I had hoped to post over the weekend, but some computer glitches and just a general time crunch kept preventing me from getting here. It's been a very stressful week at our house, for various reasons related to jobs and finances. Not that there hasn't been a lot of such stress for the past year or more, but most days I've been able to retain a sense of peace and even (sometimes) a sense of humour. This month has me feeling like I'm treading water against a mighty current that's threatening to dash us against a rock. I found myself tearing up this morning as I read Sarah her morning Bible stories -- she wanted "Jesus Calms the Sea" again. "The water is HIGH!" she exclaimed in wonder, pointing to the big waves churning against the little boat. Indeed! I was so glad to get to the next page, with the sea and the wind calm, the sun shining, and Jesus' words "Why didn't you trust God?" (hear that, heart?) along with the disciples' awed "Even the wind and waves obey him!" To which Sarah replied something along the lines of "That's pretty neat!"
Feeling somewhat fragile emotionally this evening, and just received news that an old and dear friend lost her sister a few days ago. Her sister died at almost eighty and had lived a full and vibrant life of love, but I know the loss will go deep for my friend, because they were best friends.
Suffering, loss, difficulties, stress...they're part of this life, and they shape us. God uses them to shape our hearts for his purposes, for his kingdom and glory, for HIMSELF. That's the good news I cling to in the midst of my own weariness, and in the midst of the suffering of loved ones and of so many others I don't even know.
All of which seems to tie in somehow with Lewis' Till We Have Faces. I reached the staggering and yet immensely satisfying end of the book over the weekend too, and fortunately I don't feel I have to retract any of my earlier comments, made when I was still in the middle of the story. I still feel that this is best looked at as a journey story, the story of a soul's journey from baseness and brokenness to wholeness -- or at least as whole and peaceful as it gets this side of eternity. For a story that's set in a mythic, pre-Christian age, it's absolutely steeped in Christian themes -- though they're not explicit. Maybe because for Lewis, everything in the "old stories" contained at least a hint of the "true Story" simply because the true Story IS true, and because the whole world now and for always has "held together" in Christ.
The story was really about Orual's purificiation. Although she rails against the gods for causing (or at least allowing) her suffering, and though she believes her life has not been "fair" -- in point of fact, she is being readied through all her suffering for the moment when she can stand before them, realize their presence is the answer she's been seeking (very Job-ian) and realize too that all she has endured has not been in vain. It has, in fact, been a sharing in or partial bearing of another's suffering (her beloved sister Psyche) and it's also, in the process, shaped her so that she's become real -- real enough that she finally has a "face" and even a form of beauty after so many years of walking about with her ugliness veiled.
That veil is such an interesting part of the story. Orual first decides to wear it after she's gone through the terrible scene on the mountain in which she refuses to believe in the reality of the god of the mountain or his palace, where she cruelly manipulates Psyche into breaking faith with the god of the mountain, Psyche's husband. She seems to decide to wear the veil because she's suddenly come to terms with her ugliness. And yet she's lived with the fact of her physical ugliness for many years, and others have not let her forget it (Batta, her father). So why the sudden rush to veil herself? I can only think it's because she finally realized her spiritual ugliness, the state of her own heart. The veil might also symbolize her stubborn willfulness against *seeing* what her sister sees. She refused to see the realities before her on the mountain, even when given a real glimpse of the palace and even a glimpse of the face of the god who actually speaks to her! And in refusing to see (because she doesn't want to see, because if she sees then she will have to believe and her whole world view and everything/one in it will have to be altered) she shows her blindness, which the veil symbolizes.
Perhaps too the veil is a subconscious way of confessing (to herself?) that she *did* see, at least for a moment. In evening Bible reading we've been reading about Moses leading the Israelites, and recently read the story of Moses having to veil his face when he came down from the mountain where he spoke with God. For the radiance of God made his face shine.
In the end, Orual is given that kind of radiance. The prophetic word that she too is Psyche ends up meaning more than "you too shall live in exile." It means "you too shall be beautiful and loved and brought home at last, given a face that you can live with." (I'm indebted to Thomas Howard for some of these insights, though my own ideas are mixed up here with some of his. I was grateful to discover, as I read his thoughts on TWHF, that I wasn't so far off the beaten path with my interpretation of the story.)
Amy Carmichael, in the book of her meditations I'm still reading, commented that she once asked a goldsmith in India who was working at his crucible: How do you know how long to sit and wait? How do you know when it's purified?" to which he answered "When I can see my face in it."
The alchemy of God's love.
ETA: For some reason this posting is showing up as written on Sunday the 5th, probably because I started it then (I think I wrote two sentences before I had to save it in draft). But the full posting was really written late night Tuesday the 7th...yikes, it's actually past midnght now, so it's the 8th!