Why Old Magic was Innocent, According to C.S. Lewis

As I’ve mentioned, That Hideous Strength dealt with a number of things, and there is one of them I’d like to explore more in depth, as it is a topic that interests me a lot and is relevant to the general enjoyment of literature and other of my favorite works such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Arthurian tales such as The Once and Future King by T.H. White and the more recent Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I hope to begin soon.

Through the character of Arthur Dimble, a professor of ancient languages and mythology, C.S. Lewis speculates on the role and place of magic in ancient times as contrasted with its place today. Here is an abbreviated version of the discussion on the subject between Dimble and his wife:

“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time….[For a man like Merlin] there were still possibilities for a man of that age which there aren’t for a man of ours. The Earth itself was more like an animal in those days. And mental processes were much more like physical actions. And there were–well, Neutrals [spirits] knocking about…A conscious being is either obeying God or disobeying Him. But there might be things neutral in relation us [humans]….There used to be things on this Earth pursuing their own business, so to speak.”

“I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point.”

“In Merlin’s time…though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn’t do it safely. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us….Like polygamy. It wasn’t wrong for Abraham, but one can’t help feeling that even he lost something by it.”

“Merlin…is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our modern point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is something dead–a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won’t work the way he pleases.”

(from That Hideous Strength, p. 284-285)

Lewis, who like Dimble, was an expert in languages and in English literature especially would have encountered this issue theologically and in explaining the value of the myths from various cultures that engrossed him so much.

His answer regarding the status of pre-Christian or early post-Christian magic is that the world was a bit different back then, when distinctions about power and agency were perhaps less clear. It was a time, he says, when angels or other spirits may not have had a position towards humans and when the spiritual, even animal, realities of nature could be tapped into innocently, though he adds not safely. Continue reading

8 Things that Make a Good Day

To tell the truth, I often agonize over how to spend my time: what is the right balance of work/play/socializing, etc etc etc. But there is something that helps me. The moral philosophers from Aristotle into the present day always ask what is the good–that which promotes man’s flourishing?

So I ask myself: what is good? What is flourishing? I think monks flourish. It’s no secret that I admire the avowed religious life very much.  But I think everyday lay people in cities and countries can flourish too. So what’s that like?

But what are the actual daily activities that comprise a life well spent?

  1. Loving relationships-spouse, friends, children, parents, churches, organizations, civic life. The people we love tie us together and are worth spending time with and enjoying.
  2. Cooking and eating – food is part of life, and a good part. Cooking it, enjoying and it and sharing it combine an connection with the source of food and sustenance, enjoyment and community, a chance to share partake in those relationships mentioned in 1.
  3. Enjoying art – music, books, visual art, etc. Beautiful things, natural or man-made, invite us to appreciate life simply as it is and sometimes to contemplate the source of the beauty. Man-made art adds a layer of human reflection to contemplation.
  4. Maintaining the goods of our lives – our homes, our tools, our clothes, aspects of our communities etc. It shows care and gratitude to repair and clean the things that contribute to our lives. It keeps us grounded to provide for own physical needs and that of others.
  5. Creating – contributing our gifts to something new and meaningful, be it pottery, gardening, painting, writing, carpentry. This work also contributes to our community and engenders mutual flourishing
  6. Exercising – Care for the body that allows us to live and move is so important
  7. Being in nature, even if it’s just the yard or garden, or gazing at the sky from our city balcony. Watching and interacting with creation is both an appreciation of beauty, and it reminds us of what it real and the forces of the earth which are more powerful than we are.
  8. Spirituality – in addition to appreciating the beautiful and loving one another, to attempt to and to commune with God, the source of all, restorer of all and our own maker, is the simplest grounding there can be.  (PS there is a short-cut, the sacraments, the Bible and the Catechism)

Continue reading

Wordy Wednesday: The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats

lake-isle-innisfree-irelandI used to hate poems and most “literature,” even though I loved reading and stories. But by the time I was finishing my undergraduate program, I had finally come to the realization that perhaps, maybe, poetry might be more than gibberish arrangements of the English lexicon.

Since art, faith and culture gracefully co-mingle in practice and in the quest for beauty, truth and goodness, perhaps some poems might be apt for this blog, particularly for their enjoyment.

