What I’m Reading: Heaven, Mary, God’s Existence, Dragons, and the End of the World

David Russell Mosley

Epiphanytide
Candlemas
2 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, we’re experiencing yet another snow storm here in New England, and while not a blizzard this time it is still keeping me and my family inside. Snow and ice are beautiful but perilous. I think it no coincidence that we tend to associate snow with Faërie. But more on that another day.

I wanted to write to you about what I’m reading right now. It’s a new theme I’ll be coming back to from time to time as the books I’m reading change. The hope is to interest you to read new, or old, books that you haven’t read, or haven’t read in a long while. Also, it should hopefully help me engage more fully with the books I’m reading by writing about them from time to time as I read them.

All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott has increasingly become one of my favourite authors. I have, to date, read his The Power of the Ring, Beauty for Truth’s Sake, and The Radiance of Being. I am immensely saddened that I had not met him before he went further on his pilgrimage to the Patria than I can currently follow. Still, I have the comfort of his words and his book All Things Made New is just that, a comfort.

The book begins with a spiritual commentary on the book of Revelation, noting the important theological, symbolical, and even numerological meanings in the text. From there it moves to a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross. In a way, the whole book is concerned with the Rosary, which is to say that it is concerned with the life of Christ as partially mediated through the eyes of His mother.

The Major Works of Anselm of Canterbury: The Monologion

While I will read the whole book, I am currently working my way through the Monologion of Anselm. It is an attempt to come at some knowledge of God by way of reason alone. I decided to read this book because my background in Anselm is rather weak. I have read about his famous “ontological argument” for God’s existence: namely, that God is that-than-which-no-greater-thing-can-be-thought. This argument has often been dismissed, but I hope to come to a better understanding of it. I have also read Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo or Why God Became Man, which I found both interesting and insightful. Reading this book is my chance to go deeper into the good doctor’s writings.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Every year I re-read the entire Harry Potter Series. I have done so since the seventh book came out (actually, I re-read the entire series as soon as I had finished reading the seventh book for the first time). Goblet of Fire is not, perhaps, my favourite book. It can often get bogged down with all the side stories: Hermione and Rita Skeeter; Hermione, Ron, and Krum; Harry and Cho; Fred, George, and Ludo Bagman (and the goblins); Hagrid the Half-Giant; S.P.E.W.; Crouch and Winky and Crouch; etc. However, what is perhaps stranger, is how necessary each of these side stories is to get us to the end. While the film attempted to streamline the story, it failed (rather miserable, in my opinion). Each one seems almost necessary to get us into the graveyard with Harry. Still, the book often seems overfull, perhaps because it is, I believe, the second longest of the series.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are another septology I read every year. While this reading technically belongs to 2014, I’ve had to stretch it out as I’ve been reading the book aloud to my twin sons. Every night, we put them in pyjamas, I sing them a lullaby (The Road Goes Ever On and On by J. R. R. Tolkien), put them in their cribs, turn out the lights, except for a book light, and read to them. Something I’ve noticed in reading them aloud this year are the parts that choke me up. Sometimes reading can be difficult because I’m trying to fight back tears and do voices. Another interesting aspect of reading them this year is that I’ve been reading them in the order in which they were written. This means I’m only on the second to last book with The Magician’s Nephew still to go. It makes it different since I’m reading references to The Magician’s Nephew without having read it yet.

Well, that’s all the books I’m currently reading and a little about them. What are you reading?

Sincerely yours,
David

The (Not So) Shocking Beliefs of C. S. Lewis

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
13 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

This morning as I was reading through my Facebook feed I came across a link about one of my favourite authors: C. S. Lewis. So many things are written about Lewis daily that I don’t have time to read them all, so most of them I tend to skip. This one, however, caught my eye because of the title: The Shocking Beliefs of C. S. Lewis. The author, Frank Viola, was encouraged by a minister friend of his to point out to people the “shocking” beliefs of those they might hold in high esteem. The worthwhile point is not to downgrade these heroes in the eyes of others, but to show others that even those we account great have flaws and are, like us all, works in progress. I laud Viola for these worthy intentions, however, his selection of shocking beliefs were, to me at least, not shocking. Not only did they fail to shock me, but on most, if not all points, I agree with Lewis on these views. Furthermore, Viola casts these views in the light of things an evangelical might want to discredit all of Lewis’s work for, but shouldn’t. I want to write this response to Viola’s post to point out two things: the first is, as I have said, the unshocking nature of Lewis’s beliefs; the second, is to serve as a reminder that Lewis does not (rightly so, in my opinion) conform to many American, conservative, evangelical descriptions.

