The “Pints with Jack” Podcast on Till We Have Faces @pintswithjack

Hi folks! I found myself caught up in the 1,000th Post Party last week and haven’t been able to get back to the desk to give a post for this week. I didn’t even have time to do a Throwback Thursday post (though I have a great one coming)! I also have a couple of great posts coming in my Till We Have Faces series, as I continue to struggle with the material.

Instead, and connected with the series on Till We Have Faces and my preparations to teach The Great Divorce at the end of the month, I wanted to give just a quick shout out to the Pints with Jack podcast. Hosted by David Bates and Matt Bush, these guys are well into their third season, with another 8 or 9 seasons planned out. This podcast is pretty well done, with well-written summaries, well-prepared discussions, and a great combination of humour and critical thinking in the dialogue.

Most of all, the podcasts I have listened to are great examples of good close reading. In particular, in season two David and Matt spend a great deal of time with The Great Divorce–a book I’m trying to bring to the front of people’s minds. And this third season has largely been taken up by a careful chapter-by-chapter approach to Till We Have Faces. They note a blog post that I wrote about Queen Orual and her relationship to her father, but they are able to go much deeper in a careful, engaging conversation. It is well worth a listen and easy to follow on a half-dozen podcast hosts and youtube.

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The C.S. Lewis & Friends Conference: A Final Call and My Paper Proposal

I wanted to re-share the Call for Papers for one of my favourite conferences (which I describe here and here). If you are thinking of proposing a paper or creative piece, get that proposal in! They are especially interested in having students submit something as they believe in building scholarship for the future.

Here is my proposal:

“As High as My Spirit, As Small as My Stature”: C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Small and Monika Hilder’s Theological Feminism

Canadian literary critic Monika Hilder has provided a model for reading Lewis’ fiction that she calls “theological feminism.” Hilder outlines a consistent “feminine heroic” in Lewis’ fiction that resists, critiques, and transforms classical-masculine models. Some critics claim that Lewis’ medieval-soaked imagistic approach to gender creates damaging exclusivities. Hilder argues that, by contrast, Lewis uses gender metaphors in remarkably gender-inclusive ways.

Though Hilder’s well-reviewed work provides a turning point in Lewis studies, the full impact of her thesis has not yet been exploited. This paper considers the implications of Hilder’s thesis for Lewis’ narrative spiritual theology. In taking feminist critics seriously, we discover the upside-down form of Lewis’ moral thought that emerges from the interrogation of his spiritual theology. This inversive, even subversive element in his thinking offers possibilities for a hopeful, holistic spirituality of the cross evident in his fiction and nonfiction. Combining Hilder’s feminist literary criticism with a careful concentration upon Lewis’ crucicentric theology leads ultimately to what I call Lewis’ “theology of the small”—an ironic spirituality that subverts culturally constructed expectations. Extending past the specific questions of gender Hilder is addressing, I argue that there is an inversive quality inherent to Lewis’ thought that confirms the comedic, eucatastrophic narrative pattern at the centre of his theology.

Beyond what I’m going there to talk about, the conference theme is intriguing, calling upon Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1938 essay, “Are Women Human?” My own proposal is working with the research of one of the keynotes, Monika Hilder, on C.S. Lewis’ theological feminism.

Are WomEn Human (Yet)?
Gender and the Inklings
C. S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium
Taylor University
June 4-7, 2020
CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENT and CALL FOR PAPERS

JOIN US for our 12th Biennial C. S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium, June 4-7, 2020. Sponsored by Taylor University’s Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis & Friends, the Colloquium features keynote addresses from top scholars in the field, plus hundreds of presentations of both original scholarship and original creative work in paper sessions, workshops, panel discussions, performances, artist exhibitions, and much more. The Colloquium welcomes scholars, teachers, students, life-long learners, fans, seekers, and, as always, new friends to be part of our adventurous company. For the first time in our history, and as part of our mission to identify and support the next generation of friends, the Colloquium will feature a one-day pre-conference especially for “Young Inklings” on June 3.

Of course, this liveliest of conferences will have its usual dramatic performances, board games, late night singalongs, tea and biscuits,  and the return of the fabulous pop-up bookstore by Eighth Day Books. In addition, The 2020 Colloquium will also once again include the opportunity to buy used and rare copies of books by Lewis & Friends authors. Come discover why Devin Brown says “The Taylor University Lewis Colloquium is the premier Inklings conference on the planet, with something for every level of scholar.”

