October 13, 2003


Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Later on in his handbook to Charles Williams’ novels, Thomas Howard writes (still summarizing Williams’ vision),

Saints experience as bliss the very same thing that damned souls hate. Vexing necessities like waiting at red lights or fetching cups of cold water turn out to have been early lessons in joy. For joy is the final fact. It is the way things are, whereas hell is the way things aren’t. If, for example, I can just try getting this cup of water in the middle of the night for my spouse, who is thirsty, even though God knows I am too sleepy to budge, I will have gone through a very small lesson in Charity…. I may of course refuse, in which case I will have missed one lesson. The difficulty here is that this refusal turns out to be more serious than my merely having missed a lesson. I have lost ground. I am not where I was. I am a step back. Or, put another way, I am now less prepared to pass the next lesson since I have contributed by my refusal to an inclination, already too strong, to pass up the lessons. It is so much easier just to stay in bed here. It is much, much nicer. How comfortable and warm it is here. Let my spouse fend for herself. I’ll just doze a bit more…

… and wake up in hell, says Williams. Not that he supposes I will be damned for a small thing like that. On that fierce accounting we are all lost. Rather, it is a matter of realizing that whatever I do is going to nourish either selfishness or charity in me. There is no third category.

Williams might say that Lesson Two in this Cup-of-Water-in-the-Middle-of-the-Night section might be that I learn how to do it in such a way that my spouse will conclude that it is no trouble at all for me. A small self-deprecating jest goes a long way here. And of course the point for Williams would be that by my at least making the attempt to do it lightly and good-humoredly I will find that I have come upon one of the keys to joy. It may look rather small and doubtful right now, but it is a hint of what the City of God is made of. Selfishness and sloth, on the other hand, cannot even imagine, much less want, this joy.

Williams might go on to suggest that Lesson Three could very well be my learning to receive such a cup of water, or to allow my spouse to get up and get one for herself without a lot of fuss and protestation, if that seems the best and least troublesome thing for both of us. Charity is not bondage and fuss. The giving and receiving fall into place when done properly, like the advancing and retreating steps in a well-executed dance (pp. 27-28).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:48 pm | Discuss (0)

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