Without further ado, one of my current favorites, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Yeats (d. 1939) was Irish and Innisfree is an unihabitated island there that he spent summers on during his childhood. Yeats said he had inspiration once upon being reminded of that place to go there and live as Thoreau did in Walden in the U.S. (He didn’t actually do it though).
I like this poem because I have similar fantasies of living alone in nature like a monastic hermit. And I like the line “peace comes dropping slow,” because it reminds me of the honey which is mentioned in the first stanza.
Well, that’s all. Not an especially “deep, hidden meaning” here,  though I can be game for those too.
What do you think? Can poetry be fun? Is it always mind-mindbogglingly deep? Or perhaps always a load of blarney?

The 1 Biggest Reason Nature Matters in our Spiritual Lives–from a Modern Point of View

 

iStock_000057827554_MediumBeing outside is one of the great pleasures in life, particularly in good weather. I love pulling weeds, planting seeds, pushing the kids around for a walk or run and even the occasional hike; (see my picture of Skellig Michael in Ireland above).

But I don’t consider the “why,” very often, as I do with a lot of other things.

This short article really hit-home for me about some of the reasons being outside feels so good and is so good for us.

“God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.” – Michael Hyatt

In a sense, this is so obvious, and yet we don’t hear it enough. Our love for natural boils down to a simply, basic spiritual reality.

Great saints have said similar things, “The Heavens are singing the glory of God” -St. Francis.

Hyatt ‘s blog connects it with business and personal development, which is nice in this case because sometimes it helps to hear things in a contemporary context. And he has research and studies about how being in or even just seeing nature aids your mind, concentration, sleep habits, physical fitness and also spiritual life.  Continue reading

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

Local Book Places: Nature Centers have Specialized Collections

I’ve been featuring local bookstores because finding just the right book can be a treasure hunt. And blazing a trail to the buried treasure chest can lead to many different locations.

For instance, if you take a sudden interest in the flora and fauna of your backyard, as I have recently, it can be hard to find places to learn to identity the trees by leaf or the birds by name. (Note that I tried googling “blackbirds in Virginia.” Somewhat helpful but nowhere near as comprehensive as a locally sourced print guide.)

Enter Hidden Oaks Nature Center

, one of the many nature centers in Fairfax and Arlington Co. They, and other centers, have small collections, open to the public, of precisely this sort of thing: classification guides to the plants and animals, geology, stars, etc.

Lovely! Now I can learn the names of the mushrooms sprouting from my aging mulch.

But the point here is that there are often specialized collections available outside of stores and public libraries, which can be especially useful if you have localized or highly targeted interests. They must be hunted however.

Colleges, local governmental resources like towns and counties are good starting places.

Here are some photos of the charming little collection at Hidden Oaks. It’s as quirky and sincere as it looks. Continue reading

Two Reasons Christ’s Two Wills Matter, According to Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth, from Ignatius Press

I have been slowly slogging through the Jesus of Nazareth series by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, but published during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. I say “slow,” not because it is bad, but because it is so dense and thoughtful that each sentence must be read, contemplated and integrated with one’s existing understanding of the subject in order to make any headway at all.

That being said, it is most rewarding to do so because Ratzinger goes through the entire Gospel narrative of Christ’s life, piece by piece, and explains connections with the Old Testament, related doctrines and explicates a great deal of theology along the way. If the Catechism is an introduction to the Church’s core teachings, moral philosophy and sacraments, the Jesus of Nazareth series is an introduction to the same but from the starting point of the Gospels, and therefore serves to connect it all in an intrinsically Christ-centered way. His work is truly a gift to the Church and any seekers.

Reading through the Holy Week volume, I encountered this passage regarding Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He aligns His will with the Father’s in order to face the cross and His death. Ratzingers takes up the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that Jesus Christ is one Person (divine) with two natures (divine and human)) and shows its essential relevance for the Christian faith. In Jesus:

…there is only one “personal will”, which draws the “natural will” into itself. And this is possible without annihilating the specifically human element, because the human will, as created by God, is ordered to the divine will. In becoming attuned to the divine will, its experiences its fulfillment, not its annihilation. Maximus [the Confessor] says in this regard that the human will, by virtue of creation, tends towards synergy (working together) with the divine will, but that through sin, opposition takes the place of synergy: man, whose will attains fulfillment through becoming attuned to God’s will, now has the sense that his freedom is compromised by God’s will. He regards consenting to God’s will, not as his opportunity to become fully himself, but as a threat to his freedom against which he rebels.