Plenary Speakers: We are happy to announce that our plenary speakers for 2020 include Monika Hilder, Jane Chance, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Don King, Diana Glyer, Jason Lepojärvi, and Charles Huttar.

Conference Theme: The 2020 Colloquium program will highlight the specific theme of “Are WomEn Human (Yet)? Gender and the Inklings.” Over eighty years after Dorothy L. Sayers first posed her startling question (and in honor of the centennial of woman’s suffrage), we think it is high time to acknowledge and celebrate women in the lives and works of authors like C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, and George MacDonald, but also to look carefully at their attitudes towards and relationships with women. We also hope to encourage new scholarship on individuals such as Ruth Pitter, Joy Davidman, Mary Neylan, Barbara Reynolds, Louisa and Lilia MacDonald, Ida Gordon, Katherine Farrer, Sister Penelope, Anne Ridler, and others whose contributions have been insufficiently noticed and/or undervalued in the shadow of their more famous friends. In keynote addresses, panel discussions, paper presentations, and creative work of all kinds, we will explore together these topics and many others. As always, papers on more general topics are also encouraged.

Call for Papers: We invite proposals for scholarly papers on any topic related to C. S. Lewis and his circle (broadly defined) – Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others. We are especially interested in papers on the conference theme, papers that expand the horizons of previous scholarship, and papers from new and emerging scholars. We also invite creative work—poetry, fiction, essay, drama, film, visual art, musical composition—that responds to or is influenced by the conference theme and/or these authors.  Proposals should be 100-200 words in length and should anticipate a twenty-minute presentation time limit.  Creative work must be a complete work, rather than a proposalDeadline for proposals is Mar 3, 2020. All proposals will be considered on a rotating basis.

Complete information, including submission instructions, will be available soon at our website: library.taylor.edu/cslewis. Direct all proposal-related questions to jsricke@taylor.edu. Please address all other questions to cslewiscenter@taylor.edu.

Young Inklings Pre-Conference: College and university undergraduates are invited to the first-ever “Young Inklings” event on June 3. The complete student registration package will include lodging, meals, and the events of that day, as well as the main conference. Students will have the opportunity to attend special lectures and participate in workshops with leading scholars, as well as to present their own scholarly and creative work. Work submitted for the student writings contests (see below) will be considered for presentation at both the pre-conference and the Colloquium.

Student Essay Contest: Currently enrolled undergraduate students may submit complete critical essays on the work of C. S. Lewis or a related author (see Call for Papers above for further information). Essays should not exceed ten double-spaced pages, excluding Works Cited. Winners will present their papers at the Colloquium and will receive free registration, room, and board. First place will receive a cash award as well. Deadline for student essays is March 1, 2020. For further information and submission instructions, please see our website at library.taylor.edu/cslewis.

Student Creative Writing Contest: Currently enrolled undergraduate students may submit creative writing (poetry, prose, drama, creative non-fiction, graphic novels, screenplays, etc.). Submissions should not exceed ten double-spaced pages (and should be at least five pages). The creative works should show familiarity with and influence by (or response to) the works of C. S. Lewis and his circle (broadly defined). Winners will present their papers at the Colloquium and will receive free registration, room, and board. First place will receive a cash award as well. Deadline for student creative work is March 1, 2020. For further information and submission instructions, please see our website at library.taylor.edu/cslewis.

Keep in Mind: The best way to be aware of Colloquium news and updates is to pay attention to our new website: library.taylor.edu/cslewis[Note: We are currently undergoing a redesign of our website. The current website contains all necessary information, but you will notice an updated format soon.] Colloquium announcements and other important information will also be added regularly on our Facebook page (please “like” to make sure you are in the loop): https://www.facebook.com/cslewiscenter/.

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1,000th Post Party!

It’s the 1,000th post on A Pilgrim in Narnia! Huzzah!

I began this blog way back in 2011 as a sandbox project for thoughts about C.S. Lewis’ writings. “Pilgrimage” was a word-picture I was using a lot for my life then, at a time when I couldn’t afford to go anywhere! As a result, I was trying to create pilgrimages of the mind and heart.

