Blog Archives

OH SIGHT BEYOND ALL SEEING

The wrapping paper is burnt, the toys assembled, and the turkey or ham just about digested, as life starts returning to normal.  But after the first Christmas, life has never returned to normal.  Let’s think about what it means one more time before turning to the New Year.

OH SIGHT BEYOND ALL SEEING

Oh Sight beyond all seeing,

Light in the dark of the sun,

Fact behind the face of Being,

Second of Three in the One:

What motive could have moved you hither thus?

The Life that was ever begotten, never begun,

Began to be born, to mourn.  For us

The daring deed was done.

 

Burned by Angel-light,

The shepherds’ eyes were blind

To everything except the sight

That they went forth to find.

It was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes,

Laid in a manger: such had been the sign.

The sign they saw by then still shows

The perilous paths that wind

 

Between the Tree and the Tree.

This much the sign makes clear:

The Light invisible we see,

The silent Word we hear.

What motive could have moved him hither thus?

We hear pegs pounded, see the thrusted spear,

We hear, “Forgive them!”  Now for us

The day of doom draws near.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM

Bethlehem, Beth Lechem, House of Bread:

Your white stones waited silent in the sun

For long years (long as people feel them run).

The prophets wrote no more; the Rabbis read

The old words and unraveled every thread

And found your secret out: you were the one.

And when the time came and the thing was done,

They spent the night at home asleep in bed.

 

Oh, they could put their fingers on the pages

That told the old fox Herod it was you.

But those uncircumcised, stargazing sages

Came first, and shepherds, wet with evening dew,

Had long since been there, and all had been fed

In Bethlehem, Beth Lechem, House of Bread.

 

Merry Christmas!

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 1, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

 

XCIX (Christmas Post 2014)

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

This was a fairly early sonnet, but I still think it’s one of my best.  It stems from the fact that Bethlehem in Hebrew (Beth Lechem) means “House of Bread.”  And so, some two millennia ago, it came to be.  The poem was in New Oxford Review, Jan.-Feb., 1982, p. 31.

A Cave in Bethlehem, like the one where Jesus was born

A Cave in Bethlehem, like the one where Jesus was born

Bethlehem

Sonnet XXXII

 

Bethlehem, Beth Lechem, House of Bread:

Your white stones waited silent in the sun

For long years (long as people feel them run).

The prophets wrote no more; the Rabbis read

The old words and unraveled every thread

And found your secret out:  You were the one.

Yet when the time can and the thing was done,

They spent the night at home asleep in bed.

 

Oh, they could put their fingers on the pages

That told the old fox Herod it was you.

But those uncircumcised, stargazing sages

Came first, and shepherds, wet with evening dew

Had long since been there, and had all been fed

In Bethlehem, Beth Lechem, House of Bread.

The Shepherd's Field, seen from modern Bethlehem

The Shepherd’s Field, seen from modern Bethlehem

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

InklingsofReality5c

Donald T. Williams, PhD

The Christmas Story: The King is on the Move

Merry Christmas to everyone from us at Lantern Hollow Press!

Today is a day of traditions in which each of us with our families and friends celebrate this day in whatever way we love most.  In my experience, Christmas is the cheeriest of holidays, and the undercurrent of joy (be it from the presents or, one hopes, from a much deeper source) lends such a lovely atmosphere to the festivities.

I’m a huge fan of traditions.  The familiarity and camaraderie of taking part in a family tradition is part of what makes the holiday so special.  My family normally enjoys a spread of specially made Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve while traditional carols play.  We often watch a Christmas movie or two before going to bed.  Most people seem to have a favorite Christmas film or book.  Often it’s a funny one; sometimes it’s a sweet one; other times it’s a solemn one.  My family swings pretty far in both directions.  We might watch The Grinch or we might watch The Nativity.  It depends on the mood, really.  My friend and I have a tradition of watching the strange and fantastic Hogfather, which involves Death taking over for the Santa figure when he goes missing.  It’s… much more festive than it sounds.

I have to say, though, that my favorite Christmas story and film of late has been The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Perhaps this is somewhat unconventional.  To me, though, it is the perfect Christmas book and movie, and not just because of my slightly obsessive fixation with the idea of finding a magical land in the back of my wardrobe (although I haven’t given up on that just yet).

winter lamp post narniaAnyone who has read the book or seen the film knows that there are some obvious associations with Christmas that can be made in this story. The children stumble through a wardrobe’s back into a winter wonderland.  Later on in the story, they meet Father Christmas himself and receive gifts.  It has a Christmasy feeling to it for a good portion of the story. As the story goes on, though, the snow melts, the lion appears, and we see an enactment of the Easter story.  So is this more a Christmas story or an Easter one?

As far as I am concerned, they are the same story.  The Advent heralds the arrival of Christ, our Saviour.  His coming is defined not just as the Incarnation of God in Man, but as a mission of salvation.  The Easter story is tied to the Advent and when we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating them both.

And so, to me, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the perfect Christmas story.  It reflects Christ’s coming in its entirety, the celebration of His arrival along with the powerful and ultimate sacrifice that He makes on our behalf.  It is all wrapped into one great tale.

aslan narnia snow winter

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are often struck by the profound mystery of Christ born as an infant.  An infinite God is contained in the most helpless of human forms.  This is something that Lewis’s first Narnia book lacks.  Aslan comes as a great and majestic lion, fully grown, a mighty and terrifying presence ready for battle against the enemy.  This is not the babe in the manger that we so often see in nativity scenes.

