Lent III – A Firm Foundation

One of the reasons I started this blog seven years ago was that I have long grappled with the legitimacy of the calling to be a classical musician within the kingdom of God. I also doubted the godliness of spending 6+ years working toward my PhD, when many of my classmates from college were either going into missions or beginning jobs that clearly served others. However, I have come to believe deeply in the importance of a Christian presence in the music world, and in the arts and culture more broadly, because of the present reality of God’s kingdom, launched in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and our role as livers of and workers in the “already” of that kingdom (anticipating the “not yet,” the decisive return of Jesus, the rending of the curtain between heaven and earth, and the remaking of all things). And it is clear to me that the legitimacy of my work as a musician, researcher, and teacher is assured when it is built solidly on the foundation of Jesus Christ–that is, when all my work is informed by who Christ is and by the reality of his new kingdom.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

~ 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

This Lent, I find myself staring down some demons. I am not doing much music, much research, or any teaching, and I find myself feeling less myself, and far less valuable, because of it. The majority of my time is spent loving my two small children and keeping house, and while this is a temporary situation, I have trouble keeping that in perspective. But today I am encouraged by the grace of God, that all my work, both the visible work of my professional life and the invisible work of my personal life, is valuable not because it is my work but because it is founded on the Lord, Jesus Christ and set before me by him. And I am also chastened, reminded that if I do the work set before me merely because it is my duty, having a poor attitude and valuing it less than I should, that yes, I will remain a child of God, but that my work may in fact count for very little in the kingdom.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?
~ Psalm 8:3-4
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God’s Patience

When God’s Mercy Sounds Like Bad News

Sometimes God’s patience seems pointless–isn’t the world getting worse? shouldn’t he just come now and wipe the slate clean? are my apparently fruitless endeavors for the kingdom failures? aren’t atheistic, consumeristic, and secular agendas destroying the church (in the West)? But God’s patience is mercy, and we should act in that mercy, trusting him to be present in the making of history and being faithful in our work for him.

In light of the Resurrection, Paul encourages the church to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). His command is not a bizarre non-sequitur but the practical application of everything that’s come before: Resurrection is coming, so don’t give up!

This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.
~Psalm 119:50

Saturn is Subordinate to Jupiter

Concerning Saturn as the presiding “donegality” of The Last Battle:

…we should note that Lewis thought that art ought to meet psychological needs. That, in his view, was one of its justifications. Art (good art) very properly served to awaken or maintain or strengthen those parts of the human constitution which needed such ancillary support. As we have seen, he considered his own contemporaries to be in particular need of the spiritual nourishment that could be derived from imaginatively inhabiting the sphere of Jove. Too easily, in his view, the writers of his generation assumed that brains splattered upon a wall represented what life was ‘really like’ and that the consolations of religion were ‘really’ only a trick of the nerves, never reflecting on their equivocal use of the word ‘really.’

Lewis wanted to know why the former ‘reality’ was privileged above the latter and concluded the Jovial perspective had been selectively aborted. Of all the terrible losses inflicted by the Saturnine Great War, perhaps the most terrible—-from the imaginative point of view—-was this loss of belief in the kingship of Jupiter and the usurpation of his throne by Saturn.

Saturn  (From a Medieval book of Hours)

Saturn
(From a Medieval book of Hours)

… In other words, he thought that asceticism needed to have an account of the light by which it sees the darkness under reproach. Failure to recognise the uncondemnable wisdom inherent in the act of condemnation is itself a condemnation of philosophies that are wholly nihilistic. Such failure constitutes what Lewis—as early as 1924—called ‘The Promethean Fallacy in Ethics,’ a fallacy he found in Thackeray, in Russell, and in every ‘good atheist.’ The criticism or defiance that such a person hurls at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos ‘is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative…’

Lewis thought that the Book of Job showed the legitimacy of such complaint, and his own angry lament for his wife’s death, A Grief Observed, is an example of the same thing. He fully recognised the human need to shout and shake one’s fists at God: but, equally, he recognized that, once the breast-beating was over and the passion was spent, there was something else to say…

Thus Lewis’s model of the universe has standing room for bleakness, but no throne. In this respect, as in so many others, he differed from the modernist mainstream. As he looked about him, he pondered the causes of the twentieth century’s poetical taste for nihilism and angst, such as he found in Roy Fuller’s line, ‘Anyone happy in this age and place / Is daft or corrupt.’ He traced its origins not to the obvious source (the Great War), but much further back, suggesting that it had its beginning in Keats’s praise of ‘those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest,’…. His own belief was that the world’s woes were chronic but not absolute, because the resurrection of Christ had relativised them. One must do all one can to alleviate such sufferings, but need not be overcome by their non-disappearance in this life: ‘one’s own cheerfulness, even gaiety, must be encouraged,’ as must ‘the importance of not being earnest.’

… The truth of Joviality springs out of the chaotic remnants of Saturnised Narnia. It is at this point that we discover that Lewis’s fictional universe (like the one he believed himself to be living in) is not Saturnocentric, nor even interminably eucratic, but has a fifth act and a finale ‘in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out.’… At the end of the Narniad his aim is to make us ‘look along’ that spirit of open-heartedness as he orchestrates a grate cosmic eucatastrophe. Wave-like, Jove-like, it overwhelms those who keep the faith: for them, everything sad becomes untrue.

Quoted in Planet Narnia, by Dr. Michael Ward, pp. 210-212

Finale of the Last Battle

Finale of the Last Battle

In my mind, this chapter in Ward’s magnificent book presents one of the best (even if sidelong) treatments of the problems of sorrow, pain, and evil within the Christological view of the universe. When I read Lewis’s The Last Battle for the first time (which was recently, even though I had read the rest of the series multiple times over the years), I was taken aback by its tone and content. Yet through the lens of the medieval characterization of Saturn, the poiema and logos of this book come together in a profound expression and acknowledgement of the reality of the horrors and grief we encounter in life, which is nevertheless situated beneath the ruling sphere of Jupiter – the sphere of joy, courage, forgiveness, and active rest. We not only live in a universe like this, but also make our art in it. Accordingly art may (and should!) furnish us with support and encouragement by alluding to all of these things – not by negating the horrific and the sorrowful, but by situating them within the greater image of the Jovial universe. For “we are all between the paws of the true Aslan!”