Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Recently, my daughter found herself in a difficult situation.  I felt sorry for her because I know how important it is to her not to hurt people's feelings, especially people closest to her.  But there she was, like in the old song, stuck in the middle again.  My daughter, even though a teenager, has already traveled extensively, so someone innocently asked her what her favorite place to visit is.  Immediately, before she could breathe, loved ones started lobbying for their favorite destinations.  They were pleasant enough in this, but the threat of disappointment should she not choose their first choice was certainly palpable.  We still don't know her opinion, and I suspect we might never know it.

Even though C.S. Lewis is no science fiction writer of the caliber of say, Isaac Asimov, it amazes me of how little air-time is given to Lewis' so-called space trilogy.  I personally feel it is a brilliant and quite unique contribution to the genre.  The third book, That Hideous Strength, is a terrifying tour de force; I have never read a book that so powerfully and chillingly portrays the battle of good versus evil as does this piece.  It starts out slowly, but gradually picks up speed off the heat of your blood.  As horrific That Hideous Strength is, the second book, Perelandra, is philosophical.

In Perelandra, the protagonist of the trilogy is transported to the planet Venus, where he finds a second garden of Eden untouched by rebellion.  He has the chance to speak with the Eve figure to help her hold to the right path.  The conflict arises when a second visitor invades the world, seeking to sow corruption.  The ensuing three-way conversation is a potent discourse on the daunting questions of existence, purpose, and meaning.  The reader easily gets dragged into the debate, and for this reason, of the three books, Perelandra takes the longest to read.

Now, what does all this have to do with my poor daughter's dilemma?  One issue raised in Perelandra is that of making comparisons.  Let's eves drop (no pun intended) into the conversation between the protagonist, Ransom (whom she calls Piebald) and the Lady, in progress...

"What you made me see," answered the Lady, "is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before.  Yet it has happened every day.  One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one's mind.  Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of.  One joy was expected and another is given.  But this I had never noticed before--that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.  The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment before you.  And if you wished--if it were possible to wish--you could keep it there.  You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got.  You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other....  And this, O' Piebald, is the glory and wonder you have made me see; that it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good.  Out of my own heart I do it.  One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good." [Perelandra, Collier Books: 1944, pp.68,69.]

When we live our lives making constant comparisons, we cheat ourselves.  And whether or not we may realize it, this embezzlement of one's self by one's self will eventually lead to a bitterness that, in turn, becomes a covetousness.  It is a disposition that drives us to steal: in the case of my daughter, the good and the joy of her own experiences.  And should this theft go unchallenged, it will lead in some cases to a wholesale robbery of the person's identity and purpose.  As I have said before, forced assimilation is a consummate evil.

Such is only the beginning of the woes engendered by covetousness.  Other transgressions such as murder, adultery, bigotry, elitism, hatred, and so on, all grow from the root of covetousness.  Saint Paul said the love of money is the root of all evil.  I would suggest the love of money stems from covetousness that arises from the fear basic to a discontented heart.  And where does this discontentment come from?: all too often, the intoxication of making comparisons.

Of course, most of us have fond memories of some happy place of our past; we might favorably compare it against everything else we've experienced.  There is nothing wrong with this.  But it is a thin ice to tread.  As the Lady of Perelandra suggested, it takes an act of will to not let those past glories rob us of the present ones.  It perhaps takes even greater self-control to celebrate the glories of others and avoid fettering others to one's own glories, and so take from them.

The simple and wondrous truth is our God and Creator offers us an infinite kingdom not a limited one. As breathtaking standing at the entrance to this great kingdom might me, God would not keep us there. Instead, He leads us forward on an eternal journey of discovery, where every new good is followed by another, and each good is the best good.  It is the real Perelandra, where one cannot find the verb, compare, in the dictionary; because to revel in the present is to live, but to compare against the past is to wither and die.