My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A couple of months ago I read Youth by J.M. Coetzee about an aspiring South African writer who goes to London. I felt that there was something missing in the book (my review here). I couldn’t quite put a finger on the missing bit, so I thought I would read Tropic of Cancer, which is the story of an aspiring American writer living in Paris.
Since both are semi-autobiographical novels they invite comparison, though perhaps it isn’t doing justice to Miller to compare him with another writer, but it’s the theme that interests me, rather than the individual novels. They were written 30 years apart — Paris in the 1930s, London in the 1960s, and that in itself makes quite a big difference. It is hard to think that the 1960s are further away from us now than the 1930s were then. Perhaps it is because I was alive in the 1960s and thought that the 1930s were impossibly remote. Perhaps it is because WWII intervened, and we are living in a different world.
But with Henry Miller it doesn’t matter much that we are living in a different world, because his books in a sense are timeless. In reading Tropic of Cancer the main thing that seemed different and out of place was that males wore hats, and felt uncomfortable if they went out hatless.
The first book of Miller’s that I read was The Colossus of Maroussi, and it is still the one I like the best. One of the things I liked most about it was his descriptions of places, and there are some good descriptive passages in Tropic of Cancer too.
When it was first published Tropic of Cancer and its companion volume Tropic of Capricorn were banned in most English-speaking countries. Even when they were unbanned in the 1960s they were regarded by many as “dirty” books, because of the explicit sexual descriptions. In the 1980s, of course, no novel was complete without such things — what was forbidden in the 1930s became compulsory 50 years later, so Miller’s book no longer shocks.
People might find it distasteful for other reasons, though; it is sexist, and there is an undertone of racism as well. Some have said that the book is misogynist, but it is not so much mysoginist as sexist. Miller doesn’t hate women, he just doesn’t have much use for them, or rather he just has one use for them — as sexual objects, and that is how he describes them all the way through the book. They are not people, they are genitals with mouths and legs attached.
But most of his descriptions of males were also pretty dehumanising. Perhaps that’s why I like Miller best for his descriptions of places, rather than of people.
Here is an interesting essay on C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, and their possible influence on each other. I agree with the author that Aslan in Lewis’s Narnia stories probably owes little to the lion in Charles Williams’s The Place of the Lion. Unlike the author of the essay linked below, I read The Place of the Lion before I read any of the Narnia stories, and my mother, who read it before me, said it reminded her of the nursery rhymne.
The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.
It helps to see the nusery rhyme in its historical context, which is political. In a sense the beastly archetypes that get loose in Williams’s novel represent abstract powers in this world. For Williams the Lion represents strength, yet in another novel he wrote about the Tarot, and there the strength is not represented so much by the Lion, as by the human being controlling the Lion. And The Place of the Lion ends with Adam reasserting control over the beasts, and the powers they represent.
In the last few decades we have seen people enacting Williams’s novel in everyday life, wanting to release economic powers, for example, from human control, as advocated by the free market ideology.
That all goes beyond this essay, but I think the essay is a very good introduction to these books for those who haven’t read them, and food for thought for those who have
Originally posted on A Pilgrim in Narnia:
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for The Oddest Inkling in a series on Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion. This was the first Williams book that C.S. Lewis had ever encountered, and it was transformational for him. My question in this blog is what role it played in Lewis’ own fiction writing.
The Place of the Lion in C.S. Lewis’ Fiction
I came to Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion because of my work in C.S. Lewis. I know that Williams had a great influence upon Lewis, and I am determined to find out how deep that influence really is. Moreover, Lewis discovers the Lion at a key point in his life: his academic career is building with the release of The Allegory of Love (1936) and his continual work on The Personal Heresy (1939) . It is at…
View original 1,645 more words
The evening of the Saturday after Pentecost is the Orthodox Hallowe’en, following immediately upon the Leavetaking of Pentecost.
The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to rise above our fallen state and to attain sainthood, thereby fulfilling God’s directive to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16, etc.). Therefore, it is fitting to commemorate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
In the Western Church All Saints Day is always on the same calendar date, November 1st, so Hallowe’en is always the evening before, and it is followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd. In the Orthodox Church the calendar date varies, because Hallowe’en is always on the Saturday after Pentecost. And All Souls Day is always a week before, on the Saturday before Pentecost. Actually the Orthodox Church has more than one All Souls Day — there are several of them, spread through the year.
There are saints commemorated by name on every day throughout the year, but All Saints Day we remember all those, known and unknown, who have lived lives pleasing to God.
Troparion — Tone 4
As with fine porphyry and royal purple,
Your church has been adorned with Your martyrs’ blood shed throughout all the world.
She cries to You, O Christ God:
Send down Your bounties on Your people,
Grant peace to Your habitation, and great mercy to our souls!
Kontakion — Tone 8
The universe offers You the God-bearing martyrs,
As the first fruits of creation, O Lord and Creator.
Through the Theotokos, and their prayers establish Your Church in peace!
More hymns from the Orthodox Hallowe’en Vespers
Tone 6 (from the Pentecostarion) (Having placed all their hope)
The Saviour’s inspired Disciples
became instruments of the Spirit through faith.
