ΑΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ ΠΡΙΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ, ΔΕ ΘΑ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ ΟΤΑΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ

(ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΩΝ ΜΟΝΑΧΩΝ)

Παρασκευή, 6 Μαρτίου 2015

Lent in Narnia


Would C.S. Lewis have renounced Turkish Delight from Ash Wednesday to Easter?


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Ελληνικά δείτε:
O συγγραφέας των "Χρονικών της Νάρνια" C. S. Lewis και οι Ορθόδοξες επιρροές στο έργο του

In his short essay "Some Thoughts," C. S. Lewis examines the paradoxical fact that the Christian calendar is as full of feasts as it is fasts, as full of fasts as it is feasts.

How did the Christian faith come to have this unique "two-edged" character, a stance which is both world-affirming and world-denying? Lewis explains that on one hand "because God created the Natural — invented it out of His love and artistry — it demands our reverence." But at the same time, "because Nature, and especially human nature is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified."

But make no mistake, Lewis writes, its essence is good, and correction is "something quite different" from repudiation or Stoic superiority. And hence, Lewis argues, all true Christian asceticism will have "respect for the thing rejected" at its center. "Feasts are good," Lewis concludes, "though today we fast."

Lewis makes a similar point in his essay "A Slip of the Tongue," where he argues that in the life of a perfect believer, feasts "would be as Christian" as fasts.

Though today we fast, feasts are good. Feasts are, or should be, as Christian as fasts. These statements might serve as helpful signposts as we enter the seasons of Lent and Easter.

 

This two-edged, world-denying and world-affirming, stance is seen clearly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Turkish Delight which Edmund is tempted with and in the delightful meal served up by the Beavers.

Early in the story, the White Witch creates a box filled with "several pounds" of Turkish Delight which Edmund greedily devours. Donald Glover has called Lewis's specific choice of Turkish Delight a master stroke, one made with clear intention. What would have been lost if the Witch had tempted Edmund with, for example, oatmeal and raisin cookies? Glover argues that Turkish Delight is "a highly overrated sweet," and Narnia fans who have gone in search of the candy may agree, wondering how Edmund could have fallen prey to the overly sugared confection. Surely the name promises more than the candy delivers, and this, perhaps, is Lewis's point. Furthermore, it is not just Delight but Turkish Delight, a title containing, as Glover has observed, "Oriental and romantic overtones," further promises left unfulfilled by the sticky goo.

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Gilbert Meilaender, in a chapter appropriately titled "The Sweet Poison of the False Infinite," provides an analysis of the spell that the Witch's candy casts upon Edmund. As Meilaender explains, the phrase "the sweet poison of the false infinite" comes from Lewis's novel Perelandra and refers to any love of secondary things which has become inordinate. In Miracles, Lewis maintains that we are to offer the created things and pleasures of this world "neither worship nor contempt." Meilaender points out that the theme of inordinate loves is one to which Lewis often returns.

The Witch's magic candy is a sickly imitation of the wholesome food the children are served at the Beavers' house. There they eat boiled potatoes with "a great big lump of deep yellow butter" from which everyone can take "as much as he wanted." The main course is "good freshwater fish" followed by "a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll" fresh from the oven and steaming hot. Afterwards, they each have a big cup of tea, push back their stools, and let out "a long sigh of contentment."

Lewis's point with the Turkish Delight is not that enjoying sweets is bad; in fact, his position is quite the contrary. Enjoyment of life's pleasures in all their variety and plenitude will be an essential quality of proper Narnian life. This was seen earlier in the tea that Mr. Tumnus provided for Lucy which included "a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake." Meilaender points out that in both his fiction and non-fiction, Lewis suggests over and over that "to be fully human involves a certain stance toward the things of creation," one of deep enjoyment but not slavish adoration.

Lewis's devil Screwtape explains the situation to his young nephew this way: "Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. … He made the pleasures. … All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasure which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden."

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In his essay "First and Second Things," Lewis elaborates on this point, writing:

By valuing too highly a real but subordinate good, we … come near to losing that good itself. The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. … Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good. … You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.

These real but subordinate goods come in endless variety besides the sorts of activities which are typically given up for Lent, things like eating sweets, smoking, or drinking Coke. Human curiosity, for example, is one of these real goods which must have its ordinate place. We see its proper role in the lives of the four Pevensies when they decide to explore the Professor's house. As the narrator tells us, "That was how the adventures began." The Professor's house is described as having a whole series of rooms lined with books, an indicator of the goodness of curiosity in its proper place in the Professor's life and vocation.

It was not always like this. In The Magician's Nephew, Digory's healthy sense of curiosity became inordinate as he forcibly made Polly stay in Charn while he struck the mysterious bell to find out what would happen. As Jonathan Rogers has noted, here Digory shows "an excessive desire for knowledge." It is fitting that at this point Polly tells Digory he looks just like his Uncle Andrew.

