Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

If you’ve been sticking with me for the last week or so, I’ve been exploring the purposes of marriage. So far, I’ve explained that I think they are (a) not to achieve happiness; (b) to grow us up; and (c) to teach us about God.  Another purpose of marriage, I believe, is (d) to teach us what it means to be human.

Let me explain.

# 1. Being human is about acknowledging and balancing our “composite nature” – in other words, the fact that we are both material and spiritual.

I, along with the majority of humanity throughout history, believe that human beings are somehow both earthly and celestial; both mortal and immortal; both carnal and divine. Aristotle called human beings “rational animals,” highlighting our paradoxical nature. Philip Yancey elegantly describes us as “angels wallowing in mud, mammals attempting to fly”[i]. He elaborates: “Although our cells may carry traces of stardust, we also bear the image of the God who made those stars”[ii]. We are a mysterious blend of earth and heaven.

I believe that marriage allows us to see this fact most clearly.

The sexual union which takes place in marriage is both the most animalistic and the most transcendent of human experiences. On the one hand it is merely biological – the meeting of organs and bodily fluids. It is an act we share in common with toads, cats and antelope. But on the other hand, it is one of the most personal and intimate of acts between two people.  In human sexual expression, souls touch.

We know that sex is different for humans than it is for animals because no other species on the planet makes such a big deal out of sex. No other creature seeks privacy in copulation. No other animal seeks exclusivity so intensely, and expresses such rage and sorrow at having that exclusivity intruded upon (Just think of how passionate lovers feel when they find out their partners have had an affair). No other species makes jokes and feels embarrassed about sex, as if it were somehow unnatural. Only humans recognize that there is something profound and otherworldly about sex.

No other act makes humans more aware that they are a strange and mysterious blend of the earthly and the divine.

Moreover, the experience of purposefully spending a lifetime with a single human being also teaches us how paradoxical we are, as we must take care of one another’s most basic, physical necessities at the same that we must consider each other’s highest emotional needs. We are an odd species indeed.

#2. Being human is about living in community and learning that we need one another.

Homo sapiens are a communal species. We are social by nature. Yet, we are eternally plagued by a desire to be selfish, to serve our own needs at the expense of others, and to pull away from one another when we experience conflict.  A part of us wants to be individual, to be special, to be above one another. In these times, we fight against our nature, as we fight to be separate from and better than one another.

Life by ourselves makes us less human. Life with other people makes us more human.

One of the most basic and natural ways in which we humans forge community is through marriage – through falling in love, making commitments to one another, living together, and creating families.

One of the most natural pulls we humans have to one another is that of sexual attraction and desire. That attraction and desire brings us to do all kinds of unnatural (or, one might say, transcendental) things, like swearing to remain loyal to a single human being for the rest of our lives. That powerful, instinctive drive for a sexual partner ensures that we seek out communion with another human being, even when we would often not choose to.  The instinct for marriage draws us into community.

The instinct for marriage, in short, keeps us human.

#3. Being human is about making sacrifices for one another and finding out that we’re better off for having done it.

Commenters on my previous posts have already pointed out that marriage creates an atmosphere where you need to make sacrifices to one another, and in doing so you become more like the person God wants you to be. Jesus and experience teach us that when we willingly sacrifice ourselves to others, instead of losing ourselves we actually gain.

Again, I think that no relationship exemplifies this fact like marriage. We have to surrender our time, our comfort, our desires, and our energy to make our relationship work – day after day after day.  And in the end, we win. In the process we get a constant lifelong companion who makes all kinds of personal sacrifices for our sakes, too.

As C. S. Lewis puts it, “one of the first things Eros [which he defines as “being in love”] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving”[iii]. When you are in love, giving and receiving become identical. When in love, you delight in giving good things to your beloved so much that it is like giving yourself a gift.

The same is with sex: when you give your body to your beloved an act of supreme vulnerability, you win.

Marriage, then, teaches us the truth about giving and about the nature of humanity.

In these ways, then, I believe marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

What do you think? Do you think marriage helps us to understand what being human is all about? Does my second point, especially the last part, even make sense to you? (My husband wasn’t so sure). Am I overlooking any other very important aspects of being human, or marriage?

*Note: For my next post, I think I’m going to take a break from all this heavy philosophizing and tell you a dumb story about my husband, and what he said to my friends to make me wish he had a mute button. It is a teensy bit very scandalous.

Then I want to finish my series with What is the Point of Marriage? Part 5: To Fulfill Basic Human Needs

Also: Yes, that’s me and my husband on our wedding day in the photo. Is it cheesy to post my own wedding pics on my blog?? I’m nervous about taking other ones from the internet and inadvertently breaking the law.

[i] Yancey, Philip. Rumours of Another World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 38.

[ii] ibid., 39.

[iii] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.

