Sunday, May 27, 2012

From "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis Part V

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love.  Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.  O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!" (Song of Solomon 2: 4-6)

The Four Loves: Part V Eros
…I am not going to be concerned with human sexuality simply as such. Sexuality makes part of our subject only when it becomes an ingredient in the complex state of “being in love.” That sexual experience can occur without Eros, without being “in love,” and that Eros includes other things besides sexual activity, I take for granted.  If you prefer to put it that way, I am inquiring not into the sexuality which is common to us and the beasts or even common to all men but into one uniquely human variation of it which develops within “love”—what I call Eros.  The carnal or animally sexual element within Eros, I intend (following an old usage) to call Venus.  And I mean by Venus what is sexual not in some cryptic or rarefied sense—such as a depth-psychologists might explore—but in a perfectly obvious sense; what is know to be sexual by those who experience it; what could be proved to be sexual by the simplest observations.
          Sexuality may operate without Eros or as part of Eros. Let me hasten to add that I make the distinction simply in order to limit our inquiry and without any moral implications. I am not at all subscribing to the popular idea that it is the absence or presence of Eros which make the sexual act “impure” or “pure,” degraded or fine, unlawful or lawful.  If all who lay together without being in the state of Eros were abominable, we all come of tainted stock.  The times and places in which marriage depends on Eros are in a small minority.  Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros.  They went to the act with no other “fuel,” so to speak, than plain animal desire.  And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their “marriage debt,” and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord.  Conversely, this act, done under the influence of a soaring and iridescent Eros which reduces the role of the senses to a minor consideration, may yet be plain adultery, may involve breaking a wife’s heart, deceiving a husband, betraying a friend, polluting hospitality and deserting your children.  It has not pleased God that the distinction between a sin and a duty should turn on fine feelings.  This act, like any other, is justified (or not) by far more prosaic and definable criteria; by the keeping or breaking of promises, by justice or injustice, by charity or selfishness, by obedience or disobedience.  My treatment rules out mere sexuality—sexuality without Eros—on grounds that have nothing to do with morals; because it is irrelevant to our purpose.
          To the evolutionist Eros (the human variation) will be something that grows out of Venus, a late complication and development of the immemorial biological impulse.  We must not assume, however, that this is necessarily what happens within the consciousness of the individual.  There may be those who have first felt mere sexual appetite for a woman and then gone on at a later stage to “fall in love with her.” But I doubt if this is at all common.  Very often what comes first is simply a delighted preoccupation with the Beloved—a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.  A man in this state really hasn’t leisure to think of sex.  He is too busy thinking of a person.  The fact that she is a woman is far less important that the fact that she is herself.  He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned.  If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, “To go on thinking of her.” He is love’s contemplative.  And when at a later stage the explicitly sexual element awakes, he will not feel (unless scientific theories are influencing him) that this had all along been the root of the whole matter.  He is more likely to feel that the incoming tide of Eros, having demolished many sand–castles and made islands of many rocks, has not at last with a triumphant seventh wave flooded this part of his nature also—the little pool of ordinary sexuality which was there on his beach before the tide came in.  Eros enters him like an invader, taking over and reorganizing, one by one, the institutions of a conquered country.  It may have taken over many others before it reached the sex in him; and it will reorganize that too…Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros want the Beloved.

C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (1960, New York, Inspirational Press) 262-263.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Carrot on a Stick

I’m sure we’ve all seen a picture of a donkey pulling a wagon into town by holding a carrot on a stick dangling in front of the donkey’s face.  This would supposedly tempt the donkey to walk after the carrot, because we all know a donkey is ruled by her stomach, and to get what you actually want, your load to be pulled into town, you need to tempt the donkey with a reward.  The donkey’s role, after all is a beast of burden, and you just need to keep that donkey happy with the dangling possibility of a future reward.  We all know that you don’t actually have to give that donkey anything.

  It is obvious that the donkey will forget the fact you never actually gave her the treat, and so every time you want to haul a load to town, you make sure you keep that carrot on the stick handy for when that donkey gets tired, and decides she’s had enough, you just bring out that carrot.

Imagine if you will, a little girl is told that she can be or do anything she can set her mind to when she grows up. So the little girl is given simple jobs to do which she is expected to do well, and she is told that when she becomes competent in those tasks more responsibility will be given later; after all, she is told over and over again that she, as a woman, can do or be anything she wants to be when she grows up. She is taught to clean the house, cook food, weed the garden, which she learns to do well.