Purgatory

The first shocking belief Viola ascribes to Lewis is a belief in purgatory. Now, this may very well shock his protestant audiences, I concede. But it is not so shocking that someone steeped in the Tradition and history of the Church might agree with one of the teachings of that Church. Protestants, and even some Catholics, have a lot of misconceptions about what Purgatory is. Somehow, we’ve come to view as an antechamber to Hell, a place of retributive punishment for our sins. However, as both Lewis, Dante, and Tolkien conceive of Purgatory it is a place of purgation. True, in Dante’s Purgatory there is a continuation of the kinds of reversal punishments seen in Hell. That is, the proud are brought low by having large stones set on their shoulders, the sexually immoral, chasing after lust, are now set to run in circles, away from their desires. In Tolkien’s ‘Leaf By Niggle’, Niggle must work, and work hard. Even in Lewis’s The Great Divorce, there is pain for those who choose to remain in Heaven. However, for all, the goal is not punishment, or at least not retributive punishment, it is purgation, a burning away of our imperfections (like dross from silver). The Scriptures are replete with imagery that suggests we must be cleansed before we are fit for eternal life. This is why, for me, Lewis’s belief in Purgatory is unshocking.

Praying for the Dead

The next shocking belief is that Lewis believed we ought to pray for the dead. This again is rather unshocking. Again, the Scriptures make it clear that we ought to be mindful of the dead, there is even that enigmatic passage in Paul concerning being baptised for the dead. Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by the dead, that great cloud of witnesses. The early churches often met in cemeteries or catacombs and it wasn’t long after that they used to set up their altars above the bodies (or relics) of the martyrs and saints. We are, as one rather Goth church I once attended was called, a Church of the Living Dead and ought not only to be mindful of them but pray to God for them, just as we did in life.

Those in Hell Might Journey towards Heaven

This one, I will grant, will be very shocking for many. After all, the parable in Luke 16 suggests that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the abode of the righteous and the abode of the wicked (in death, anyway). Lewis was influenced on this point by George MacDonald who was, in turn, influenced by Origen (as well as Plato). The key here, however, is that this is through Christ. It is noteworthy, that the bus driver in The Great Divorce is Christ himself, the only one who could make himself small enough to enter Hell. However, this view becomes even less shocking when we realise that for many in the early and medieval Church, Christ, in his death, descended into Hell. Some will seek to counter this by noting that even in the Apostle’s Creed, the word used is Hades, a general word, they argue, for the abode of the dead. However, both Luke 16 and interpretation of this statement throughout the centuries are against this narrow understanding of Hades. There is, therefore, nowhere where Christ’s redeeming work is absent, whether this may continue after death or even after the return of Christ is not really for me to say. But I hope.

Christians Do Not Have to Be Teetotalers

Drunkenness is evil, no two ways about it, but abstinence for the sake of abstinence is not the solution (this goes, by the way, for sex as well). Rather, just as for sex there is an appropriate context, namely marriage, so too is there an appropriate place for alcohol, and even the early effects alcohol has on your brain and body before drunkenness occurs. The Scriptures are, it is true, replete with condemnations of overindulgence (of alcohol and other things), but they also contain many passages praising the benefits of it. Think of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to take wine for his stomach problems. It should also be noted that Lewis was a smoker. He primarily smoked pipes and cigarettes, and thought tobacco (though not necessarily the additives put in cigarettes) was beneficial as well. Consider the works of J. R. R. Tolkien where nearly every good character smokes a pipe (Bilbo, all thirteen dwarves in The Hobbit, Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Aragorn). Even Trumpkin the dwarf smokes a pipe in Prince Caspian, as well as Mr Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Not to mention that Mrs Beaver hands round a flask that likely contains either brandy or whiskey.

