Don’t Lose Sight
During a recent study, I’ve been rereading my favorite novel, The Great Divorce. The book is a poignant study (written by renowned apologist, C. S. Lewis) of the choice between the acceptance or rejection of God. The general plot and setting are both fictional and fanciful, but the section that struck me as relevant here relates a conversation between two former artists (one who is experiencing the joy of knowing God and the other who…).
…The outlines of the Ghost looked vaguely familiar, but I soon realized that what I had seen on Earth was not the man himself but photographs of him in the papers. he had been a famous artist.
‘God’ said the Ghost, glancing round the landscape.
‘God what?’ asked the Spirit.
‘What do you mean, “God What”?’ asked the Ghost.
‘In our grammar God is a noun.’
‘Oh – I see. I only meant “By Gum” or something of the sort. I meant…well, all this. It’s…it’s…I should like to paint this.’
‘I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you.’
‘Look here; isn’t one going to be allowed to go on painting?’
‘Looking comes first.’
‘But I’ve had my look. I’ve seen just what I want to do. God! – I wish I’d thought of bringing my things with me!’
The Spirit shook his head, scattering light from his hair as he did so. ‘That sort of thing’s no good here,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?” said the Ghost.
‘When you painted on earth – at least in your earlier days – it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the message came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.’
‘Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?’
‘I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.’
There was a little pause. ‘That will be delightful.’ said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.
‘Come, then,’ said the Spirit, offering it his arm.
‘How soon do you think I could begin painting?’ it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. ‘Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the Ghost.
‘Why, if you are interested in the country only or the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.’
‘But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.’
‘No. You’re forgetting,’ said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.’
‘Oh, that’s ages ago,’ said the Ghost. ‘One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.’
‘One does indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ind and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in pain, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.’
‘I don’t think I’m much troubled in that way,’ said the Ghost stiffly.
‘That’s excellent,’ said the Spirit. ‘Not many of us had quite got over it when we first arrived. But if there is any of that inflammation left it will be cured when you come to the fountain.’
‘What fountain’s that?’
‘It is up there in the mountains,’ said the Spirit. ‘Very cold and clear, between two green hills. A little like Lethe. When you have drunk of it you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else’s: without pride and without modesty.’
‘That’ll be grand,’ said the Ghost without enthusiasm.
‘Well, come,’ said the Spirit: and for a few paces he supported the hobbling shadow forward to the East.
‘Of course,’ said the Ghost, as if speaking to itself, ‘there’ll always be interesting people to meet…’
‘Everyone will be interesting.’
‘Oh – ah – yes, to be sure. I was thinking of people in our own line. Shall I meet Claude? Or Cezanne? Or -.’
‘Sooner or later – if they’re here.’
‘But don’t you know?’
‘Well, of course not. I’ve only been here a few years. All the chances are against my having run across them…there are a good many of us, you know.’
‘But surely in the case of the distinguished people, you’d hear?’
‘But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing.’
‘Do you mean there are no famous men?’
‘They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognized by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgement.’
‘Oh, of course, in that sense…’ said the Ghost.
‘Don’t stop,’ said the Spirit, making to lead him still forward.
‘One must be content with one’s reputation among posterity, then,’ said the Ghost.
‘My friend,’ said the Spirit. “Don’t you know?’
‘That you and I are already completely forgotten on the Earth?’
‘Eh? What’s that?’ exclaimed the Ghost, disengaging its arm…
– C. S. Lewis from The Great Divorce
It becomes critical, in the life and endeavors of any person, to draw the distinction between “personal” and “property”. My interpretation of the world around me is very personal, and what could I possibly have more ownership of than a personal vision? The twist comes when I recognize to whom my “person” belongs. I am only a mirror designed to reflect certain facets of the Light, but…”the Light’s the thing.”