As she grows up, she reads widely, studies hard, gains practical wisdom, but time and time again, as she grows to an adult, she is not given any more responsibility, but she is shown the simple tasks, (weeding the garden, cleaning the house, cooking the food) and yes, she receives some praise for how efficiently she dispatches these tasks, and she is still told that she, as a woman, she can do or be anything she wants, yet she is not given any more responsibilities.

When should she get tired of being that donkey?

Friday, May 11, 2012

From "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis, part III

Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves.”

Chapter IV Friendship

This pleasure in co-operation, in talking shop, in the mutual respect and understanding of men who daily see one another tested, is biologically valuable. You may, if you like, regard it as a product of the “gregarious instinct.”  To me that seems a round-about way of getting at something which we all understand far better already that anyone has ever understood the word instinct—something which is going on at the moment in dozens of ward-rooms, bar-rooms, common-rooms, messes and golf-clubs.  I prefer to call it Companionship—or Clubbableness.
         This Companionship is, however, only the matrix of Friendship.  It is often called Friendship, and many people when they speak of their “friends” mean only their companions.  But it is not Friendship in the sense I give to the word.  By saying this I do not at all intend to disparage the merely Clubbable relation.  We do not disparage silver by distinguishing it from gold.
          Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the other so not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).  The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”  We can imagine that among those early hunters and warriors single individuals—one in a century?  One in a thousand years?—saw what others did not; say that the deer was beautiful as well as edible, that hunting was fun as well as necessary, dreamed that his gods might be not only powerful but holy.  But as long as each of these percipient persons dies without finding a kindred soul, nothing (I suspect) will come of it; art or sport or spiritual religion will not be born.  It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that Friendship is born.  And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
Lovers seek for privacy.  Friends find this solitude about them, this barrier between them and the herd, whether they want it or not. They would be glad to reduce it.  The first two would be glad to find a third.
          In our own time Friendship arises in the same way. For us of course the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting.  It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation.  All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends.  In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth?—or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”  The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend.  He need not agree with us about the answer.
          Notice that Friendship thus repeats on a more individual and less socially necessary level the character of the Companionship which was its matrix.  The companionship was between two people who were doing something together—hunting, studying, painting or what you will.  The Friends will still be doing something together, but something more inward, less widely shared and less easily defined; still hunters, but of some immaterial quarry; still collaborating, but in some work the world does not, or not yet, take account of; still traveling companions, but on a different kind of journey. Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.
          That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any.  The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.  Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? Would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may.  There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.  Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.

C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (1960, New York, Inspirational Press) 247-249

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On Life

I want my readers to know that through all the sufferings of the life I have led up to this point had lead me to doubt the glories of this actual life, and my personal longing for the life to come in heaven.  This meditation came to me through my morning prayers and before a worship service today.  I felt that it was important to share this insight from my personal furnace.

On Life: 
So the gift you have given me—LIFE: an infusion, a pouring as from a fountain, washing over me and through me, washing me clean: Forgive me Lord—that I would want again to work so hard that my goal was not to serve you but to destroy the very life you died to save.

You want me to live, and until now I have wanted to die.  To build your Kingdom, my very life is not to be crumpled and burned to cinders—nothing more than road ash spread to keep cars from slipping on the ice.

You call me to show forth Your praise, to Rejoice, to sing Hallelujah—in that way Your love can shine through me to the lonely, hurting world.  For me to glorify You by reveling in the marvelous gifts you have given me!

I want to paint, dance, and sing! To Glorify your Name…to LIVE!

Give me your strength, your wisdom, knowledge and understanding—that I can reach the lost—show me my path; better yet, remove the blinders from my eyes to really see—and help me to rest in you.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit: One God now and forever, Amen.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Friendship Defined

Friendship Defined

I have not had time for several weeks to write a blog, and the next chapter in C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” is about friendship.  So it would seem providential that this is the very topic I wanted to write an essay on, and I’ll post an excerpt from “The Four Loves” later this week.

In studying Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethic, the topic of friendship under the educated gaze of the great philosopher held a high place in his teaching of what constituted the virtuous life, or a life of excellence.   In Aristotle opinion, living the good life was difficult, and much more than his oft quoted “golden mean.”  In order to gain the virtuous life, use our rational minds, and acquire wisdom needed the help of friends.

