This week some of my students will start to read C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory.” Every year I read it with my students, I seem to find something new or just askew enough to strike me deeply. The best part, or one of the best, is when he talks of a far-off country and casting spells:
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you . . .
Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all that is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things– the beauty, the memory of our own past– are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited. Do you think I am tying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice . . .
Oh to cast some spell that the darkness might flee! How strong the enchantment is that has fallen on us in these days, leaving us half-blind and utterly smitten with things that would bring us to an end. And yet . . . Heh. I guess that’s part of why I love the works of Tolkien and Lewis: how they contribute to the “and yet” that we also find in the biblical narrative. They help keep that necessary space open, keep that heart from getting that much harder. The scent of a flower, the tune of a song, news from a far off country.