I found this metaphor worked well for stories and fictional worlds, too. Narnia is, after all, both a sacred place and a land of adventure.

Thinking about the reader joining other pilgrims on the palmer’s way gives us a powerful way to appreciate our journeys into Narnia, Middle-earth, Discworld, Lilliput, Earthsea, New Urth, Panem, Ringworld, Oz, the Enderverse, the Field of Arbol, ancient Avalon and Númenor, the worlds of Harry Potter or the Dark Tower, Jane Austen‘s drawing-room, the New England states of H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King, Neil Gaiman‘s London or America, or L.M. Montgomery‘s land of wonder, Prince Edward Island. These worlds are not just destinations, but by going there we are shaped and challenged and given new visions of what is good and true and beautiful.

Intriguingly, I also believe that by going to fictional and fantastic worlds we are given new visions of what is possible.

The word-picture of “Pilgrimage” worked, I think. And it still works. That’s largely a fluke. Though I should update the blog design, I have found the header to be constantly relevant to what I am doing. As I imagined it myself, readers can imagine C.S. Lewis walking down that country road. For whatever reason, we can imagine walking with him to whatever land he wants to take us to in his children’s novels, his science fiction, his theological novels, his myths retold, his literary history, and his teaching about spiritual life.

Again, largely outside of my hands, the blog has certainly grown. A lot of that is that I consistently post, and I tend to post good material. There are some howlers and some posts that fall out of relevance, but not much I regret.

The blog has grown in scope. Very quickly I realized that the Inklings were implicated with one another–philosophically, religiously, historically, and in terms of their experiments in mythmaking, poetry, and fiction. So I knew that A Pilgrim in Narnia needed to be an Inklings project. I don’t always speak with authority in the things I write, but I do try to speak as a good reader.

And A Pilgrim in Narnia has grown in impact. I will share some statistics in a follow-up post, but a quick glance at the data is cool. I had to leave the US out of this map because they are 80% of my visitors and made ll the world pale, but you can see the global reach of A Pilgrim in Narnia to 215 countries and independent territories.

And, statistically, contact has been good. A Pilgrim in Narnia has received more than 895,000 hits, with fairly consistent growth. With 18,000 comments, 100 guest posts, hundreds of thousands of shares–almost 50,000 shares on Facebook alone!–and 7,500 followers, I’m sort of amazed at the reach of what I still think of as an “academic blog.”

It is pretty humbling, honestly.

So, today, as we celebrate our 1,000th post on A Pilgrim in Narnia, let’s have a little party!

Where I live in Prince Edward Island, it is really dishonourable to have a party–even an unexpected one–that doesn’t include food and drink–an ethic the Inklings shared, I think. There’s a chance below for you to extend that part of the party, but meanwhile, why don’t we have some fun?

Let’s do some sharing and a bit of a giveaway.

Throughout the day, I’m going to update this post and share some of my favourite posts on Twitter, @BrentonDana and @PilgrimInNarnia–from my tentative first post to the terrible most popular post. In the comments below, I’d love for you to share some of your own highlights:

  • Regardless of genre or author, what book (or series) is, for you, the most powerful place of pilgrimage?
  • What for you remains C.S. Lewis’ most impactful book?
  • What is your favourite story, poem, cycle, or character in Tolkien’s expansive legendarium?
  • What have you discovered of the “other Inklings” over your years of reading?
  • Beyond Narnia and Middle-earth, what is your favourite speculative universe? What draws you to that world?
  • If you are new to the blog, welcome! If you are a long-term reader, what has been one of the more memorable posts that you think is worth sharing?
  • Now that Christopher Tolkien has died, what do you hope the next Middle-earth volume will be?
  • Where should the field of Inklings Studies go?
  • Are there any Inklings of the future writing today?
  • What will adaptations of Inklings stories look like on film and TV in the 2020s?