But what kind of friend should one cultivate? 

If one wants to become a man or woman of practical wisdom, what kind of friend should one chose?
According to Aristotle, there are three types of friends: 1. Utility 2. Pleasure and finally, 3. Friendship for friendships sake.

Let me explain each.

First of all, the friendship of utility, a friendship one enters into to gain some good from the friendship itself. Examples would be a business partnership, or membership of a business club, political organization, or trade union.  These are networking friendships or friendships with a certain goal in mind; useful to boost your career, and those of your comrades in the club.

Second is a friendship for pleasure, a friendship of persons who have like interests, usually people who you like to “hang” with, or the “drinking buddy,” the people who you have fun with.  This can also be the pleasurable relationship of the new romantic relationship: two people wrapped up in the emotions of “falling in love.”  But as one matures, you hopefully learn that emotions like pleasure, cannot maintain a relationship for long.  This could also be what was always termed the “fair weather” friend.

Notice something important about the first two examples of friendship: the people entering into these relationships are basing the friendship on what would be considered “accidental” properties of the persons in the relationship; another words, the friendship is coincidental to the relationship. Accidental properties are my hair color, eye color or my height…I am a human being, it is not necessary to my humanity that I have blond hair.  So for the friendships based on utility and pleasure are based on quality secondary to friendship itself, so the persons in these types of friendships are in them first of all for an instrumental reason, for something one receives as a result of the friendship. 

Of course, human beings are social animals.   Remember God said of “the man” (Adam) “It is not good that he is alone.” We know that the condition of being alone is contrary to our very nature, and not conducive to human flourishing. In this light, we all may have many friends of the utilitarian and pleasurable type, but what about the last?

Friendship for the sake of friendship, or as Aristotle wrote “…the friendship based on virtue and on the character of our friends themselves…” (1171a 19-20) This is the highest form of friendship, not based on accidental or coincidental properties (although those would go along with this) but a friendship of equals, dedicated to the other friend attaining to happiness, excellence, and virtue.  Friendship for friendship’s sake, or friendship qua friendship, which comes around seldom, for not many persons are willing to “do the work” required to maintain this type of friendship.

As I imagine it, this is the friendship idealized in the best of marriages, or the friend who will tell you when you are “drifting left of center” in your behavior, can get angry with you and “not sin.”  This would be the best of friendships, someone who wanted to see you live a life of excellence as much as you wished the same of them.  This is the friendship of hard work over time, willing to have the arguments, yet unwilling to give up on the relationship.  And if one or the other of the persons in this relationship is wounded through error or neglect, pride or arrogance (none of which are virtuous) true repentance is sought, and true forgiveness is given.

I would imagine that this could sometimes have a start as a mentor/mentee relationship that blossomed into a friendship of equals, or the business partnership which grew beyond utility and the walls of the business, or even from the pleasure seekers who grow beyond the fun and the beers.

I wonder how many of us are willing to take the lumps and heartache of having a friend who knew you well enough that instead of listening to you gripe about the same situation for the umpteenth time, cared enough about you to tell you to change the channel!  Would you be willing to let a person “vent” and then help them to process their anger because they are worth the effort.  And would you let them grow past you?  Would you trust them to still be your friend, or would you clutch them to yourself, fearful that they will leave you behind?

Would you want to see growth in your friend, or always see them as your own personal “side-kick”? We often speak of the “iron sharpening iron” relationships, but do you really want that? Could you tell your friend who has just fallen hard off that horse, “Get up and get back on: Now try again!” Or would you rather give them a hug and say “oh, poor thing, it’s ok to give up now” if that keeps that friend in a dependant relationship: satisfying to you, but no longer a friendship, but devolved into satisfying your personal utility. Aristotle wrote, “…the friendship of good men is good, being augmented by their companionship; and they are thought to become better too by their activities and by improving each other; for from each other they take the mould of the characteristics they approve…” (1172a10) so it would seem friendship requires the betterment of each friend.

Perhaps you can see the wisdom in Aristotle’s words, and in this ancient gold: what can we apply to our Christian walk?  What kind of relationship are you looking for in Jesus?  Is he merely utilitarian or pleasurable, or would you instead have the courage to grow up enough to be called his friend.
Didn’t he call his disciples his friends? Don’t we sing “What a friend we have in Jesus”?
Are you sure?

“…We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16