The Great Divorce: Advent 2.2

In our second session we continued by looking at several of the conversations between one ghost and the heavenly being who comes to meet him or her.

The Big Ghost

The first ghost Lewis observes is the Big Ghost, a man who has come for his “Rights.” We have already seen him bully ghosts in the bus queue, yet he is convinced he is a “decent man.” This Ghost is met by Jack, a murderer and the Big Ghost is incensed by him being in Heaven. This interaction raises questions about judgement. Jack is adamant that the Big Ghost “Doesn’t need to bother about all of that now.” Is Lewis saying that sins on Earth are irrelevant in Heaven, only our choices matter? This seems unlikely in the light of what he writes elsewhere. So what might be going on here? Jack lays bare the truth. He is a murderer but killing Len physically was only a little of what he did towards the Big Ghost. But the shade also has to face the truth. He wasn’t a ‘decent man.’ He was a hard man, a man who inspired hatred and resentment.

The interaction about “Don’t bother about it” maybe an invitation to let go of ‘bothering’ about other people’s sins, to let go of the delusion of being a decent chap, who has earned certain rights (one of them being his place in heaven.) Sin is a great leveller and we all need to recognise our need of salvation. For Jack, murdering Len was that point where he faced the truth about himself and realised his need of God’s justice and mercy. Only when we recognise our sinful nature can we begin to be compassionate.

The Big Ghost can’t, in the end let go and he refuses to start the journey to the mountains.

A change begins.

After the departure of the Big Ghost, Lewis’ character continues to carefully investigate this part of heaven. This section of the story feels like a point of transition. Lewis notices more about heaven. First he noticed its vastness, now he begins to notice details: birds, lions and cedars.

The arrival of the lions is an interesting episode in between two conversations. It is surprising. The lions bound in, play and romp in the clearing. They are soaking wet from having been in the river. Then they leave. It is an event that Lewis’ ghost finds unnerving.

Lions are majestic creatures and are symbolic in literature of kingship. Of course, when reading thoughts go to Aslan, the Jesus figure in the Narnia books. Lions are also untamed and wild. In Narnia Mr Beaver remarks that Aslan is Wild “He’s not a tame lion, you know.” Here the untamed playfulness is too much for a ghost and he moves away.

Another change is in the identity of the Ghosts. In “The Town” the ghosts were refers to as he and she. Here in Heaven they are referred to as ‘it.’ There is something about the light of heaven that shows what the ghosts have lost and part of it is their individuality as people.

The Bishop

C.S. Lewis has a wonderful light touch of humour all the way through the book and this is seen in this conversation involving the Bishop. Some of this humour, which also gives a sense of pathos, is the fact that he refuses to accept where he is or where he has been. He is offended by his solid companion’s use of the word Hell, despite rejecting the concept or reality of it.

The Bishop has rejected anything that made his faith real and had replaced it with a belief that his opinions are honest ones. This is dashed by Dick, the heavenly being:

“Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modem and successful.”

Somewhere along the line the Bishop’s search for God became and end in itself. Debate and discussion are what he lives for. Any sense of actually find truth, reality and love has withered away.

“ You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth.”

as the Dick tells him.

The Bishop’s objections to heaven, however are not about his belief in his own free thought and intellect. He puts conditions on his staying. He wants to be “useful” and to use the talents “God” (although he does not believe in the reality of God) has given him. There is no such option however. There are no conditions a ghost can demand.

“No,” ‘said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

In the end the Bishop does not want answers and certainly does not want God if it means giving up his image of himself as an honest, free thinker and a talented intellectual. He remains oblivious to heaven and returns to the bus.

Ikey and the Apple

Lewis’ character then leaves the glade and tries walking on water, which is fine, until his drift down stream takes him to a rockier part where the drop of water and unpredictable currents threaten his insubstantial form. Returning to the bank he watches a ghost, Ikey, try and take some apples from the tree, which is surrounded by lilies. In this scene there is the language of the story of the fall, and salvation. There is an apple tree, full of fruit. Lilies are a symbol of Mary, who responded totally freely to God’s request.

Ikey just has to have an apple (his attempts to carry several fail.) There is also, an angel, standing in the waterfall near by. The angel stands in a position of one crucified. Eden, Golgotha and the place of baptism are all images woven into the fabric of this passage. Ikey is unaware of the booming voice of the angel, who tell him

“Fool”, he said, “put it down you cannot take it back. There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blade of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.”

The apples are a free gift, part of the generous abundance of the land, but Ikey cannot eat, or even barely carry one as he is. If he would only stay he would grow a little more solid and then he could share in the joy. However he will not stay. He wants to possess the apple now and his desire to possess it means he will be robbed of it in the end. He too cannot break from the habits developed over a lifetime on Earth.

