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Augustine, whom Lewis admired so much, states at the end of his great work, de Trinitate, XV, 51, “Let me seek your face always….Let me remember you, let me understand you, let me love you. Increase these things in me, until you restore me to wholeness.” We “see God” in becoming bare-faced, stripped of all our pretensions of fear and pride before him, indeed as the Beatitude expresses it, “pure in heart,” stripped of all our masks. Personal transformation as Psyche experienced was expressive also for Augustine, as a function of one’s relationship with God.
Gifted With Personhood
Postmodern philosophers, under the dominating influence of Heidegger, have been preoccupied with the nature and affirmation of the human identity. A major issue concerns the primacy of ipseity over alterity. These are the Latin nouns for when I speak of my “self” and when I speak of “the other.” Simply contrasted, a narcissistic culture accepts ipseity as the belief that one is basically self-contained; hence the cult of self-fulfilment. Whereas alterity, as developed by Levinas, gives primacy to being relational and social. Freud represents the first approach, of interpreting the decisive factors of personality as intra-personal, whereas Jacques Lacan, and much of the therapeutic movement today, interprets them inter-personally. For the small baby, the attestation of the mother’s face leads from “smile, to burp, to fart,” helping the child to become a valorized self, provided there is attentiveness and unconditional acceptance.
Many of my students have been directed to read Till We Have Faces. One wrote to me about her transforming awareness of receiving her identity as the gift of God’s attentive love. “I left my ‘self’—home, family, job—in order to find myself, like the Prodigal Son. This was because I did not feel that my identity was acceptable to my parents, or that I was ‘OK,’ the way I was [like Orual]. In order to try and find myself, I re-invented myself, and then discovered there was an enormous gap between the self I had invented and the true self. Despair swamped me, as I realized I did not succeed either with the self I tried to leave behind, or with the self I had tried to re-invent.”
Orual, on assuming the role of Queen of Glome, became more and more “the Queen,” and “Orual had less and less.” She then locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best she could somewhere deep down inside her.15 Later she realized that she had been so wounded relationally that all her life she had spent trying to stanch her bleeding heart.16 Journal-keeping often helps us gain more self-understanding, so Orual’s account of the novel gave her personal insights. But they became terrifying revelations of her self. For she discovered how self-centered all her life had been, to the point of destroying her faithful servant Bardia in his selflessness for her. Now she was “empty,” only “a gap.”17 In dreams that follow, Orual discovered her whole life had been like forms of cannibalism, eating other people up that she thought she loved, only to abuse and use them for her own narcissistic purposes. She was wholly a “craver” who had to be “unmade,” to become as “no one” in herself, only gifted “to be,” by true love beyond her control.
The confession of Orual is the tragic narration of Everyone. It expresses the incapacity of the human being to exercise love properly, without the capacity of God’s love within us.18 Only humans live with “mythopeia,” because of their “sinful” confusion to know their moral limits, when they also experience transcendence. The classical notion that potency lies in “being,” has become our “natural” way of giving ourselves credit for powers beyond our sinful incapacity. [As Lewis explained in his essay on “Nature,” the Greek physis as “a coming-to-be,” was linked, with the Latin natura, the biological connotation of birth and growth.19 ] But Lewis anticipated with fear the further blindness which ensues when the advances of technology further extend human hubris, with the delusion of an endlessly expanding capacity to his selfhood. Thus Till We Have Faces challenges us deeply. It also helps to explain the contemporary conflicts and chaos of our lives and of so much confusion within our society today.
1. C.S.Lewis, The Abolition of Man, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001, p. 55.
2. Ibid., p. 308.
3. Ibid., p. 109.
4. Ibid., p. 128.
5. Ibid., p. 165.
6. Ibid., p. 115.
7. Ibid., p. 305.
8. Ibid., p. 306.
9. Ibid., p. 308.
10. Ibid., p. 11.
11. Ibid., p. 16.
12. Ibid., pp. 42-3, 81.
13. Ibid., p. 203.
14. Ibid., p. 294.
15. Ibid., p. 226.
16. Ibid., p. 245.
17. Ibid., p. 267.
18. See the important article by J. D. Zizioulas, “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity: A Theological Exploration of Personhood,” Scottish Journal of Theology, vol. 28, 1975, pp. 401-448.
19. C. S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd. Edit., 1967, pp. 25, 33-34.
Dr. James M. Houston is retired Board of Governors’ Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1968 he worked with others to found Regent, an international graduate school with over 1,000 students annually and a world-class faculty which has included J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, and others. In 1976, Dr. Houston co-founded the C.S. Lewis Institute and serves as Senior Fellow.
He received his MA from the University of Edinburgh and M.A., B.Sc., and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University.
Dr. Houston is the author of numerous books including The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship With God, In Pursuit of Happiness: Finding Genuine Fulfillment in Life, and The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood. Jim and his wife Rita make their home in Vancouver.