When I saw this picture my husband took this past week in the mountains near our house, I immediately thought of this sentence:
“For there is the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the worlds end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts.”
Come on. That’s a good sentence.
This sentence of C.S. Lewis’ has always stuck out for me. It’s from the memoir of his coming to faith, Surprised by Joy. I wrote this sentence out on a blue sticky note and had it above my desk for a couple of years. Isn’t it a great sentence? Maybe its just me. I mean, its my kind of sentence – its got a lot of commas. But it’s an opening sentence, as in, it’s a sentence that opens up…..something…. before you, a world you could inhabit, or maybe just a world that you could look around for a bit.
Lewis wrote it in reference to a view close to his home. A place, a landscape, that was important to him during an incredibly formative time. These words are about trees, and hills and skies. Physical things that hold us in this world, that are, in some way, everything to us—“the thing itself,” “the way to the world’s end,” “the land of longing,” “the breaking and blessing of hearts.” He describes that place in his life that, if we are lucky, we all have. A place that draws us in, that brings our souls to a farther place than we could ever go ourselves. They call us, these real places. And they hold us.
He wrote that sentence, which is just one sentence in a three page description of the land near his home, within an even larger passage that describes his personal movement from the idealized, the romantic, the “beyond” and “higher” to the real, the earthy, to the rooted. He had made a friend, Arthur, who helped start this movement within Lewis, and had introduced him to “the best of Waverly and the Bronte’s and Jane Austen.” Lewis admits he was hesitant to read these writings – in his youth, and the haughtiness of youth’s idealism, they were too prosaic to incite real passion and growth. But his friend persisted and of this Lewis wrote,
“The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such books Arthur taught me to see as their charm. What I would have called “stodginess” or “ordinariness” he called “Homeliness”—a key word in his imagination. He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it. He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighbourhood. He could get endless enjoyment out of the opening sentence of Jane Eyre or that other opening sentence in one of Hans Anderson’s stories, “How it did rain, to be sure.”
And Lewis writes that his friend looked for this rootedness, this ordinariness, in the outside world too. While Lewis previously had responded to nature, as maybe we all do, with feelings that came from the wild, or the awe-inspiring, experience of skies and clouds and distance and mountains, of which that landscape most definitely was, his friend also taught him to see more, more of the everything that was there.
“But for him, I should never have known the beauty of the ordinary vegetables that we destine to the pot. “Drills,” he used to say. “Just ordinary drills of cabbages—what can be better?” And he was right. Often he recalled my eyes form the horizon just to look through a hole in a hedge, to see nothing more than a farmyard in its mid-morning solitude and perhaps a grey cat squeezing its way under a barn door.”
And in that movement, that is the movement of all maturity – with God, with spouses, with children, with work – the movement from idealized and distant to very close, very earthy, very ordinary, Lewis saw the beauty that is the truth of God made flesh in this world. That is, God as the everything we long for and the everything right before our eyes.
Back to the sentence. The part that gets me in that sentence is the phrase, “the breaking and blessing of hearts.” And as I read Lewis here, I recognize that this breaking and this blessing is not only in the big, the distant, the wild and awesome we experience but also in the rooted and the ordinary.
And why its grabbing me especially at this time is how it reminds me of something Walter Brueggemann wrote in The Prophetic Imagination. Brueggemann talks a lot about how the imagining of God’s prophets truly does bring in new ways of knowing and being – knowing God and being with God. All prophecy works to bring us back to our center—back to God and back to His way, which is the way of his creation, the way of deep knowing, which is the way of each other, each other as God’s also. Brueggemann then writes about the role of grief and amazement in this imagining, in this bringing about a new way of being. How both bring us to a place of the most true, the place where God’s dream for his intensely enduring creation is unfolding. Brueggemann, first writing this in the 1970’s, connected the spiritual understanding of the women around him to ways of knowing grief and amazement with especial clarity. He dedicates the book to the women around him. Think about that for a minute. What is it about one’s experience, and about women’s experience, historically relegated to the house, to the ordinary, to the children, to the lower, to the hidden, to the earth, that can speak of grief and of amazement? What is it about the ordinary life with others and life with our very real selves, that could bring a new, or re-newed, imagining of God’s good creation? What and where, in our daily experiences, rooted experiences, of grief and of amazement, is God’s prophetic voice in our world right now?
Is there something about holding grief and amazement together with our lived-in hands that could lead to “the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the world’s end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts”?
In your rooted life of home and commutes and maybe children and maybe work and taxes and endless news cycles and awkward conversations and crises, big and small, joys, big and small, where is the grief calling you to pay attention? And in all of that, where is amazement calling you, thrilling you, to remember the promises of woven into your heart? How does God speak through the grief of your daily life? How does God speak through the amazement of it all?
How does God both break and bless your heart? In your real life.
For how you answer that, will be your blueprint for following the movement of the Spirit. How you answer that will be how you follow God, who reveals himself, blooms himself, and calls to you in the very earth of your life. Your life which is his. His good creation – growing new every season, over and over.
I am listening to the grief. The grief that honestly seems so bottomless right now. I have to dose it out. It just hurts a lot and words are pretty inadequate for this. And maybe one day I will be able to plumb some of what this grief is growing in the dark – for you and for me. But for now, it is enough to notice it all and to also be acutely aware that this grief is in every way tied to the amazement. That the rupture in the land and the bridge I eventually find, and have always found, across it are not experienced without the other. And God is inextricably within both.
So I am listening to the amazement too. And this amazement is exactly found within the homeliness of my life – in food, in a text, in my husbands grace to me. In my kids being their whole hearted, very loud selves. In fruit in my fridge. In a house to which I can hold the door open.
I am watching the landscape now as I write this–sky like prayer, mountains cut out in purples and blues against the sky, trees tireless in their reach. I see the way to the breaking and blessing. And then I see the small flowers, growing in their fragile and subtle season, bringing joy to my dirty kids who are strung out from their life of learning to live with a very important death on top of learning to share, take turns, curb the sass and wash their hands just so much.
And I see the way to the breaking and the blessing—a world I could maybe one day inhabit or maybe I already am – if I just look around for a bit.
Oh Jesus, the way you come, incarnated in the stuff of our real lives—it breaks and blesses without end.