But lest we react too strongly and reject curiosity or any other created thing altogether, Lewis also includes in The Magician's Nephew one of the most awe-inspiring creation scenes in all of literature, as Aslan sings Narnia into existence—each star, stag, bird, and blade of grass. You may choose to despise the things of this world, Lewis seems be saying, but know that they came from the Creator's loving hand with a very different relationship in mind.

"A properly Christian view of things requires more than a right relationship to the things of heaven," Jonathan Rogers writes. "It requires a right relationship to the things of earth too." Rogers concludes that "by allowing the reader to watch the creation of another world, C. S. Lewis evokes an appropriate awe and delight in the things of this world."

As we enter into the season of Lent, it might be helpful to see these 40 days not so much a time of renunciation (unless, of course, we have things to renounce) but a time of reordering, a time to slow down, step back, and carefully examine the things we have actively made or passively allowed to become the first things and second things in our lives.

Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury University. He is the author of Inside Narnia (2005), Inside Prince Caspian (2008), and Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

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C. S. Lewis: An Anonymous Orthodox?

Get Real for Lent
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According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.” Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life. We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.

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Much of our attention in the modern world is engaged seemingly with things that have no “true existence.” We engage with illusions, with digital constructs. Our economy allows us to escape the normal necessities such as seasonal scarcity or other mundane concerns. We are increasingly removed from the very environment in which we naturally live.

It is said that astronauts, after spending a prolonged time in space, have lingering effects of zero-gravity. Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density. But we now live in situations in which many forms of natural “gravity” have been reduced or removed. What effect does the long-term ability to have almost any food at any time of year have on the human body? As someone who has spent the better part of my life at a desk, I can attest to the effect of a sedentary existence. My lower back, my range of motion, the flexibility of my joints are all consistent with the modern white-collar worker.

What effect do such things have on the soul? For the soul requires “gravity” as well. Plato stated in his Republic, that all children should learn to play a musical instrument because music was required for the right development of the soul. We give far too little thought to such things, assuming that no matter what environment we live in, our inherent freedom of choice remains unscathed and we can always decide to do something different, or be something different.

I could decide to run a marathon tomorrow, but I know that the first quarter-mile would leave me gasping for breath and exhausted. You cannot go from 40 years at a desk to the demands of a marathon – just because you choose to do so.

 
Photo from here

And so we come to Great Lent.

Some see this season of the year as a spiritual marathon. They rise from their sedentary spiritual lives, set off in a sprint and fail before the first week is out. The failure comes in anger, self-recrimination, even despondency.
The first year that I “chose” to fast in the Orthodox manner (it was 4 years before I was received into the Church), the priest I discussed the fast with said, “You can’t keep the fast.” I argued with him until I realized his wisdom.
“Do something easier,” he told me. “Just give up red meat.”
“What about chicken?” I asked.

“Nope. Eat chicken. Eat everything except beef and pork. And pray a little more.”

And so I returned to my Anglican life, a little disappointed that my zeal had made such a poor impression. But my family accepted the proposal and we ate no red meat for Lent. It was, in hindsight, the best Lent my family had ever had. No longer were we musing over “what to give up for Lent,” and instead accepted a discipline that was given to us.

In subsequent years that same priest (who is now my godfather) increased the discipline. And we were ready for it. It is interesting to me, however, that my first experience of an Orthodox fast was being told not to be so strict. The “strict” part was learning to do what I was told. That is sometimes the most difficult fast of all.

Lent is a time to “get real.” Not eating some things is actually normal. In our modern world we have to embrace a natural “gravity” that we could easily leave behind – at least, we have to do this if we want to avoid an atrophy of the soul.

In 2000, the average American ate 180 pounds of meat a year (and 15 pounds of fish and shellfish). That was roughly a third more than in 1959. Scarcity is not an issue in our diet. Our abundance is simply “not real,” and the environment frequently shows the marks of the artificial nature of our food supply. But we have no way of studying what is going on with our souls. What I know to be true is that – as goes the body – so goes the soul. Those who engage the world as consumer are being consumed by the world to an equal measure.

And so we get real.
Getting real means accepting limits and boundaries. Our culture is a bubble of make-believe. It rests on an economy of over-consumption. The crash of 2008 came close to a much greater disaster and could have easily gone into free-fall. Many fail to understand just how fragile our lives truly are. In the season of Lent (and on all the fasting days of the year) we embrace the fragility of our lives. We allow the world to say “no” and take on extra burdens and duties. It is worth keeping in mind that such things do not make us spiritual heroes, first they have to make us human.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman
Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

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