Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Till we have Faces

I just realized that I neglected to blog about the book I read a few months ago: Til we have Faces, by C.S.Lewis. I will try to dredge up my thoughts from memory with as much freshness as possible.

As usual, Lewis writes with a compelling clarity. In this case I found it difficult to see where he was going with the story, and I wondered several times if there would be a "point" to it, or if it was merely for our enjoyment, to delve into the genre of "myth" and maybe feel something. And I did not see it all coming until the very end, when it suddenly rose up and overwhelmed me.

I first came across the book in high school. During my senior year I had a study hall hour, during which I often went to the library. I found the book there and read parts of it during that hour, picking it up off the shelf several times on different days, but I never actually checked it out, though I don't know why. The story stuck in my mind, the feeling of it, the depth of it, and I didn't know why that was either, for there was nothing I could really point out about it to say, "here's why everyone must read this book." So I held it in my heart for years that I wanted to one day pick it up again and read it all the way through. There were always other books to read and other tasks to accomplish. So recently I read it, not ever having found out the meaning of the Title. Til We Have Faces always seemed odd and strangely interesting, but the full line comes in near the end of the book.

A woman in the story has a complaint against the gods, because of the sorrows in her life, and finally she faces them, and she makes her complaint, only it wasn't the carefully crafted thing she had been writing, building her noble case against them. It was the ravings of her heart that she read to them and her complaint, heard aloud, became her answer. And she reflects on it as follows:

"The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, 'Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.' A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

Somehow it took all our bitterness and suffering and put it in perspective so grand we cannot even fathom the whole truth, like Jonah whining about his vine, chastized by a god who sees ultimately greater and more. I cannot communicate here fully what this accomplishes for me, but I can say that it is a treasure to hold.