A High View of the Eucharist Is Valid

Viola frames this as Lewis saying that a Zwinglian (that is, purely symbolic remembrance) view of the Eucharist is just as valid as the Catholic View (of transubstantiation). Actually, he says the reverse, giving the priority to the Zwinglian view, and then he cites Letters to Malcolm. In fact, I agree, largely, with the Catholic view and think the Zwinglian view incorrect. Lewis is not so obvious. What he says, rather, is that both views are inconceivable, that is, he has trouble believing either of them. His emphasis of disbelief, however, resides more with the purely symbolic remembrance than it does with transubstantiation. Lewis wants to take seriously Christ’s words, this is my body, this is my blood. However, he ends, rather unshockingly, with this notion: the command is to take and eat, not take and understand (Letters to Malcolm Chapter 19). Whatever happens in the Eucharist transcends our knowledge of it.

It is also worth noting that Lewis, as a member of the Church of England, would have received the Eucharist in the form of wafers of bread and one large cup of wine shared by all. This is likely to shock many evangelicals who use small crackers or bits of pie crust and small cups of grape juice. Equally problematic would be that Lewis would have received these elements at the hands of another, not taken them from a passing tray. This should not shock, however, since the modern practice is an innovation, and certainly not how Christ and the Apostles would have celebrated this meal.

Job Is a Work of Fiction, and the Bible Has Errors

Viola gives little support to this, but simply recommends readers look at Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. He also misleads his readers a bit. While Lewis may well have thought Job to be fictional, it was a work of theological fiction and no less a part of the Scriptures because of it. Equally, while Lewis may have thought the Bible contained errors, these were not errors (I.e. He would not say the Bible is inerrant), this more has to do with occasional historical errors (who was king and for how long and after whom, etc.) and other small errors. This did not, however, mean that the Scriptures did not have one divine author as well as many human authors, or that the Scriptures are not God-breathed. Again, this is the position of much of the Church over history.

In the end, perhaps these facts are shocking to Evangelicals, but they shouldn’t be. Equally, these should not be little foibles Lewis had that ought to be criticised alongside the aspects of Lewis that ought to be lauded. Instead, we ought to consider how these supposedly “shocking” views informed and were informed by his “acceptable” views. Perhaps if we do that, we will see that we cannot have “Evangelical” Lewis without also having “Catholic” Lewis, that Catholic and Evangelical ought and do go together.

Sincerely yours,
David

The Sacramental Imagination of Narnia

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
05 11 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to continue our discussion of the formation of Sacramental Imagination in children. The world I want to look at today is C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. I thought about how I wanted to do this, and there may come a day soon where I’ll look at each book in turn, but today I want to focus on Narnia as a whole, dipping in and out of the various books as I see fit.

Narnia is world I didn’t come to right away. Unlike The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia were never read to me as a child. I still remember having them recommended to me by a classmate as we sat, not paying attention, during choir when I was in about the fourth or fifth grade. I can’t remember what my first reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was like, but I remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom, pouring over The Silver Chair with my desk lamp on. I loved Puddleglum. I’m not sure why. I’m not of a sour disposition myself, but I loved him all the same.

One of the key things Narnia taught as a child was a love for animals, not in a zoological way, but as friends. Every squirrel I met, every bird, cat, dog, toad, snake, whatever, was my friend, someone to whom I could talk and be understood. In fact, I used to believe I had a special way with animals. Even at university, when there was a mouse in my dorm room, I could have sworn I had nearly talked it into coming to me so I could rescue it from the mouse traps all over the place. Sadly, it didn’t listen to me. What Narnia taught me about animals extended the rest of creation (granted Tolkien was also helpful here, but I’m not discussing The Lord of the Rings). Every tree, every field, every flower became special, even while I longed for my own doorway into Narnia.

Narnia did more than simply give me an appreciation for creation, though that is an excellent starting place if one is going to have a high view of baptism, the Eucharist, or chrismation (all Sacraments involving physical objects often used for other daily purposes as well). It also began to form my imagination about the universe as a whole. One of my favourite scenes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is when the company of the Dawn Treader land on Ramandu’s island and meet the retired Star and his daughter. Eustace, who’s total transformation hasn’t been fully effected yet, blurts out when he’s told what Ramandu and Coriakin are, “In our world…a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu repsonds, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” There is a hint, that stars in our world might be similar to stars in Narnia, especially since we’re not told what Ramandu is made of, only what he looks like (one could, of course, delve deeper since Caspian later weds and sires an offspring with Ramandu’s daughter, therefore she, nor her father, can be made of huge balls of flaming gas, but that is not the point Lewis or I are trying to make). Not only does Narnia teach us to view the Earth differently, but the whole cosmos. Stars might be persons, animals might be able to talk, and the death of a creature who is also God by nature might be able to undo all the evil, slowly, of fallen world. If this is possible, then why might not bread become a body, wine, blood, or oil a seal from God.

