautiful but still entirely conjectural description in John Donne's famous sermon (quite inappositely used by Vikram Seth as the epigraph to "An Equal Music," but oh well, why not): "And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkenesse nor dazzling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equall eternity."

(Don't ever use that as a non-scriptural lection at a funeral, unless it's for a perfect stranger, if you want to retain your composure.)

And it's far from being something that only vulgarity-eschewing Western Christians are prepared to settle for; one might have thought that impoverished Melanesians, whose earthly life is pretty devoid of splendour, might well go for the suggestions in the artwork of Hallmark cards, not to speak of Renaissance churches, as to what's going to be there When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder. But no, to my considerable surprise, their very favourite and most lustily hollered funeral hymn is the wholly a-sensual "It is well with my soul" (one I have not heard elsewhere, indeed, as I am quite sure is also your case, so I provide its text, but don't order it up for my own defunctive orgies if you have any hand in them, thank you):

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Gashwin said...

Oh I think we agree. And really, the whole point of Lewis' essay is most certainly not that we while our hours wondering on the joys of heaven. Just that these joys and the joys of this world are related. And we have this inbuilt desire for this joy, the joy that only the Lord can fulfill.

It would be quite an honor to have a part in your, as you so delightfully put it, defunctive orgies. Not anytime soon!, I hasten to add!