Sunday, December 11, 2005

Do It Again

C.S. Lewis had a way of gaining and expressing insights into dimensions of our lives that perhaps we do not give sufficient attention, if any at all. He wove them into his novels almost in passing, so that you really have to be listening in order to “get it.” But he knew what he was doing, and those who have ears will hear. The following is from Perelandra, and it describes one of the experiences of Dr Ransom as he was exploring for the first time that paradisal planet—tasting its indescribably wonderful fruits.

“He had meant to extract the smallest, experimental sip, but the first taste put his caution all to flight… It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures… As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favor of tasting this miracle again… Yet something seemed opposed to this ‘reason’… For whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day… He stood pondering over this and wondering how often in his life on earth he had reiterated pleasures…in the teeth of desire and in obedience to a spurious rationalism…

“Looking up at a fine cluster of the ‘bubbles’ [another type of paradisal fruit] which hung above his head, he thought how easy it would be to get up and plunge oneself through the whole lot of them and to feel, all at once, that magical refreshment multiplied tenfold. But he was restrained by the same sort of feeling which had restrained him over-night from tasting a second gourd. He had always disliked the people who encored a favorite air in the opera—‘That just spoils it’ had been his comment. But this now appeared to him as a principle of far wider application and deeper moment. This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards…was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself—perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defense against chance, a security for being able to have things over again…”

Lewis has here hit on something to which most people probably wouldn’t give a second thought, but which is actually quite important. The desire to repeat pleasurable experiences, simply for the sake of the pleasure—for in the above passage “he was now neither hungry nor thirsty”—may truly be at the root of all evil, at least of all greed and lust and hedonistic self-absorption. The “do it again” mentality also makes it difficult for people to receive God’s gifts precisely as gifts—which are regulated by the wisdom and generosity of the Giver and not by the unrestrained desire of the recipient. To receive something from God in the measure that it is given is to live in peace, gratitude, and self-control. To always want more for the sake of pleasure or of luxuriating in superfluous abundance is to merit the censure of the selfish man who “grew rich for himself but not in the sight of God” (Luke 12:21).

The principle applies in spiritual life as well as with material goods and pleasures. If one has a powerful or profound experience of the presence and love of God, upon returning to prayer one may wish to re-create the experience, to have it over again because it was so blessed. But that is not within our power, nor is it within the will of God, who remains the Master of his gifts and of the revelation of his presence, according to the inscrutable designs of his will for our spiritual growth and salvation. We simply try to dispose ourselves to be open to whatever He wishes to give—and to make sure we are presenting no inner obstacles that would impede his lavish bestowal of grace.

All good things come from God and are to be received with thanksgiving, and also with the wisdom that waits on his providence and doesn’t try to take something that is meant only to be received. Don’t try to have it again, whatever it is. If it is good for you, it will given again, according to the Lord’s mercy and goodness. For even good things can become a source of evil if abused. But the delights of Paradise await those who receive life as it comes from the hand of God.