Despite this, or even because of it, Aslan is still a powerful representation of the coming of Christ because the great lion represents the drama and awe of the Incarnation rather than its literal enactment. We see in the lion what the Advent means: the King has come. Just as Christ’s coming was prophesied for centuries, when whispers of Aslan’s arrival begin to spread, there is a breathless tremble of fear and joy.  His return heralds salvation. He comes to ransom a captive nation who longingly awaits his arrival.

This is so wonderfully carried out in Lewis’s book through the imagery of winter’s spell breaking before the lion.  Aslan is on the move.  The world itself is reborn before him in a beautiful portrayal of redemption.  His presence has a massive impact from the moment that he comes.  This reflects the infinitely more lovely and awesome arrival of Christ, even as an infant, and what that means for our fallen world.  Nothing less than a heavenly choir celebrated His coming and while His surroundings were lowly and simple, there is nothing simple or lowly about the Incarnate Word moving within time and space.  G.K. Chesterton’s poem Gloria in Profundis focuses on this mighty “fall” of God to earth, how He lowers Himself and through that lowering, demonstrates His power all the more.

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land

stock-footage-seamless-loop-features-the-bethlehem-christmas-nativity-star-with-hundreds-of-twinkling-stars-in-aAt Bethlehem, the angels sang “good will to those on whom His favor rests.”  We who love Christ know that while He is not “safe”, He is “good,” and so if we are on His side, His coming is not a source of terror, but awe.  His enemies have no such comfort.  They know that the Lion is neither safe nor tame and His coming is something to fear. The lion Aslan so effectively represents what Christ’s coming means because he is shown as someone to be both feared and loved.  He is so utterly gentle and loving toward the children, even Edmund (or perhaps especially Edmund), but it is impossible to forget that this is a lion and a king and even the White Witch trembled before him.

When Aslan moved, the children in Narnia saw snow melting and flowers blooming; the witch saw her impending destruction.

When Christ was born, the shepherds heard angels sing and a baby cry; the devil heard a lion’s roar.

Sometimes we forget how unbearably awesome this story is that we are celebrating at Christmas.  Lucy says in The Last Battle that “a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” How do we even begin to comprehend this?  This is a story worth telling a thousand times over in a thousand different ways, a story of evil and hopelessness and the quiet and glorious coming of light, a story in which a hero’s sacrifice saves millions.  As ever-aspiring subcreators, we try to tell this story over and over again without ever coming close to doing it justice.  C.S. Lewis’s retelling is a fantasy and it is not meant to be a straightforward allegory, but it captures the essence of what makes the Advent extraordinary — the coming of a King, who is limitless in being and might, into the lowliest and most limiting of circumstances in order to fight a battle for us that we could never hope to win.  And win, He did.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

~ G.K. Chesterton

Thanksgiving and desire for ordinary time and Advent: In praise of C. S. Lewis

For several years now I’ve regarded it a happy coincidence that in my country Thanksgiving Day occurs the fourth Thursday in November.   This same Thursday happens usually to be the last Thursday in Trinity Season, which is most of what the Church sometimes calls “ordinary time” – which makes it the last Thursday before the season of Advent, the first Sunday of which is the Christian new year’s day.  As such, the national Thanksgiving Day is an ideal occasion to reflect upon blessings given us in “ordinary time” before proceeding into Advent and the new year.

This year Thanksgiving Day falls on the last possible day, November 28, which is also the eve of C. S. Lewis’s birthday.  (This November 29 would have been Lewis’s one hundred and fifteenth birthday.)  The earliest day upon which Thanksgiving Day can fall is November 22 – the day Lewis died.  (This year November 22 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death.)  The upshot is that in addition to the notable shift in the liturgical calendar which occurs alongside Thanksgiving Day, during the week of Thanksgiving I usually have C. S. Lewis on the brain even more than usual.

I give thanks for Lewis every time I read him, which is often.  I give thanks for him because he has taught me much of what I know about how to give thanks, and to Whom I give thanks.  Take, for example, this passage from Letters to Malcolm:

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun . . .

If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.[1]

Time_cslewis_coverPerhaps more than anyone else, I owe Lewis thanks for showing me the connection between thanksgiving, adoration and joy with arduous discipline and labor.  It takes work to see extraordinariness in “ordinary” time: to see a sunbeam shining through a cracked door into a dusty toolshed as a parable for the contemporary world; to see praise as inner health made audible; to see a world in a wardrobe.  Lewis never shirked the hard labor of looking at things with his eye lighted by imagination and his imagination disciplined by sense – with sense and imagination both tethered to affection.

There is more, though.  Just as every year ordinary time gives way to Advent, some day the term ends and the holidays begin.  We perceive that day by hope and faith, not yet by sight.  Here I find that Lewis trains my appetite to desire every bit as well as he trains my eye to adoration:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[2]

“Far too easily pleased.”  And yet the “displeasure” into which Lewis would train me is a thousand miles from that of the malcontented crank.  Into an age whose heroes and sages call discontent the mother of progress and Christian hope the opiate of the masses, Lewis speaks a word both sweeter and truer: as discipline produces gratitude and adoration, so gratitude and adoration whet, and do not quench, desire.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer 90-91 (Harcourt 1992)(1963).

[2] Lewis, The Weight of Glory 26 (HarperOne 2009)(1949).