Some Highlight Posts

  • The First Post: “The Art of Letter Writing in the Digital Age” was the very first post I wrote, on Aug 11, 2011, and I have updated it since because I still kind of like it. I think that C.S. Lewis’ letters are a great treasure. That he detested writing them makes them even more valuable: there was a cost to his personal correspondence, and we are richer for it.
  • The First Viral Post: Featured on WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed,” my first viral post was published on Jul 4, 2013, and republished in 2018. “The Land Where Oz is North of Middle-earth: Reflections of a Speculative Cosmographer” was just a short, fun post about how fantasy maps are pretty neat! By the time this came out, I had found my stride, and the post helped boost readership.
  • The Worst Post … And the Most Popular: I don’t regret writing this post, but I almost do. With more than 28,000 hits, “Fifty Shades of Bad Writing” remains my most popular post–though that audience has slid away. I don’t love that my tone is so mocking in this sarcastapost. Perhaps E.L. James is a lovely person, and I don’t love doing bad book reviews. It also makes me cringe that hundreds of posts on some of the best literature of history, it’s the 50 Shades phenomenon that hit big.
  • The Top C.S. Lewis Post: Though I have gone out in a dozen directions, C.S. Lewis is my bread and butter in terms of popularity, engaged readership, and thoughtful posts that I have put a lot of work into. Viewed more than 20,000 times, “Screwtape on Pleasure and Distraction” remains my top Lewis post, and 13 of my top 15 posts are about Lewis.
  • The Top Tolkien Post: I am very cautious about writing Tolkien posts. Tolkienists are precise about their reading and sometimes exacting in their assessment of other people’s work. I respect the scholarship and don’t feel that I have something to challenge there. I have ten Tolkien posts, though, that have been viewed 1,000 times or more. At the top of that list is “The Tolkien Letters that Changed C.S. Lewis’ Life,” which has been viewed 6,665 times as of today! It’s a cool post about a transformational letter.
  • The Least Popular Post Ever: At the very bottom, with only 236 views, is “1946 TIME Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.” That’s pretty cool, so it surprises me. Also don’t on that list is “The Peculiar Background to L.M. Montgomery’s “The Alpine Path” (L.M. Montgomery Series) #LMMI2018‘”–a funny exploration post, I thought–and “Teaching Screwtape for a New Generation: My Conference Talk & Paper,” a post that early readers appreciated before the world moved on.

The Giveaway!

I will also host a little giveaway, with some C.S. Lewis resources including a 1st edition copy of The Great Divorce. It is not an expensive item (perhaps about $40 value), but a relatively rare souvenir of what I think is Lewis’ most important work of fiction (someday I’ll have to defend that claim!).

Besides the 1st edition, another second can pick between one of these great prizes:

  • Lyle Dorsett’s edited volume, The Essential C.S. Lewis;
  • C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy in a single volume;
  • Jerry Root’s The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis; or
  • Marsha Daigle-Williamson’s Reflecting the Eternal: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Novels of C.S. Lewis

There are some provisos and rules below–including the apology that the mailed prizes are limited to the US, Canada, and Europe. If you win from another country, I’ll share something digital with you that you’ll enjoy and pick another winner.

Here’s how you can join in the 1,000 Post Party and be eligible for a prize:

Plus, I would like you to do one or more of these three things:

  • Share A Memory: On this post or on Wednesday’s party post, share your favourite blog, guest post, comment convo, or series on A Pilgrim In Narnia (if you share your memory here, that may jog some memories of my own)
  • Share a Link: Reblog, facebook-share, or retweet this announcement, and then share the link to that share with the blog’s twitter account, @PilgrimInNarnia
  • Share a MealSend a ham to a professor of literature in postwar country and get an entry! Okay, a ham may not be the best gift, and maybe you don’t know any professors in distress. But if you share on this post or tweet the deets to @PilgrimInNarnia that you have donated a meal to a family displaced by war, I will put in the draw

I appreciate the many great folks who share my work on facebook and other social media (approaching 100,000 direct social media shares, not including viral shares), but I don’t have a way to track those shares. This is basically a one entry per person kind of thing. My personal Twitter account is @BrentonDana, and I hope you will follow me there (I will follow back). I’m using @PilgrimInNarnia for this giveaway because I have a lot of @BrentonDana conversations that make it harder to track. Follow @PilgrimInNarnia and share this news for a chance to win.

I’ll close the contest Friday at 4pm Eastern. As I noted, I can only mail the prizes to residents of Canada, the United States, or Europe, including the UK. My apologies to the world, but the UK, the US, and Canada do make up 90% of my visitors, and I have worked hard to make this blog free–even paying out of my own pocket to erase the ads. The giveaway books are from my own collection.  The copy of The Great Divorce is a 1st printing, 1st edition from 1945 without a dust cover, eminently readable in fair to good condition with some pencil marks. It is more of a personal collection than an investment. If a US reader wins, for safety reasons I may wait to mail with US post when I go there in May.

