Monday, November 5, 2012

From behind the desk

I’ve become a schoolmarm. Teaching at a university-model classical Christian school has changed my life – or, at least, the way I conduct my life on a daily basis. Lesson plans, gradebooks, and showing up three days a week to a workplace are all new to me.

One of the great blessings that has come out of this is teaching a curriculum called “Omnibus,” which is a combination of theology and world literature. I’ve been reading Gilgamesh, The Code of Hammurabi, and other classics. One has had a profound effect on me: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.

What? You’ve never heard of it? Lewis regarded this, his final novel, as his masterpiece. It is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of Psyche’s older and unattractive sister, Orual. It is a story of redemption, framed in a pagan myth.

It doesn’t mention Jesus, and all the gods are mysterious and incomprehensible. And yet it is the essence of gospel.

I think of the book of Esther, which tells of God rescuing a nation without mentioning God at all.

Can this be, fellow writers? Can we write of God without saying His name? Is it good? Is it necessary? 


Megan Sayer said...

Good? I hope so very much, because in my latest novel I'm doing just that. It. Feels. So. WRONG! But I think that wrong-feeling is me struggling with my seventeen-year-old newly-saved and wildly-evangelical self.
The story can best be described as magical realism, and this world that I'm creating, with visits from the imagination and people long-dead, redemptive though it is, can only work when one suspends disbelief and immerses oneself in the story. In my mind, once you start adding in truthful and real elements such as Heaven and salvation and Jesus the imaginary story-world can't exist, and then the story can't be told.
And I love the story.
And so I suck it up, and pray, and trust God, and set my eyes on an audience that may not believe in Him, and trust that somehow through this book-to-be maybe God can draw them into other words of mine that are more accurately true and real and traditionally redemptive.
I hope so.

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan, I love you for taking risks! Your book sounds magical and wonderful.

Jennifer Major said...

And no.
The Book of Esther doesn't say any of the names attributed to God, but just about everyone knows that it was God who delivered the Jewish people.

I can write about grace, redemption,sacrifice and re-birth and point to God and most people will understand that it is NOT Buddha to whom these things are aligned.
It depends on the story teller's skill and reputation, whether or not people see God in words that never say His name.

Unknown said...

Perhaps the strongest story would be without mentioning any of the names attributed to God. After all, isn't our Christian life the strongest testamony to God's redemptive powers, and we don't have GOD written in letters on our bodies. Thanks, a great post.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh. That is one of my very, very, very favorite books! It had a major influence over me in college when I was facing a crisis of faith (that switch between following your parent's faith and then finding your own).

I would contend that everything I write speaks of God in some way. Several of my short stories are not overtly Christian. However, they contain my worldview which is clearly Christian.

This is a good thing. I have an atheist friend who will read my short stories because they aren't explicitly Christian. It opens a dialogue between the two of us. He gets a tiny seed that is sown into him (how that will grow is beyond me).

And, C.S. Lewis was correct, "Till We Have Faces" is his masterpiece.

Kathleen Popa said...

When I was in college, my English professor told me the problem with cliches is that they shortcut the thinking process. So if you have to rely on cliches, maybe you haven't really thought through what you are saying, and maybe you don't really believe it. The search for new ways of saying what you mean to say forces you to figure out what you mean to say.

I wonder if much of what we write about God isn't cliche, because we talk so darn much about him in church and we pass so many little posters around on Facebook. And I wonder if it wouldn't be a good exercise to say what we mean without recourse to the things we've heard, for instance, in praise choruses.

Megan, your book sounds wonderful. I love magical realism. Keep going.

Cherry Odelberg said...

That is what I love most about C.S. Lewis' books; his ability to show God in fullness of character without breathing His name.
IMO, Till We Have Faces, is a spiritual and psychological masterpiece which I have not yet reached the end of analyzing.
Lewis, and the profound influence his books have had on me, is the essence of why the novel matters.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Wow, Katy Popa, did you mean to save those words for a proper headline post?

Latayne C Scott said...

Jennifer, I find that Christians are sometimes surprised to find a whole narrative book of the Bible that doesn't contain the names of God. But, as you point out, it does contain the unmistakeable and specific acts of God among His people.

I wonder, could a book be written that portrays Christians in an unmistakeable way and shows God's actions on their lives without them-- or the author-- "saying" things about God directly?

Latayne C Scott said...

Marianne, what you said reminds me of 2 Corinthians 3: 2-3:

2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.(A) 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,(B) not on tablets of stone(C) but on tablets of human hearts.(D) (NIV)

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie, I believe in tiny seeds. Every oak started out with one, every noble and great human was once just two cells uniting.

Katy, I think the power of the CS Lewis book is seeing redemption in a non-church setting. (Though there is religion in the book, it's not churchy: the protagonist identifies holiness with the smell of blood, for instance.)

Latayne C Scott said...

Cherry, I'm with you. I won't live long enough to get to the bottom of the truth in TWHF.

And you should have seen 7th graders struggling with it, wrestling it to the ground of their understandings. Truly, as they would accurately but tritely say, awesome.

Megan Sayer said...

Latayne and Katy thank you both so much for your encouragement. It means a lot. Standing outside and looking in is one thing, but pushing out farther into the opposite direction is actually really tiring. But you probably know that already.

S. F. Foxfire said...

I've been thinking really hard about this for a day now, and I think you're right. I mean, look at prevenient grace. God works in the lives of EVERYONE without everyone knowing He's doing it.

And, Latayne, I LOVE that verse you posted. It's . . . (haha) awesome. So poignant and true.

Another thing that people don't really like is (1) villains being ultimately bad, and (2) having those villains defy God directly and the only way to stop them is to kill them because they've made their choice to be unsaveable. That's what my villains are. Everyone else who makes an ultimate decision in favor of redemption is labeled a "confused hero." And . . . wait for it . . . sometimes the villains ARE the heroes.

Another thing is when I myself use God's name in books, I tend to use a different name, like Lewis did with Aslan. I like to explore different aspects of His character and give Him the name that fits that aspect. (Like Almighty, or High One, or Isten--which fits His personable oneness with us, I guess).

So . . . yeah. :D

Latayne C Scott said...

S. F., I agree that this idea had to "percolate" with me too, before I began to grapple effectively with it. I like your idea (and Lewis's) of using other names for God. He certainly gave Himself a bunch of them in Scripture, which tells me He allows some latitude in that area!

Megan, yep. Pushing is exhausting. But who said art was supposed to be easy, right?