Images, Forms, Haunting, and Burning

I have come back to read The Pilgrim’s Regress again, and my sense of wonder is refreshed once more at CS Lewis’s depth of insight in this book. There are so many important and beautiful pieces – that is, pieces that are good, and true; and so, at the crest, crowned for me with the flower of beauty. Here is the poem that impressed me in this morning’s reading – enjoy. 🙂

 

Because of endless pride

Reborn with endless error,

Each hour I look aside

Upon my secret mirror

Trying all postures there

To make my image fair.

 

Thou givest grapes, and I,

Though starving, turn to see

How dark the cool globes lie

In the white hand of me,

And linger gazing thither

Till the live clusters wither

 

So should I quickly die

Narcissus-like of want,

But, in the glass, my eye

Catches such forms as haunt

Beyond nightmare, and make

Pride humble for pride’s sake

 

Then and then only turning

The stiff neck round, I grow

A molten man all burning

And look behind and know

Who made the glass, whose light makes dark, whose fair

Makes foul, my shadowy form reflected there

That Self-Love, brought to bed of Love may die and bar

Her sweet son in despair.

 

CS Lewis

 

Because of endless pride

Reborn with endless error,

Each hour I look aside

Upon my secret mirror

Trying all postures there

To make my image fair.

Pride breeds in its host endless error – our human desire to “look good,” or appear lovely and fair to others leads not only to error, but by erroneous judgements, also down a road that leads to emptiness and spiritual starvation. Because the appearance of one’s self is not a “real” or true thing, it can give no life, and so does not nourish or feed the spirit. Who can nourish himself from an image in a mirror?

 

Thou givest grapes, and I,

Though starving, turn to see

How dark the cool globes lie

In the white hand of me,

And linger gazing thither

Till the live clusters wither

How quickly we are tempted and seduced, and follow the lust of the eye, instead of that which would truly satisfy. And yet we follow, till the live clusters wither, as they must. Must we always dredge the bottom, before we will turn towards the light? Must we always be enchanted by reflections, before we can find them a sham, and before we are able to discern whence the good things flow? Ah, Father – help us!

 

So should I quickly die

Narcissus-like of want,

But, in the glass, my eye

Catches such forms as haunt

Beyond nightmare, and make

Pride humble for pride’s sake

If we will see them, there are shadow images also reflected in the mirror which are not lovely, and which are meant to wake us up out of the Narcissus-like enchantment of the mirror, which makes us desire to look on our own selves endlessly. If we will receive it, we may even be humbled and corrected by the nightmare shadows for our own pride’s sake, because they are less lovely than we would like them to be. We can learn to recognize the prideful postures as ridiculous, and out of some small love of our poor self, and wanting at least to be better than merely that which seeks to find beauty in its own reflection, we may find help in turning away our gaze from ourselves and the shiny spell of the mirror.

 

Then and then only turning

The stiff neck round, I grow

A molten man all burning

And look behind and know

Only by turning – and that with great difficulty – our eyes away from the image of our “self,” can we “grow a molten man,” and feel the soul’s true fire. And through that cleansing fire (of the Holy Ghost?), at the end, find the one who has real knowledge, and a true purchase on reality. Somehow to “see” is not the same as to comprehend, or to understand, let alone to know. And although it scares us, something in this fiery and somewhat dangerous “Molten Man” is more real – has more depth than the mere appreciation of our own reflection in the mirror. Something here at least is actually three-dimensional; it is real, living – burning with life. And like calls unto like – when our soul’s focus is in the right place, and the fire has burned away all appearances, suddenly the real can be revealed at last. Once the focus is off the self, our spirit notices and is drawn into the presence of another – the Father of our own soul.

 

Who made the glass, whose light makes dark, whose fair

Makes foul, my shadowy form reflected there

That Self-Love, brought to bed of Love may die and bar

Her sweet son in despair.

“Who made the glass, Whose light makes dark – makes foul my shadowy form reflected there…” – God help us find the true light, and not a mere artifact that, borrowing from the light of another, “appears” as light. And this  – “That Self-Love, brought to bed of Love, may die and bar her sweet son in despair.” What an interesting and deep picture. That this Self-Love, this “love” that coddles us, and “protects us” by her own maternal rules, coming into the the presence of true Love, from whom she herself originated in the first place, recognizes her own origin. And if she is true, seeing her master before her, she gives up her own designs, and even her own life, in deference to the one who IS Love. Despairing of any further good to come from her own small hand (in the true light of real Love), she gives her loyalty and being to the true Love, and she may then aid and bar the soul (her sweet son) from its enchantment and captivity to the looking glass.

 

“One thing you may as well know,” remarked the Guide, “whatever virtues you may attribute to the Landlord, decency is not one of them.”

This bit, which comes immediately before this poem in the book, is connected for me to the first stanza of this poem, “Because of endless pride, Reborn with endless error.” Stating the positive is almost always harder, so I’ll go to the negative to gain purchase on the idea; that somehow the idea of “decency” is not the same as Godliness – at least not in the way we tend to think about decency. And I think Lewis chose a particularly good word for this, because it defines the idea well, and it doesn’t merge easily into other definitions that are not true to his train of thought here. “Decency” may simply be a concept or pet peeve born out of the minds of men, and in connection with a desire to look good, and of the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. 

“Has no one told you that that Lady spoke and acted for all that bears, in the presence of all that begets: for this country as against the things East and West: for matter as against form and patiency against agency? Is not the very word Mother akin to Matter? Be sure that the whole of this land, with all its warmth and wetness and fecundity with all the dark and the heavy and the multitudinous for which you are too dainty, spoke through her lips when she said that He had regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden. And if that Lady was a maid though a mother, you need not doubt that the nature which is, to human sense, impure, is also pure.”

Who told thee that thou wast naked? (Gen. 3:11)

 

Father – we did not make this world, and we do not always see or understand things clearly. Help us to remember to find humility before your Spirit, for you are the one who made all things. We ask for your Heavenly Wisdom – let the winds of your Spirit blow through the wastes of our minds and clear out the webs of deceit, and the mists of confusion. Help us to give up our own desires, and to open our hearts to your pure vision, and what you are trying to do in this world, and in our lives. Let the light of your sunshine rise in our hearts, and illuminate our thinking with your truth, and your goodness, your truth, and your beauty. Help us to learn to see things the way you see them, and to find your true realities – not merely the way we would have things be for ourselves, or some “way” that merely makes us feel good about ourselves, but is not real or true. Help us be aware of lying spirits that try to soothe our egos and feed our pride, and show us visions of elegant robes and fancy postures, that would hold us rigid in our pride, and “protect us” from the fires of your Holy Spirit. The fires that our spirits need, to burn away the impurities, to cleanse our vision, and to bring us the reality of life and vitality we need, and that our souls truly crave. Help us, Father – the road is narrow, and the way that leads to light is not always clear; and there are so many enchanting mirrors, and deceiving spirits. Keep hold of our hand, and lead us in the way everlasting. – Amen.

 

– Beth

I reach up to find Bear, and I find his fur is coarse and thick; just feeling the fur between my fingers is somehow comforting. A wind blows through the trees, and my eyes close as I pause to feel its breath; wild as a wave, it washes right through me and onward in its joyful path. 🌸