It’s about light and seeing.

This was a Sunday extra-full of intellectual stimulation, so much so that I feel I must write in order to debrief and process the swirling thoughts. (The church property was also graced with thousands of manzanita blossoms, with which I am decorating my post.)

As I have mentioned before, we are reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis this year in the high school class that meets, as they all do, after we have partaken of the Holy Gifts, toward the end of Divine Liturgy. Today I was amazed at the scope of philosophy and questions we touched on in half a chapter of the book: What is a person? What purpose should art serve? How can we resist the urges from without and within to imbibe and conform to the culture we are born into?

The fictional story is of ghosts who get a chance at Heaven by taking a bus trip from Hell. They have been in the process of becoming more or less human for a long time. Is it hundreds or thousands of years? Hard to say. Our narrator’s guide by the middle of the book is none other than George MacDonald himself, who explains a great deal of what is going on.

About one ghost who appears to the narrator not to be really wicked, but only “into a habit of grumbling,” MacDonald says, “The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman — even the least trace of one — still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.”

The blessed spirits journey for ages to meet the excursionists from Hell, and try to persuade them to cast off whatever hinders, and to stay in Heaven. Today’s reading included such an interview, between two men who had known of each other in the previous life, where they were both artists. When the ghost arrives, he looks around briefly and immediately wants to start painting.

“I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you,” says the blessed spirit, and goes on to explain, “When you painted on earth — at least in your earlier days — it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came…. If you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

I wonder if George MacDonald struggled to keep his artistic focus on “telling about light,” if he ever found himself writing for the love of his own voice and to promote his reputation as a writer and storyteller. If so, he must have noticed, and repented. The glimpses of heavenly realities he was able to give have helped thousands to keep their eyes toward their life-giving Lord.

As often happens, the homily we had heard an hour earlier contributed to our lesson. This time Father John was telling us about the word peculiar in the King James translation, used in I Peter when the apostle is speaking to us who have been “called out of darkness into his marvelous light.” It comes from a Greek word that tells us we belong to God; we are possessed. We mused about how this fundamental truth about our personhood can help us to come back again and again to that light, His light, and not get distracted forever from our purpose, and from His life-giving Spirit.

I was not through being challenged to think, and to try forming my thoughts into speech fast enough to contribute to a discussion, because our women’s book club from church was gathering around my table mid-afternoon. We certainly didn’t need to eat, but you know how it is, one may rarely have a gathering of any sort in our society without serving food, and it is fun! …so I did put out a few snacks, and tea things and mugs.

We were discussing The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. A couple of the younger women had read it 20 years ago, and liked it then. But they have changed, and did not enjoy it much. None of us thought it was great, and I only read half, and won’t say more about it here. Next time we are reading Wounded by Love by Elder Porphyrios, picked from a half dozen suggestions of literary sustenance for our Lenten journey coming up in a few weeks.

Okay, now I’ve made my little report, and I hope I caught a ray of light somewhere in it. At least from the darling manzanita.

13 thoughts on “It’s about light and seeing.

  1. You are wise: in these podcasts I listen to by homeschoolers, they speak of the importance of what they call “narration,” which is just having the child repeat back what they’ve had in the lesson. This is what you’re doing.

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  2. Beautiful blooms. I didn’t know it bloomed like that. Interesting thoughts. I need to know why you didn’t like that book now. I read it about the time you did a long time ago. I think it bothered me and I never read anything else she wrote. I would like to know what you see in it now that we are “grown up” 🙂 That is how I read my books and look back at books that I thought were good then. My taste has changed so much from then until now. Even from two years ago. Have a nice day and keep warm.

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    1. I hadn’t read it before – it was two of the younger women of our group. 😉

      The author didn’t show, she told you; there was little dialogue. She didn’t develop the characters to make them seem real or to make you care about them. It was long, seemingly full of meaningless information, a multi-generational saga, and the story seemed rushed. There wasn’t enough reference to the historical setting to help you know when and where it was happening. I read half of it.

      This was Isabel Allende’s first book, as I understand, and people say that it is unlike any of her others. She’s from Chile but has lived in California for 30 years now.

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  3. Love the manzanita photos. And your parsing of The Great Divorce – it is such an allegorical book, it needs more time than I gave it when I read it recently for book club. One question, do you think the tourists are from Hell or Purgatory? I’m not familiar with what Lewis’s theology about purgatory was. I love the haiku in the last post, too.

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  4. The manzanita is beautiful! What deep books to be read by high schoolers. I wish our parish had more teens. There’s just not enough to have a high school Sunday school.

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  5. The Great Divorce is a favorite! I read it as a teen and then again recently. I’m enjoying small groups and Bible studies at my church. Something I haven’t done much of before. Small groups make it easier for me to get involved. Yes, we do love to eat when we get together, don’t we? LOL 🙂

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  6. I read The Great Divorce many years ago, and only remember that I thought it was an excellent book from a good mind. I do find that my confidence and joy in eternal life on the New Earth makes it much easier to hold various “talents” (like music or art or writing) more loosely; I know I have an infinite amount of time in which to enjoy them, in which to learn them and excel in them. There is no rush when eternity awaits.

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