The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in doing so, he restores man’s greatness. In Jesus’s natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.

1) Here, plainly, is the importance of Jesus and the doctrine about his two natures. Only by being fully human, can he share in our fallenness and so help us. Only by being divine, can he offer it all to God the Father in a satisfactory way that atones for Original Sin. Thus the doctrine of the hypostatic union becomes meaningful and not a mere abstract formulation.

2) And more concretely, for the Christian life, our human wills work the same way as Christ’s. We think that by follow God, we lose freedom, but the opposite is true. By following God, we are most truly ourselves and truly free. It’s like a person walking down a road; he may think the signs and road indicators inhibit his freedom, but really he is thwarted if he ignores them and wanders into the desert. By following the signs and indicators, he arrives at his destination more quickly and safely with more time to do what he came for there.

Does theology sometimes seem overly abstract? Have you read any of this? If not, does it sound appealing? It’s hard to approach sharing the whole of the Christian Faith; does this help?

Themes for 2015: Farm, Creation, Writing, Crafting, Painting

Pinterest recommended that I come up with “themes” for the New Year instead of “resolutions.” While I could always eat healthier and go running more often, calling it “themes” stirred far more ideas in my mind. So here goes:

For parenting:

Farms – this year I want to teach my littles about farm life: growing food, raising animals, living on the land. So that means I’ll be doing a lot of learning myself. I got them two farm picture books for Christmas. I plan to visit local kid-friendly animal farms, barns and of course Claude Moore Colonial Farm, my favorite place in Northern, VA. I even plan to try my hand at raising a few veggies again. Never once have I succeeded at bringing a plant successfully through the spring, summer and fall alive. May this year be different. My youngest will be one year old in the spring, so maybe she will be interested too. I think it would be a good way for us to get outside, learn about American history and culture, see animals, exalt God’s creation, and as always, eat food. I like food.

Art – My two year old loves painting with his dad’s art supplies. I plan to fill out our art supply cabinet and bag with way more acrylics, brushes, canvases and also the kiddy construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, poms poms, etc. I think this will be a great family activity for us all since we all love this stuff. I also look forward to making posters out of the things my boy finds in nature.

The Grown-Ups

Devotion: finding ways for us both to grow in our Faith. As with business or the mind, if it’s not growing, it’s dying. Stagnation is death. May we blossom and flourish. [Additionally, I hope to get better at talking about my Faith instead of being weird about it. Yeah, most people aren’t super Catholic, but I am and I love it, so why would it be weird to share that with someone interested in me as a person?]

Creation: Nature, God’s creation is so calming and pure. Just a walk outside lifts my mood more than a million cupcakes. I want to get outside more, which relates to my parenting themes. My hubby and I have recently compiled a decent array of camping gear. It only got tested once last summer. Let’s break it in this year.

Drawing: For Will, drawing. Lots of it.

Writing: For me, both my novel and articles. Because I write Catholic articles, when I took a break from it, my spiritual life suffered. For me, writing little Catholic articles is actually a form of devotion. I would like to balance this better with my longer project.

There are more of course, but I’ll leave it here for now. Do you have any themes for the new year?

Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The bus in Fairbanks, Alaska that served as his base camp.

The story of the life and death of young Chris McCandless, his renunciation of wealth and human contact, and his fatal naivete is quite reflective if we don’t dismiss it.

It’s easy to dismiss him as an idealistic idiotic who got his just deserts for not playing by the rules. And that is partially true.

But his story, his death in the Alaskan bush, I think tell us about ourselves and about human nature.

McCandless was driven by a desire not to be hypocritical, to live life truly and freely–and most importantly, to find meaning.

These ideals, I believe, claw at all of us, and usually young people are most conscious of it. For a large segment of people who feel this, it is expressed as a desire to live freely in nature and to test our existence against that of the earth.

And I think these are the same desires that C.S. Lewis was talking about when he said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Continue reading