Feb 17, 2013

House of Cards

I just read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.

Tis a tiny little book, very quick read--I recommend it :) 

(Tiny background: he wrote this book after his wife died. This is a collection of thoughts and pains he jotted down in a notebook after that.)

I was intrigued by the book for the simple reason that human experiences--thoughts and emotions--always attract me. His journey of grief and grapple with faith are so human!

His relationship with his wife is described so sweetly and painfully...as this kind of pain is not something I'm currently experiencing, this post is gonna focus on some astute observations Lewis had about grief in general.

(Hahahaha that just reminded me...sometimes my mind wanders in random directions. The other day in the middle of a run I was having an internal dialogue about the advantages of an author saying "smart" versus "intellectually astute." 

Obviously one sounds more descriptive, but perhaps also a tad pretentious. "Smart" might be a little common, but it's more concise. Yeah...Anyhoo...)

Allow me to share, first some parts that stood out to me (good un's), and second, three metaphors that developed in the book that I quite liked.

Good Un's

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."

"...this is one of the miracles of love; 
it gives...a power of seeing through its own enchantments 
and yet not being disenchanted."

"I never believed before--I thought it immensely improbable--that the faithfulest soul could leap straight into perfection and peace the moment death has rattled in the throat...I know there are not only tears to be dried but stains to be scoured. The sword will be made even brighter. But oh God, tenderly, tenderly."

"We don't really want grief, in its first agonies, to be prolonged: nobody could. 
But we want something else of which grief is a frequent symptom."

"...in grief nothing 'stays put.' One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?"

Closed Door

"Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude or praise, you will be--or so it feels--welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate  when other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?"

"I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it...Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. On the other hand, 'Knock and it shall be opened.' But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can't give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity."
(This reminds me of 'Where is the Pavilion' by Henry B Eyring)

"Turned to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door...When I lay these questions to God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate gaze. As though He shook His head no in refusal but in waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.'"


"You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?...Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief."

"I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn't."

House of Cards

"We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn't for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took these things into account' was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about he sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came."

"And I surely must admit...that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it....Is this last note a sign that I'm incurable, that when reality smashes my dream to bits, I mope and snarl while the first shock lasts, and then patiently, idiotically, start putting it together again? And so always? However often the house of cards falls, shall I set about rebuilding it? Is that what I'm doing now?
Indeed it's likely enough that what I shall call, if it happens, a 'restoration of faith' will turn out to be only one more house of cards. And I shan't know whether it is or not until the next blow comes--when, say, fatal disease is diagnosed in my body too, or war breaks out, or I have ruined myself by some ghastly mistake in my work. But there are two questions here. In which sense may it be a house of cards? Because the thing I am believing are only a dream, or because I only dream that I believe them?"
(I had to read that last line twice ha)

"I begin to see....Whether there was anything but imagination in the faith, or anything but egoism in the love, God knows. I don't. There may have been a little more...but neither was the thing I thought it was. A good deal of card-castle about both."

"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down."

Some Final Thoughts....

"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."

"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history..."

I think this last thought is why the "consolation of religion" is difficult to let inside.
Sometimes we just need to shake ourselves off and be happy, but for real sorrow, it is something that we have to work through. We have to experience it and eventually conquer it.

But there is hope! :) All things will work together for the good of those that believe.
We just have to make it to that point.

Reading this book both made me appreciate the sorrow of others more, and made me want to fortify my faith.
I understand closed doors more than I used to, I trust the rope more than I have, and my house of cards has been knocked down hard enough that I built it stronger this time.

Just keep swimming


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