Category Archives: Christianity

God in a cave

Merry Christmas everyone!  The following is from Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton in The Everlasting Man. I’m not sure I get the fullness of all its meaning, to be honest, but it moves me closer to the awe and magic of Christmas every time I read it. It’s thick but worth wrestling through…

Excerpt: The Place that shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths … explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.

Traditions in art and literature and popular fable have quite sufficiently attested, as has been said, this particular paradox of the divine being in the cradle. Perhaps they have not so clearly emphasised the significance of the divine being in the cave. Curiously enough, indeed, tradition has not very clearly emphasised the cave. It is a familiar fact that the Bethlehem scene has been represented in every possible setting of time and country of landscape and architecture; and it is a wholly happy and admirable fact that men have conceived it as quite different according to their different individual traditions and tastes. But while all have realised that it was a stable, not so many have realised that it was a cave. Some critics have even been so silly as to suppose that there was some contradiction between the stable and the cave; in which case they cannot know much about caves or stables in Palestine. As they see differences that are not there it is needless to add that they do not see differences that are there. When a well-known critic says, for instance, that Christ being born in a rocky cavern is like Mithras having sprung alive out of a rock, it sounds like a parody upon comparative religion. There is such a thing as the point of a story, even if it is a story in the sense of a lie. And the notion of a hero appearing, like Pallas from the brain of Zeus, mature and without a mother, is obviously the very opposite of the idea of a god being born like an ordinary baby and entirely dependent on a mother.

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Myth became fact

The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences … To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other … Those who do not know that this great myth became fact, when the Virgin conceived are, indeed to be pitied … We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic … shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.

-C.S. Lewis, from his essay ‘Myth Became Fact’

Kicked out: home, pt II.

When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere; just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there–how he forgot where he was going and then he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time, he thought he was an angel and dreamt of being perfect. And Then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.  –Donald Draper, Madmen

If you asked me to sum up the human experience, I don’t think I could say more with many words than I will say with just one: Longing. There’s a certain shiftiness those things for which we hope and desire–they either evade us or aren’t quite what we thought they would be when we get them. In the end, they aren’t enough. We previously discussed the idea of Longing in terms of a desire to go Home.  I’d like to pick the topic back up today using the idea of Shalom.

Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning: a state of peace, completeness and welfare–fully restored and whole. It’s a state of being, not a place. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Longing. A man cannot be at peace and still ache–cannot be whole and still empty.  I think Shalom may be the thing for which we seek–it’s the Home we have never known, and yet we somehow know of it. Our longings point us there: both the incompleteness of our joy and the pain of our sorrow.

Ever notice how even the very best things in this world somehow fail to keep their promises? C.S. Lewis put it this way:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.

We are left wanting more or other, but left still wanting–still longing…

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