Finally, in chapter 7 we come across a “hard-bitten man.” He is a ‘worm-tongue;’ everything he talks about he taints with his tough, uncompromising cynicism. He is a ghost who embodies the rejection of hope and Lewis’ character takes a while to shake off the negativity that flows out from this ghost. His determination to ‘not be caught out’ means he rejects everything. Even his marriage failed to impress him. After only a month he was disappointed. Here is an individual who has never persevered through difficulty but despises all to avoid being disappointed.

There is plenty of humour in all the encounters so far, but these encounters are also deeply sad. And in these ghosts we might recognise something of ourselves. Overcoming our own habits, selfishness and shortsightedness is a struggle, even for those who are motivated. The book has a somewhat depressing air for it forces us to see that God will honour our choices and give us our desire. What if our desire turns our to be our desire to be right, to focus only on our intellectual life or to possess that which would be ours if we would wait for it. What if our desire is to spoil all that we see and pass that negativity to others? It is a sobering thought.

The Great Divorce: Advent 2.1.

Our second session of C.S.Lewis’ The Great Divorce began by looking at what the We had established in our first session that Lewis is exploring many things including how and why individuals make the choices they do. It is also a fantasy inspired by faith. What he is not doing is discussing Theology or Doctrine. Our starting point for looking at what the Church teaches has to be the Catechism. The Four Last things are:, , and

Our session leader also pointed out some omissions in terms of Church teaching. Lewis does not seem to explicitly communicate an understanding of the Communion of the Saints. Something of this might be seen in the meeting between the Ghosts and Solid People but there doesn’t seem to be an awareness that the Ghosts are being prayed for by those on Earth. One reason for this might be that for Lewis, as an Anglican, this may not have been a focus. Even Anglo-Catholicism, which does recognise prayers for the dead, doesn’t, in our experience emphasise it in the sense that it is focussed on in the Catholic Church. And Lewis was more ‘middle of the road’ perhaps in his tradition. For us, this is certainly one of our many gains since coming into full communion with Rome.

Another ‘omission’ is that of judgement. Both the Bible and the Catechism talk clearly about judgement and also reward and punishment. Sometimes language can get in the way when we talk about these things. Reward can mean ‘prize’. It might be seen as something I have earned and yet the writings of the saints, among others, teach us that what we “get” in heaven is God and being in his presence. This is no way earned. It is given as grace. When we talk about punishment it is interesting to note that we often don’t want it for ourselves but are quite happy for others to receive it for their sins! You only need spend a moment reading a variety of blogs on the Internet or certain newspaper articles to see the truth in that!

Underneath this is the concept of God’s justice and God’s mercy. We often talk about these as having to hold these in tension as if they were two almost incompatible aspects. Again some of this might stem from our desire to receive God’s mercy and others to receive God’s justice towards “others” However these two are perfectly compatible. At the end a loving God gives us our hearts desire. If we truly love him we will find ourselves in his presence. If we hate him, he will not force us to stay there but allow us to be where he is not. Lewis says elsewhere that Hell is locked from the inside.

There is some aspect of judgement that is about cause and effect and this is what Lewis is investigating here. There is an interaction between our desires and our choices, how we live our lives and the people we become. The outcome here is that God’s judgement and his mercy acknowledges the effect of this and as a result he honours whatever the outcome for our soul.

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul–a destiny which can be different for some and for others

The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,” will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:

All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When “our God comes, he does not keep silence.”. . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . “I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father – but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence.”
1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.

1023Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face:

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.
1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

1025 To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” The elect live “in Christ,”but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.

For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.
1026 By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.

1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”603

1028 Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory “the beatific vision”:

How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

The Great Divorce: Advent 1.2.

Chapters 1-3: From Heaven to Hell.

Lewis opens the book with an image of Hell we are not expecting. It is somewhat reminiscent of Seaside (a part of Eastbourne where many of the group live). Run down, raining; it is dismal rather than terrifying. Here Shades are tormented by drizzle! It is a pointless place, empty where every promise is dashed. There are good railway stations but they have no trains and the bookshops, where there might be some relief, sell nothing of any worth. Lewis quickly finds himself in a bus queue and, being English joins it, even though he doesn’t know where it is going. There are many individuals in the queue and arguments break out quite quickly. Lewis falls into the self-centred mentality of all the other characters. Some give up easily over some small thing. Lewis is pleased that the queue moves up, even without knowing where he is going!

It is easy to get fed up of these argumentative people. God is the Trinity, a communion of self-giving love. In Hell God is not here and so individuals are estranged from one another, they are brutal and critical. In every day life we don’t know ourselves. How well can we know others? When we judge them without knowing them, we move further away from each other.