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Announcement: A Pilgrim in Narnia 1,000 Post Party on Wednesday!

Image result for 1,000 Blog PostOn Wednesday, we’ll celebrate our 1,000th post on A Pilgrim in Narnia! Begun in 2011 as a sandbox project for thoughts about C.S. Lewis’ writings, the blog has certainly grown. With nearly 900,000 hits, 18,000 comments, 100 guest posts, and 7,500 followers from nearly 200 countries, the reach of this little academic project has grown past my wildest imagination.

So, we’re going to have a little party!

I honestly have no idea how to have a party on WordPress as there is really no such thing as a party for a Prince Edward Islander (or an Inkling!) that doesn’t include food and drink. So we’ll have to call it an at-home potluck and hope for the best. We will have a bit of a “highlights reel,” and a chance for you to share some of your favourite conversations. What’s your favourite book by C.S. Lewis? Now that Christopher Tolkien has died, what do you hope the next Middle-earth volume will be? Where should the field of Inklings Studies go? Are there any Inklings of the future writing today? What will adaptations of Inklings stories look like on film and TV in the 2020s?

Whatever we talk about, I hope it will be fun!

I will also host a little giveaway, with some C.S. Lewis resources including a 1st edition copy of The Great Divorce. It is not an expensive item (perhaps about $40 value), but a relatively rare souvenir of what I think is Lewis’ most important work of fiction (someday I’ll have to defend that claim!). There are some provisos below.

Here are some ways that you can join in the 1,000 Post Party and be eligible for a prize:

And do one or more of these three things:

  • Share A Memory: On this post or on Wednesday’s party post, share your favourite blog, guest post, comment convo, or series on A Pilgrim In Narnia (if you share your memory here, that may jog some memories of my own)
  • Share a Link: Reblog, facebook-share, or retweet this announcement, and then share the link to that share with the blog’s twitter account, @PilgrimInNarnia
  • Share a MealSend a ham to a professor of literature in postwar country and get an entry! Okay, a ham may not be the best gift, and maybe you don’t know any professors in distress. But if you share on Wednesday’s post or tweet the deets to @PilgrimInNarnia that you have donated a meal to a family displaced by war, I will put in the draw

I appreciate the many great folks who share my work on facebook and other social media, but I don’t have a way to track those shares. This is basically a one entry per person kind of thing. My personal Twitter account is @BrentonDana, and I hope you will follow me there (I will follow back). I’m using @PilgrimInNarnia for this giveaway because I have a lot of @BrentonDana conversations that make it harder to track. Follow @PilgrimInNarnia and share this news for a chance to win.

I’ll also note that I can only mail the prizes to residents of Canada, the United States, or Europe, including the UK. My apologies to the world, but the UK, the US, and Canada do make up 90% of my visitors, and I have worked hard to make this blog free–even paying out of my own pocket to erase the ads. The giveaway books are from my own collection.  The copy of The Great Divorce is a 1st printing, 1st edition from 1945 without a dust cover, eminently readable in fair to good condition with some pencil marks. It is more of a personal collection than an investment. If a US reader wins, for safety reasons I may wait to mail with US post when I go there in May.

Hope to see you out on Wednesday where we can raise a digital and/or local glass and share some stories!

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Brenton Dickieson’s Great Divergence within the Great Divorce: Podcast Interview on In the Corner Back by the Woodpile

A couple of years ago I blogged about the podcast, In the Corner Back by the Woodpile, this one about Phil Keaggy and C.S. Lewis’ influence. It took this long, but I was finally able to sit down with the Spun Counterguy and talk about C.S. Lewis. I can no longer remember what we intended to talk about, but the conversation became one about C.S. Lewis’ Christian thought in fiction, nonfiction, and lectures, and how they inform American faith and social life. Besides Mere Christianity, NarniaThe Abolition of ManThat Hideous Strength, and The Great Divorce, we also talked about fundamentalism, American history, hell, Rob BellChristianity Today, and the crisis of American Evangelicalism. It turned out to be a great conversation, and I hope you enjoy!