There is, of course, much more one could point to: the liquid light at the edge of the world, the way this world connects to the next, etc. At heart, however, what Narnia does, what all good fantasy does, is show us that things may be more than they appear and this because there is one who created them and they show forth their creator and participate in him. In short, that the cosmos is enchanted.

Sincerely yours,
David

The Shield of Legalism

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
St Teresa of Avila
15 October 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I sometimes wonder about the way we (and by we I mean those who tend to align themselves with evangelical churches, but I’m sure it’s more widespread than this) use the word legalism. It feels as though we use this word as a shield to guard against asceticism openly and sometimes discipline secretly. As anyone who has spent any time reading these letters will know, I believe in liturgy, I believe in Christian practices beyond, but not excluding, things like feeding the hungry, evangelising, going to church, etc. I’ve even experienced some Christians who wouldn’t want to make hard and fast rules about any of those things either. How many times have I heard sermons or small group lessons––how many times have I said––don’t let these things become tasks on a to-do list, doing them just to check them off? And yet, this isn’t exactly the picture given to us by the Scriptures, and it certainly is not the task given to us by those who have come since the writing of the Scriptures.

Let me give you a few examples. First, from Christ himself: In Matthew 23, Jesus is upbraiding the pharisees. In the Gospels, these guys are the villains in every story where they appear.  This makes it hard for us to remember that they weren’t always the bad guys. For a long time they were the religious faithful when even the priestly classes were failing. Christ recognises this when he tells his audience, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,  so practise and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practise’ (Mt 23.2-3). While the pharisees in Christ’s day are falling short in acting rightly, they are still to be obeyed. In fact, Christ notes later on that the Pharisees do right in tithing even on the smallest of herbs they have, but do wrong in neglecting the weightier aspects of a righteous life (Mt 23.23). So it would seem that some regular disciplinary practice, such as the pharisees did and taught others to do, were not inherently wrong, only their attitude was.

My next example comes from the book of Acts. The story comes from Acts 3. It is a familiar one. Peter and John come across a lame beggar asking for money. Peter tells him they have no money, but what they do have, they will give to him. Then he commands the lame man to stand up in the name of Christ and he does. It is an awesome story about the power of Christ the healer and defending the faith in the face of adversity (for Peter and John are later taken to the Sanhedrin and commanded not to talk about Christ). However, there is an important element at the beginning of the story which I left out. Peter and John weren’t simply out on a stroll. Rather they were headed to the temple for an appointed time of prayer, ‘One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon’ (Acts 3.1). It seems that the apostles were in the custom of praying at set times during the day.

We have gotten ourselves into the habit of thinking anything we do or learn by rote cannot be felt, cannot be a lived reality. Yet I think the shield of legalism is really a prison keeping us from a deeper reality, one of order and spontaneity. In a previous letter, I wrote how physical things and spaces matter. Well, so do our actions and there are some things the Church has been for such a long time (having a liturgy, daily fixed hour prayers, fasting in certain seasons or on certain days, etc.) that today we might call legalism. Yet, if we allow them, these things can transform us. Oh it is true that simple actions and actions only will not necessarily make a difference. Two students of the piano practice their scales and arpeggios everyday. They learn their theory, perform their songs, etc. One does so dutifully, the other sulkily. Yet the one who does so dutifully will be the better pianist over all. They will feel the music, but only in part because of their attitude, their actions have much more to do with it. In fact, even the sulky one can be made to come round, simply by doing. Remember the parable of the two sons. One promised to work in the vineyard but didn’t. The other swore he wouldn’t but did. C. S. Lewis talks about this in Mere Christianity. What Lewis says about pretending to be Christ, can, in my opinion, be applied to all ritualistic, disciplined, ascetic, practices:

‘What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we all have noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already’ (Book 4, Chapter 7).