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Some of the comments I received from my generous reader-friends concerning my recent post, Falling out of Love, made me think that I probably ought to expand a little on some of my points and clarify some of my terms.

For example, my friend Aso said this:

I find love (passion?) an influential problem solver between couples. When in love, we can easily forgive the partner’s mistake, sacrifice without feeling that we’ve taken away something from ourselves, reconcile, feel happy and satisfied … [L]iving without love and passion is not that easy no matter how logical we try to be. I find emotions a great motivator for human actions … [So] what’s the next step after the consciousness that you warned us about? How about re-falling in love? […]…Hmm maybe you can write about falling in love again and again.

[I’ve taken some parts out . . . hopefully I’m not misrepresenting you, Aso].

What I understand her to be saying here is that passionate love – what I’ve called “being in love” – motivates us to be forgiving and sacrificial; and if we lose that passionate feeling, we can lose our motivation.  So, she asks, how can we re-learn to fall in love and regain that source of selflessness?

Upon reading this, I realized that I had been a little fuzzy on my definition of “being in love.”  It’s a pretty subjective experience and – obviously – different people have different ways of understanding it.  So let me clarify what I mean by it.

I realized that (in my mind, anyway) I was simultaneously using the term to mean two, slightly different experiences of love – the first, being the way I felt about Ben when I first met him, and the second, being the way I feel about him now.  The feelings I had for Ben when I first “fell in love” are very different from the feelings I experience now, although I still consider myself “in love” with him.  So it’s kind of confusing when I talk about “falling out of love” – do I mean losing that original sensation, or losing my current, more subtle love?

Allow me to explain further.  Back when we first met, my love for Ben was intoxicating and electric.  I thought about him constantly, and it made me dizzy.  He made me nervous and giddy.  I’m sure you know this feeling.  Almost everyone has probably “fallen” for someone in this sense.  The anticipation of our next meeting made me almost sick with excitement.  The whole experience of love at this time was so new, so wondrous, so unbelievable.  That strange and fascinating man was interested in me?  I couldn’t believe it.  It was magical.  I thought my heart would explode with joy.  And anxiety.  What if he didn’t love me as much as I loved him?  What a blessed but angst-riddled time of life!

Today, of course, I laugh at my old lovesick self.  So much undue exhilaration over some tall, soft-spoken dude with hideous white toes and a tendency to depression. . . . So much gratuitous excitement over some guy I’d eventually live with, who would irritate me daily with his road rage and who I’d hear blowing his nose in the shower with his hands every morning for the rest of my life.  I was such a silly teenager, pouring out so much adoration on some ordinary boy — getting so excited every time I saw a new email from him in my inbox, and feeling so brokenhearted every time he failed to express enough adoration for me.  That childish love was so excessive and exhausting, I think to myself now.

And yet I still love him passionately, as I have already discussed.  So I say that I am still “in love” with this man, though in a very different way.

And I expect this love, too, to eventually fade.

So then, which one is it?  When was I really “in love” – back when I was desperately infatuated with him, or now that I actually know him through and through yet still adore him?  Everyone will probably have their own answer.  As for me, though, I guess that if I were pressed for an answer, I would say that my earlier phase ought to be called “being in love,” while the love I feel now could be described as “romantic and committed.”  I guess the new one  doesn’t sound as fancy, but it isn’t as fancy.  It’s the normal, productive kind of love that makes you kindhearted towards your beloved but not crazy.

So, to return to Aso’s question about “re-falling in love” . . .

One thing I do know for sure is that I will never be able to get back to that first, head-over-heels love I once had for Ben, and that it would be silly to try.  That stuff is for new couples – for first dates and the like.  I just know him too well now for that.  I see him every day, and he does a lot of annoying, gross, and immature stuff.  I will never be able to feel such a thrill of excitement to see his name on the caller ID.  And I think that’s OK.  But I’m pretty sure there are many people out there, whether involved in a relationship or not, who believe that they really ought to be able to return to that original state of passion, after years of marriage, and believe that there is something wrong with the relationship if they can’t.  And that’s what I was trying to argue against in my previous post.  Certain types of love fade, and that’s OK.  In fact, it might be a good thing: although “being in love” was exhilarating, it made me self-absorbed and a little nutty.   I forgot to clarify in my last post that although these feelings wear off, they ought to be replaced by other (often better) kinds of love.

This is kind of embarrassing, but once again, I find that C. S. Lewis (the notorious bachelor, of all people) says it best – and not in the Four Loves, either, but in Mere Christianity, in his chapter on Christian marriage.  He writes,

What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us.  It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality. . . .  No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness.

He adds,

Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing.  There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. . . . It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling.  Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.  Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.  And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they had felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were.  Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years?  What would become of your work, your appetite, your friendships?  But of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense – love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit. (99-100)

I agree with Jack 100% on this, and he wasn’t even married when he wrote it.