For the episode direct link and show notes, click here.

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A Peasant Pagan Prayer in Till We Have Faces

My first two degrees in literature are in sacred literature, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In those texts, there is a constant conversation about the heart of true faith. From Hannah’s prayer to the spirituality of the Psalms, from God’s lawsuit against the leaders of faith in Isaiah to the Sermon on the Mount, the prophets, poets, and pastors of God’s people are urging them to “bow the knees of the heart,” a phrase from The Prayer of Manasseh. I have come to believe that holiness is integrative, and we are certainly a generation that yearns for authenticity.

But I have been always frustrated by lacunae in the pictures of ancient peoples’ spirituality. I long to know the inside of their hearts. I have lived in Japan, and I know a number of Pagans and polytheists today. People around me are talking about indigenous spiritualities in discovery and recovery. I teach students from parts of the world where they carry to Canada the gods of their ancestors, places like India and Nigeria. I have ways of finding out whether their religion is integrative in the same way as mine, or in what ways it is different.

But I have been never able to get into the mind of the ancient peoples I know best–the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans, and some of the Nordic peoples. I sometimes felt the inside when studying the Greco-Roman mystery cults, but that was largely in the midst of ritual. Frankly, I know my own heart: I can feign a ritual, or operate out of fear, or use systems to seek power. I have always wondered, though, when you strip away hypocrisy and power struggles that exists everywhere, what normal Pagan peasants felt in their faith. Among the masses, did the worshippers of Ishtar and Ra and Baal and Tiamat and the Allfather feel gratitude, repent of disharmony, lift their heads in wonder, and feel moved to do something beautiful?

Surely some did, but I don’t know their stories. It is a peculiar gift of the Jews that their writings include at least the yearning toward the interior life of faith, and their interest can sometimes include the lives of those outside of religious and royal courts. But in my studies, I never got to the point of finding that rhythm outside of the Hebrew people and the first generation of Jewish Christ-believers.

Perhaps this was why in my reading of Till We Have Faces, I was struck by the empathy that Lewis showed toward the followers of Ungit. The protagonist, Queen Orual, despises Ungit, and is moved by her. Her mentor, the Fox, decries the “lies of poets and priests.” The entire book is a lawsuit against the gods, so we can imagine some antipathy in the writing.

Yet, there are characters who show an integrated and wholesome faith. One is the older Priest of Ungit, whom the King of Glome presumes to be a power player, someone who uses religion for his own purposes. Young Orual learns differently, though–a lesson that comes accidentally from her father. When feeling threatened by the Priest’s prophetic stillness and his senior soldier’s choice of piety over loyalty to the court, the King strides forward and places the point of a dagger through the Priest’s robes and against the skin, uttering a jaunt that is also a threat. Orual’s response is telling:

I have never (to speak of things merely mortal) seen anything more wonderful than the Priest’s stillness. Hardly any man can be quite still when a finger, much less a dagger, is thrust into the place between two ribs. The Priest was. Even his hands did not tighten on the arms of the chair. Never moving his head or changing his voice, he said,

“Drive it in, King, swift or slow, if it pleases you. It will make no difference. Be sure the Great Offering will be made whether I am dead or living. I am here in the strength of Ungit. While I have breath I am Ungit’s voice. Perhaps longer. A priest does not wholly die. I may visit your palace more often, both by day and night, if you kill me. The others will not see me. I think you will” (book I, ch. 5).

This courage convinces Orual that the Priest is no mean schemer. “He was sure of Ungit,” Orual knew from that moment.

We also see this kind of sureness in Psyche, but in a picture of joy and longing rather than grim assurance. On the eve of her offering to the gods–what all presume to be her death, either by wild beasts or exposure or the devouring of the god of the mountain–Psyche cannot wholly regret her going. Psyche has doubt, desperate doubt. But, ultimately, she has a kind of longing for the mountain, and a longing for death, that has been in her since childhood. And when she is found by the god of the mountain, her love for him is true.

