catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 11 :: 2012.05.25 — 2012.06.07


Working to be loved

Under the hum of the radio I surprise myself by the fact that, for the first time, I seem to be at a loss when it comes to responding to C. S. Lewis. His writing in The Problem of Pain seems very academic and argumentative to me, nothing like the understanding prose of The Chronicles of Narnia that still brings tears to my eyes, that is still impossible to read without a crack in my voice. There is a necessity for both voices, and if anything I appreciate that Lewis can command both with such skill. But it does mean that, at the moment, my mind is too tired to respond to what it must and my heart meanwhile hungers for that truth of expression and experience that the mind never really has the pleasure of enjoying. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there are numerous truths which I’ve been keeping prisoner inside my own thoughts, interrogating them mercilessly and preventing them from migrating from my head to my heart. “[Your reason] has so often betrayed you!” admonishes Francois Fenelon as I listen to Eric Owyoung and Future of Forestry sing “Working to Be Loved:”

I might say a little too much in the meantime,
I’m saying too much in the meantime…
I might trust a little if I didn’t test you out;
I might trust a little, but you’re going to have to show me how…
I’m so tired of working so long,
I’m tired of working to be loved. 

There’s a pulsing artery of familiar anxiety through this particular song, the first I ever did hear of a Christian man who has as much trouble accepting love as I do. The very possibility that things could be other, that the object of your affection is even potentially capable of not sharing the same affection for you, means that you are constantly preparing yourself for such to be the case at the same time that you feverishly labor to make the opposite come true.

“How much do you want me?” you ask as she sighs against the siege of your kiss.

“More than I’ve ever wanted anything,” she responds, eyes closed and breathless, and you smile with a slight agony because, of course, she would know — she has wanted before, you both have. But somehow it diffuses into the two of you in vastly different ways. In you, it rouses resistance. You are not the first, you tell yourself, and so even as you know you love her better you know there’s no way you can ever be the best and deepest.  

“Bullshit,” sighs even the sad, disappointed part of your reason — the part that’s stayed friends with your heart and spends its time studying the labors of Love and the Well-Beloved, the economy of God — to its twin who has become mired in the cynicism and anxiety of Self-Love.

I’m saying too much in the meantime…
I might trust a little if I didn’t test you out…

“I never dreamed I could be as in love as I am with you,” you say a little shakily, and you mean it, though a thud in your chest leaves you guilty because you know that you want to hear her response more than you wanted her to hear the truth:

“Neither did I,” she replies with those closed eyes, that airy lack of breath, and the smile! That head-shake and the smile that says, “I have reflected, I have assessed, I have chosen, and I am amazed.”

The deconstruction begins again, the dismembering of trust over semantics and experience. On its way to the heart, this truth is manhandled, raped by a self-centered and self-defending rationality. It arrives home in tatters, unable to do the work it was intended to do.

I’m so tired of working so long to be loved.

“The free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and creatures, availing themselves of this possibility have become evil,” Lewis says. We understand this as the freedom to love or not to love — we risk everything when we love on the possibility that the beloved might not love us back. We sinned against God by loving ourselves instead of him, but true love demands that we have the option not to love back.

But what about the other side of things? Which is worse: to not love in the first place, or to actively deny a love that is real? What was that first great sin? Was it pride like we’ve always said it was, like Augustine has taught us and which Lewis reiterates?

Or was it fear?

“Did God really say…?”  Those were the fatal words of the Serpent in the garden. Truthfully, Eve resisted all the way up to that point. Even as she was told that she would be like God, it didn’t bear the same adrenal sting as the idea that God might not be telling the truth, that he might not be who he said he was.  

“I love you…”  The Father’s words echoed anew, a memory imprinted by the chemicals of her eardrum, having been etched there by such fervent repetition that her mind could play them back like a phonograph. But as the message descended her spinal cord, sparked into her veins and charged forward to nourish her heart as they had time after time after time after time…this time, they never made it. This time they were lashed into a serpentine coil, the cold sharp scales making it all the more horrific as they were violated by the new, savage throb of doubt.

“No, you don’t,” she nearly sobs as her teeth crunch into the fruit. The “I love you” chokes, and dies.

I’m so tired of working to be loved.

“To obey is the proper office of a rational soul,” is the quote with which Lewis begins the chapter on the Fall of Man. And this is true, if “Love is Lord of heaven and earth,” as the song says. The rational soul is one which is subservient to the reality of things — the irrational soul, then, is the one which resists reality because it doesn’t know what to make of it. And what could drive a soul to such irrationality as to deny Love, the fabric of the universe, right in front of it? What, besides fear?

“Adam! Adam! Where are you?”

“I was afraid, Lord, and so I hid.”

I might see a little better if I just get out;
I might see a little better if I saw you now.
I’d see better if I saw you now…

Lewis admits that this story of the fall is one of the many great myths of scripture. Not a great myth as in a big lie, but a terrific story that teaches truth upon truth — one that “describes the landscape of the Kingdom,” as songwriter Josh Garrels would say. It’s made clear that we need these stories; “without parables, He did not speak to them.” We learn by stories, and at the end of this story God hears the voices of his children, now forever etched on his own mind: “No — no, you don’t love me.”

Lewis the apologist is aware that he isn’t telling a story in The Problem of Pain — he’s engaging in literary criticism. He looks to the stories to tell the whole truth of the thing. It’s a surprisingly postmodern approach, but it’s inescapable: the drama of scripture is a fantastic myth because of the truth it tells, and it tells that truth well by its impeccable storytelling. God’s economy is rooted in this tautology.

Love itself is a tautology: “I love you because I love you because I love you.”

We need the stories of scripture, we need the parables of Jesus, we need the narrative of the passion. And, in many ways, perhaps at just the time that Lewis was writing him onto the page, we needed Aslan. We needed to hear the voice of a little boy as he pleaded the case of his sick and dying mother, and we needed to hear the Great Lion say, “My son…my son! I know; grief is great. Only you and I in this world know that yet.”

I might trust a little; trust you —

but you’re going to have to show me how.

“I have a sin of fear,” John Donne laments. And that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s fear that causes us to try to reason our way out of the tautology, out of the cyclical embrace of love, and the vertigo of romance becomes a nauseating demon-drop instead of the thrilling gyre it’s meant to be.

Ultimately no one — not Fenelon, not Donne, not Lewis — is able to answer the problem of this pain. These are diseased people writing about a human disease, and their perspectives are limited by the fact that they live in the middle of the suffering just as we do. Owyoung lives there along with them, doing his best to voice the question, never mind trying to make sense of it:

I might feel a little better in the daytime.
I might feel a little better if I told you why;
I’d feel better if I told you why:
I’m so tired of working for so long to be loved.

Nothing explains the story better than a story itself. There is no final, definitive answer that can be given. But somehow, if we manage to tell Him why, and then rest in the words, “I know, I know; grief is great,” it helps us feel that maybe the question can go unanswered just a little longer.

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