When the bus arrives, it is a huge contrast with the dull town around. Bright and colourful with a friendly driver it is immediately a source of irritating for all those queuing. They resort to be judgemental. In life we need good judgement about all sorts of things. However here in Hell this has been twisted to something mean and nasty.

On the bus, Lewis’ character talks to several of the other passengers, who reflect certain attributes or take on particular philosophies.

The bus itself is a literary device for getting the Shadows to Heaven. In Hell there is no goodness left in these people but in the dull town it cannot be seen properly. Only in the light of heaven can these individuals be seen for what they truly are. In fact as they get closer to heaven and the real light starts to filter through, Lewis sees all his fellow passengers as they really are:

“I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities…all, in one way or another, distorted and faded…Then-there was a mirror on the end wall of the bus- I caught sight of my own.”

In Chapter 3 the bus finally arrives in Heaven.

“I had the sense of being in a large space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got out in some sense, which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair.”

Heaven is more real than anywhere the characters have experienced before. All those from the bus are just shadows here, “man-shaped stains” Everything is hard around them

This picture of heaven is a useful image, which reminds us that one aspect of Purgatory is not being able to experience heaven because of our deficiencies. The ghosts cannot partake of Heaven’s goodness for they are not solid enough.

By contrast, the people of Heaven are very solid. There is a freedom and a realness about them that is frightening for the Shades. Fear is very much a part of Hell. If the Ghosts cannot enjoy all the goodness Heaven has to offer, they can’t spoil it either and, as we shall learn later they can’t take any goodness back with them either.

This opening part of Lewis’ fantasy sets up some interesting images with which we can explore both Heaven and Hell nad most importantly the choices people make. We quite quickly realised that this fantasy can’t be used as theology or doctrine and this isn’t Lewis’ intention. It is a personal investigation of matters which will enable us to look at our own relationship to God and others.

The Great Divorce: Advent group 1.

This time last week some of us gathered for the first of our Advent study sessions. This year we are studying C.S. Lewis’ book ‘The Great Divorce.’ There are lots of strands to Advent and one of them is looking forward to the end things, including Heaven and Hell. This is a good book to investigate these topics as well a focusing on our own response to God, particularly at a time when we are thinking about Christ’s coming. This post is based on the discussion we had on the Preface, although comments from lots of people have been put together here.

The title of the book has a passing nod to Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Lewis mentions it at the beginning but also says he wasn’t quite sure what Blake meant. We had a short discussion about Blake’s poem. Blake turns ideas about good and evil on their head and states that both good and bad, love and hate are needed in human experience. At the front of the book is a quote by George McDonald, someone who influenced Lewis and who appears later on in the story. McDonald writes,

“No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of Hell in it- no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.”

In this quote is an important part of what Lewis is doing with this book. Unlike Blake, Lewis is with McDonald. Nothing of Hell is needed and we must be prepared to let go of evil for nothing but goodness is found in Heaven.

In the Preface Lewis states categorically

“A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simple going on. Evil can be undone but it can never ‘develop’ into good.”

An important theme in ‘The Great Divorce’ is the place of choice in our walk with God. Free will means that God will allow us to turn our back on Him, on all that is good and create our own hell if we so wish. The choices we make create our character. What we lose as we go along, if we choose for evil, even in the guise of self-interest or self importance, is the ability to see that the choices we are making are taking us down a road. These choices make us less and less likely that we are free to response to God’s goodness and love. Conversely, Lewis says the person whose choices lead them closer to God will find that these choices make it easier to accept God’ invitation of love. He puts it somewhat better:

“I think Earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been all along only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning part of heaven itself.”

There is in this quote an echo of the dwarves in the final Narnia book, ‘The Last Battle’, who refuse to believe they are in Heaven and instead insist they are still in the dark, stinking stable.

In the last quote, there is also the theme of desire. Where is our deepest desire? Is it for Heaven?

John’s Requiem

As many will know, John Pope’s Requiem will take place tomorrow at St Agnes Church, Whitley Road. There will be a eulogy at 10:15, followed by a period of silence. Mass will begin at 10:30am. There is food afterwards in the hall.

Please pray for Val and their family, this evening as John’s body is received into Church at 4pm, ready for the funeral tomorrow.

A Sad Week

As some of you may have noticed from our Facebook page, this is a sad week for us. On Wednesday night, our member John Pope died. He had been ill with cancer and had known it was terminal for many months.

John was raised a Catholic, but spent many years involved with the Church of England, including being on General Synod. He became a member of the Ordinariate a couple of years ago, when his wife, Val was received into full communion with Rome at our Easter Vigil. He will be sorely missed by our group.

We ask for your prayers for his soul and for Val and their family at this time.IMG_0034