When we fast, pray, do church in a liturgical manner, follow the Church Calendar, etc., we are practising for life with God. We are, in a sense, pretending that Heaven has come to Earth, and as we pretend, we begin to make what we pretend into reality but only if two conditions are met: 1. We do so by, with, and in the grace of God; 2. We do so not simply to look better ourselves, but to make the world look better.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

That Hideous Strength: The Cosmic and Enchanted Earth

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

That Hideous Strength is perhaps often viewed as one of the strangest and weakest of Lewis’s fictional books. It certainly makes little sense if we think of it as the culmination of a Space Trilogy since the entire book takes place on Earth. What’s more this book makes a sudden introduction of Arthurian mythology that is completely absent from the previous two. Some even criticise it for its portrayal of gender and male-female relationships (This however, is contested by Alison Milbank who seems to think Lewis get this more right than wrong. I don’t have a source for this as it is something she said in her class on Fantasy and Religion). And yet, for all of this, I cannot help but love this book.

It helps that I am something of a sucker for all things Arthurian. As evidenced by these posts. But even beyond this, Lewis does something very interesting on a cosmic level in this book. The book sets the tale of two protagonists, Jane Studdock and her husband Mark. Jane and Mark are still newly married, both academics, though she has put her work to the side for the time beings, finding it hard to return to it (she’s doing a PhD on Donne). Jane is troubled by dreams she’s having. She later finds out that she is a seer, that is, sometimes she dreams things that are currently happening. It’s important to note two things, first, Jane does not dream or predict the future. She is simply capable of dreaming the present. Second, Jane does not do this by calling upon spirits of any kind. It is, rather, hereditary. And it is this point that I find most interesting. Lewis has constructed a world where a human creature can, while asleep, ‘dream things true’ as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. In some ways, this is the epitome of an enchanted cosmos. Jane sees the present, and even more, she sees the present in a way that is useful to the Christians she eventually fully joins at the St Anne’s Manor. Lewis doesn’t make it obvious that these are visions given to Jane by God in say the way Daniel, Paul, John, or others have had visions. She isn’t seeing heavenly realities, but what she sees becomes guided by the influence the Director has over her. She is an enchanted human being, with a native ability that is intended for good uses, but can be turned to evil.

However, the enchantment runs even deeper than this. When Merlin is awakened or brought back into time, what his state was before his reanimation is uncertain, he is ravenous to reconnect with the rocks, fields, and trees around him. But he isn’t allowed to. The Director, the current Pendragon, will not allow him, it is no longer, according to God it would seem, acceptable. Nevertheless, the Director himself has the ability to tame animals in a way no other human can. Mice come at his beck and call to clean up crumbs; a bear lives with them (along with a few other animals); they have a garden, which doesn’t seem to have any particularly enchanted properties to it (not like the animals do), but living within nature does seem to be an integral aspect of their lives at St Anne’s. In fact, the garden growing, animal raising people of St Anne’s are contrasted with the N.I.C.E. and their desire to denature the Earth.

On the Angelic end of things, which has been the focus of the previous two letters in this series, there is decidedly less and more. Because the lens through which we see the world is the uninitiated Jane, rather than Ransom himself, encounters with the angelic are terrifying. There is a scene where Ivy, a member of the group at St Anne’s is reflecting on the Director’s encounters with angelic beings behind the planets (the wanderers) in the cosmos. ‘“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t understand. They’re so eerie, those ones [angels] that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought anything was there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But he ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.” “He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maledil Himself, all that changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”’ Lewis does something I can’t quite fully account for here. Throughout the series, he has somewhat acted as though Earth, Thulcandra, the Silent Planet were purely under the sway of Satan and that the other Oyarsa cannot enter it, and that its own eldila are not always on our side (even if they aren’t always against us). This makes little sense when compared with Scripture where throughout the Old Testament and Apocrypha angels not only appear but aid humanity in obvious ways. In the New Testament, they fade somewhat behind the glory of Christ, but are still present. Perhaps, however, what Lewis is doing here is distinguishing between the hierarchies. Those great beings who guard and move the planets cannot enter into ours easily and are bad company for us, but those who are intended to work directly with us are not as bad company for us. Still, though, it is clear that we are meant to commune directly with God and not simply through the angels.