Another point I want to make is that although I agree that passionate love is a great motivator to heroic, selfless, Christlike behaviour (towards one person, anyway – your beloved), that we do not lose our responsibility to keep caring for and staying faithful to our spouses when it’s gone.  The very point of marriage is that it keeps partners together even after they’ve lost their passion for on another.  That’s the point of making vows.  If staying together was only contingent upon our feelings, and we were entitled to separate as soon as the feelings were gone, there would be no need to make the vows.  We could just do as we pleased.  As Lewis says, “[T]hose who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.  The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do” (98). What he is saying here is that when we are in love, we truly feel we want to be with our beloved for all eternity – it’s the natural consequence of love. Marriage vows just make sure we actually do what we say we want to do.  He adds, “And, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits one to being true even if I cease to be in love.   A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feelings in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry” (98). In other words, vows aren’t a promise to feel a certain way for the rest of our lives, which is impossible; they’re a promise to act a certain way towards our spouses even when we don’t feel like it.

But I agree with Aso – it’s still probably a good idea to try to rekindle passion in the later stages of your marriage.  It makes it easier and more pleasant to honour one’s commitment, which makes everyone involved a little happier. (By “everyone involved,” I’m thinking also of children produced by the marriage).

I’m afraid, though, that at this point in my life I can’t offer any advice on how to reignite passion, since I haven’t had to try yet.  I know there are plenty of others who offer such advice – there are scores of books and blogs on the subject – and maybe more experienced readers could offer some tips, too.

But my main point here is to clarify that although “being in love” is a good thing, it is even better when a deeper, more intentional love steps in to take its place.

Thanks for all your comments, you guys.

And I promise to find someone else to quote in the future besides my buddy Jack.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity.  1943. Touchstone: New York, 1996.

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Every night of my life I thank God for at least three things: my husband, my family, and C. S. Lewis.  I often forget to thank God for Jesus because it feels strange to thank him for someone who has Eternal and Necessary Being, and who can’t help being omnibenevolent.  But the first three, I never forget.  Without these three (and of course without Jesus) in my life, I feel my life would be worthless and empty.  My husband and my family I love for obvious reasons.  I don’t think I need to elaborate on them: love for spouses and parents and siblings is expected and normal.  But my love for Lewis is a special case.  I love him profoundly.  I understand that it’s odd to passionately adore a person who has been dead since before your parents were born. But C. S. Lewis, among other things, has helped me to understand God and the universe and he has helped me learn to deal with my struggle with love, as I have described it in my last two posts.  And for that I thank God nightly.

See, Lewis wrote this magnificent but highly under-appreciated book called The Four Loves.  I would say it was my favourite book of all time except that I say that about every book that Lewis ever wrote.  The Four Loves, as far as I can see, is deeply prophetic and divinely inspired.  Lewis talks in this book about affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity – you know, those “four loves” with impressive Greek names that everyone wishes they could rattle off in casual conversation (storge, philia, eros, agape).

In his chapter on charity, or selfless love, Lewis says this:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

This passage changed my life. It is really easy to find in my copy of the The Four Loves because I have scrawled out, in all-caps letters, THIS IS THE GREATEST THING I HAVE EVER READ across the top of the page, and I have drawn two huge stars in the margin next to it.  Not that I need to find it in there often because I have typed it out and taped it on the wall it in my computer room next to the printout of Lewis’ face on the cover of Time Magazine.  I have to recite that passage to myself on a regular basis, every time I start to get the feeling that I ought to love Ben less or to not have children simply because loving is too painful.

Lewis knows exactly what I’m talking about when I say I want to erase my love for Ben to avoid heartbreak.  He knows that to love is to invite suffering.  But he reminds me that the only alternative to this kind of suffering is damnation.  To choose a life without love is to choose a life without meaning.  A loveless heart is a damned heart.  I should never want that.  When I say that I wish I could erase my love for Ben, I am saying that I want to give up something glorious, just because it comes with suffering, in exchange for the mundane, the barren, and the meaningless.  I am asking, essentially, for hell.

Sometimes I feel like this passage has saved me.  Lewis reminds me that God wants me to love wildly, extravagantly, selflessly, unrestrainedly.  Even though it doesn’t feel like it, and I may not experience it in my lifetime, God promises to redeem whatever love I have given away and lost.  It will all be worth it in the end.  If I withhold love to avoid suffering I am rejecting God’s promise to make all bad things into good things.  I am denying myself one of the greatest goods in existence.  I can’t give up on love.  It’s the only eternal thing in the universe.

So I keep on loving Ben with all my heart even though I know it brings pain.  Not only is it impossible to erase my love for him, but it is damnable.  My only choice is to embrace love and wait for it to be made perfect, even if I have to spend decades alone, waiting.

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