For a book about Pagan religion in the highest powers of a small land, the lack of hypocrisy among the characters is striking. Beyond the King–who’s hypocrisy, I argue, is paradigmatic–the Fox is perhaps the closest, and even he falters in being tempted to believe, not the opposite. We get the sense that many in Glome have the spirituality of Bardia, captain of the guard:

“Lady,” says he, “it’s not my way to say more than I can help of gods and divine matters. I’m not impious. I wouldn’t eat with my left hand, or lie with my wife when the moon’s full, or slit open a pigeon to clean it with an iron knife, or do anything else that’s unchancy and profane, even if the King himself were to bid me. And as for sacrifices, I’ve always done all that can be expected of a man on my pay. But for anything more — I think the less Bardia meddles with the gods, the less they’ll meddle with Bardia” (book I, ch. 12).

Frankly, that’s a spirituality that fits well in the village life where I live today.

Till We Have Faces gives us a variety of pictures of Pagan piety. Aren’t we still in court, though? Bardia, the Fox, the Priest, Psyche the King and Orual herself–these are the royals and religious whose inner life sometimes comes out in history. What about the peasants?

Lewis includes that perspective too in a story set on the night of the Year’s birth. Lewis describes in some detail the New Year’s rituals of Glome–and some of the nicest features in world-building in Till We Have Faces are the little cultural and religious notes. As Orual and the new Priest rest in the temple, both a bit worn out in their advanced years, the novel provides a glimpse at peasant Pagan spirituality:

Presently the little door on my right opened and a woman, a peasant, came in. You could see she had not come for the Birth feast, but on some more pressing matter of her own. She had done nothing (as even the poorest contrive for that feast) to make herself gay, and the tears were wet on her cheeks. She looked as if she had cried all night, and in her hands she held a live pigeon. One of the lesser priests came forward at once, took the tiny offering from her, slit it open with his stone knife, splashed the little shower of blood over Ungit (where it became like dribble from the mouth of the face I saw in her) and gave the body to one of the temple slaves. The peasant woman sank down on her face at Ungit’s feet. She lay there a very long time, so shaking that anyone could tell how bitterly she wept. But the weeping ceased. She rose up on her knees and put back her hair from her face and took a long breath. Then she rose to go, and as she turned I could look straight into her eyes. She was grave enough; and yet (I was very close to her and could not doubt it) it was as if a sponge had been passed over her. The trouble was soothed. She was calm, patient, able for whatever she had to do.

“Has Ungit comforted you, child?” I asked.

“Oh yes, Queen,” said the woman, her face almost brightening, “Oh yes. Ungit has given me great comfort. There’s no goddess like Ungit.”

“Do you always pray to that Ungit,” said I (nodding toward the shapeless stone), “and not to that?” Here I nodded towards our new image, standing tall and straight in her robes and (whatever the Fox might say of it) the loveliest thing our land has ever seen.

“Oh, always this, Queen,” said she. “That other, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn’t understand my speech. She’s only for nobles and learned men. There’s no comfort in her (book II, ch. 2).

We can’t forget that this is only Lewis’ imagination of peasant piety, imbibed through decades of loving European and Mediterranean classical literature and captured in a moment of contrasts within Orual’s self-realization of the book. I know it is a fictional portrayal, but it is one that I deeply appreciate. In story-form, it is as close as I have come to the inside of a world which is now largely lost to us–the inner heart of peasant spirituality in the lands where the gods reigned in the social consciences of the powerful and the weak alike.

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Qu4rtets: Makoto Fujimura and a A Response to T.S. Eliot in Word, Image, and Sound (Friday Feature)

I am reading Makoto Fujimura’s intricate, personal, and intelligent 2016 book, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering. This book weaves Fujimura’s particular approach to Nigonga painting, “slow art” as he calls it, with Shūsaku Endō stunning novel, Silence, and Fujimura’s own experiences as a bicultural Japanese-American who finds Christian faith in–of all places–his ancestral home of Japan. This minidoc captures the heart of Fujimura’s work, stylistically and theologically:

In preparing a lecture where I use Makoto Fujimura’s work and writing to talk about Silence, I was on his website and found a link to an intriguing project. Artist Makoto Fujimura is joined by artist Bruce Herman, composer Christopher Theofanidis, and theologian of beauty Jeremy Begbie to respond to T.S. Eliot‘s great work, The Four Quartets. While I was not able to attend the original installation at Duke or any of the places on the tour, this short documentary captures the beauty and depth of the response. I hope you enjoy this Feature Friday treat!

Except from “Little Gidding” and the closing of T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

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