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Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Weight of Glory

I didn't want to let this day pass without writing a few words related to the sanctity of life. This morning I heard a sermon that was one in a series related to the C.S. Lewis book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that had much to say on the subject.

In that sermon the pastor talked about Lewis' high view of humanity and how it is reflected in the fact that in Narnia as is related in Pslam 8:1-9, humans are the most exalted creatures below Aslan (Christ) and God himself (the Emperor Beyond the Sea). In Narnia the Sons of Adam (Edmund and Peter) and the Daughters of Eve (Susan and Lucy) are destined to be kings and queens just as followers of God are destined to someday be in His presence.

The pastor went on to explicate the ways in which this view of our real nature should impact our thinking. He first emphasized that we should be cognizant of our "royal" nature and how an understanding of our importance to God should give us security and rest while spurring us on to work for His kingdom. This is not a narcissistic view but a view of ourselves in proper perspective. This brings to mind one of my favorite sections in Lewis' The Screwtape Letters where the more experienced demon Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood on the subject of humility.

"You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness, but as a certain kind of opinion (namely a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt, they are less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue.

By this method thousands of humans have brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe many, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it, and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.

To anticipate the Enemy's strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour's talents - or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things."

Secondly, and more importantly for this Sunday, this proper view of our standing should turn outward towards a proper view of one another. He quoted one of my favorite passages in all the Lewis canon where Lewis explains what it means to take seriously the view that we are all potential "royalty". This section concludes the essay "The Weight of Glory", preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford on June 8, 1942 and then published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941.

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."

And that is the reason sanctity of life Sunday is so important. The right to life is not and should not be viewed primarily as a political issue but rather a spiritual one. Human beings, made in the imago Dei or "image of God" bear the"weight of glory" and should therefore treat one another in that light. Surely, that includes defending those among us who cannot defend themselves.

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