In the end, what That Hideous Strength gives us is the cosmic come home. The grand movements in the Fields of Arbol (Lewis’s “Old Solar” for the Cosmos) are affected by and affect what happens on Earth, not in an astrological way, but because the whole Cosmos, created and upheld by God, is also governed by his created beings and all of it is tending toward one end. It is all tending toward the overcoming of the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, of the overcoming of Britain with the kingdom of Logres. Let me leave you with the discussion of Logres in That Hideous Strength, keeping in mind that this discussion not only applies to every nation, but to the whole cosmos.

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century wen something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again.”’

Let us be Logres in the midst of Britain.

Sincerely yours,
David

Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
20 September 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Perelandra and the Cosmic Christ Event

David Russell Mosley

St John Chrysostom’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In Lewis’s Perelandra, we get much less of the angelic. Perelandra, or Venus as we know it, is at the point of decision where Tellus before it had failed. Two rational creatures, in the shape––but not in any of the standard hues––of humanity, have evolved from a rather fishier biological background and have been separated. The woman, along with first meeting Ransom who has been sent there to aid the planet ward off the attacks of Satan, meets the tempter. This time, the tempter takes on the body of Dr Weston from Out of the Silent Planet. The book is made up primarily of these three characters: the Perelandrian Eve, Ransom, and the possessed Weston. Ransom and Weston thus battle not only for the Lady’s soul, but, in a way, for the whole planet. There are many interesting facets of this book. It can be read as a kind of suppositional commentary on Genesis 2 and 3. What fascinates me about it, however, is the cosmic level.

Lewis gives us a cosmos where the planets are ruled and governed by angelic beings, as I discussed in my last letter. Yet while Oyarsa was an ever present character, though unseen at first (and then only seen dimly when present), the eldila are unseen and mostly unknown on Perelandra (we later discover that at least the oyarsa of Perelandra is present, but more on that in a moment). What intrigues me is the way Lewis’s cosmos is connected. Too often, both in our real discussions of whether any potentially existent extraterrestrial beings or their depiction in science fiction focuses on the purely localised nature of the Christ event. We either assume that the extra terrestials would be damned by nature, in need of salvation, or at the very least, unaffected by what happened on Earth. Lewis challenges this. In Out of the Silent Planet, we have a world that is populated before humanity’s Fall, but during the angelic rebellion. Malacandra is thus peopled with creatures of varying shapes and sizes. Perelandra, however, gives us human shaped creatures. In fact, Ransom learns from the lady that there will be no more hrossa, no more sorns from here on out all rational creatures will come in the shape of a human. Why? Because Christ became human. While humanity’s fall did not cause the Fall of the entire Cosmos, it affected how the Cosmos would develop.

Earth becomes a step in the Cosmic dance that is tending toward the Beatific Vision. Both its Fall and its Redemption effect the direction of the rest of Cosmos. For a while, I was concerned about this. It seemed almost to make the Cross (and even the Incarnation) merely a reaction. The Oyarsa of Malacandra even tells Ransom that because Adam and Eve fell at this same point of decision, something greater (namely the Incarnation) happened there. Therefore, on Perelandra, what didn’t happen on Earth happened there instead. However, I was wrong to think this a reactionary view. By reactionary, I mean that God was surprised by the Fall and replied with the Incarnation, that is, plan A failed and so now it is time for plan B. Instead, however, Lewis gives us a cosmos where the Fall is not necessary, but is used to play an integral role in the development of the entire cosmos. It is the means by which the Son’s becoming human is, in some ways facilitated, but it is not a reaction, it is an eternal plan. It is necessary for the Son to become incarnate for all rational creatures, all ensouled creatures, are intended for deification, for the beatific vision. Thus, in Lewis’s cosmic vision, this is done on Earth, in part to combat the Fall, but in full to bring about the deification of all hanu (ensouled, rational creatures). It is for this reason, the Lord and Lady of Venus are human shaped yet green. It is for this reason there will be no more creatures like those seen on Malacandra. The Fall may have facilitated a need for incarnation, for we could not have been fittingly redeemed without it (not that we absolutely could not have been redeemed without it, but that is a letter for another day), but it is not the only reason for it. Rather, it’s ultimate purpose is to return the entire Cosmos, that is all of Creation, to God in deification. Christ’s becoming human has shaped the course of history, both tellurian and Cosmic.

In these first two books, Lewis’s Cosmic focus is extraterrestial. When I write about That Hideous Strength, we will see how Lewis takes this Cosmic understanding of the Universe and applies to the life lived on Earth. Until then, I remain,

Sincerely yours,
David