They were scattered to the ends of the earth,
sowing the glad tidings of the true faith.
From their divine garden the army of martyrs blossomed in grace.
They became images of Christ’s saving Passion,
enduring every kind of torture, scourging, and fire.//
Now they boldly pray for our souls.
v. (3) For with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption, and He will deliver Israel from all his iniquities.
The noble martyrs, burning with love of the Lord,
laughed at the fires and were consumed as burning coals.
Through Christ, they burned the withered arrogance of error.
They stilled the roaring of beasts with the voice of their prayers.
Beheaded, they decapitated the demonic hosts.
By the shedding of their own blood they watered the Church with faith.
v. (2) Praise the Lord, all nations! Praise Him, all peoples!
The heroic martyrs wrestled with beasts and were torn by their claws.
They were dismembered, slashed with swords, and shot with arrows;
they were consumed in the flames and pierced with lances.
All this they willingly endured,
for already they saw their unfading crowns, and the glory of Christ,
before Whom they boldly pray for our souls.
v. (1) For His mercy is abundant towards us; and the truth of the Lord endures for ever.
Come, let us praise the heroes of our faith:
Apostles, martyrs, holy priests, and noble women!
They fought for the faith in every part of the earth.
Though born of earth, they were united with the heavenly hosts.
Through their sufferings, they triumphed over evil by the grace of Christ.
As unfading lights, they illumine our hearts,
and with boldness they pray for our souls.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
O divine choir of martyrs,
ye are the pillars of the Church and the fulfillment of the Gospel.
By your deeds ye have fulfilled the Savior’s words.
Ye have closed the gates of hell and defended the Church.
The shedding of your blood has dried up the libations poured out to idols.
Your sacrifice has nourished the body of the faithful.
Standing crowned before God, ye amazed the Angels.
Pray unceasingly to Him that our souls may be saved!
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Today is the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, and the feast has a dual symbolism: the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
Orthodox mission can be said to have begun on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem over nineteen centuries ago and the ikon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is perhaps the best place to begin the study of Orthodox mission and missiology. It shows the apostles of Jesus gathered in the upper room, sitting in a semi-circle. There is an atmosphere of sober expectancy. “Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
In the centre of the semicircle of the apostles is what looks like a window with a rounded top, vertical, though it also appears to be set in the middle of the floor, which one would normally expect to be horizontal. It seems as though the window is open onto a dark night, and in it, facing the viewer, is an old man, a king, holding a white cloth. He is looking into the upper room, but in such a position that he cannot see it, or anyone in it. He is looking directly at the viewer. This is Cosmos, the world (Ouspensky 1987:322, 323, 332).
So the ikon depicts the mission of the church, or rather the church preparing for its mission. It is to go into all the world. And the world is at the centre, the focal point, of the ikon.
Many images, verbal as well as graphic, depict the church surrounded by the world. The world is sometimes hostile, sometimes needy. But it is always “out there” and the church is “in here”. The church, we are told, must “reach out” to the poor, hungry, needy suffering world. But the ikon reverses the perspectives and shows the world inside the upper room. The church does not reach out to the world, because the world is in the middle.
A children’s novel by C.S. Lewis, The last battle, describes the last battle of the land of Narnia. The powers of evil have taken over the land, and claim to have the creator and ruler of the land, the lion Aslan, in a stable. Those who doubt their right to rule are invited to look in the stable, where they have tethered a donkey dressed in a moth-eaten lion skin. But soon it appears to the would-be rulers that something has gone wrong. Most of those sent into the stable do not come out. The only ones that do come out are the scoffers, who do not believe in Aslan, but when they emerge they are terrified out of their wits. Those who go in fearful, but not willing to betray the land to its oppressors, find that instead of the smelly stable in a forest at night, they are in a brightly lit open country.
“It seems then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory, “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy, “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” (Lewis 1964:128).
And so it is with the ikon of Pentecost. The inside of the upper room is bigger than the outside. The disciples of Jesus withdrew into the upper room, and discovered that inside it was bigger than the whole universe. And so the old man, Cosmos, can mean many things. An older and sadder Adam, perhaps, worn out with his dominion over the creation, which itself has become worn out and ravaged by time and man. Cosmos can represent the world in darkness.
And there is the mission of the Church — reaching out by reaching in. Bringing good news to an old and weary earth.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and to understand mission it would be better to look at the ikon of Pentecost, and pray before it, than to try to describe it.
Notes & References
 Adapted from my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods, chapter 3.
Many Orthodox Christians end their morning prayers with the following “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina”.
O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquillity. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy will.
At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.
Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.
O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive and to love.
Optina Monastery (Оптина пустынь — Optina Pustyn) was a monastery in Russia famed for its spiritual elders (Russian: startsi). It was closed by the Bolsheviks, and the monks were scattered. Some were imprisoned, and some were killed. The “news that reached them in the course of the day” was often that some of their brethren had been arrested, tortured, or killed. The monastery has now been reopened and rebuilt.