2016 Advent Retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey (ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished…)

St. Joseph's Abbey 2014/15/16“It is faith that makes us walk in its obscurity in this life: For we walk by faith. From start to finish we shall follow that way, ever on the alert lest we stray from it, enticed all too readily by lights too human, which will quickly leave us disillusioned.” – The Prayer of Love and Silence by a Carthusian

“…the point is to remember that an empire or civilization is also transitory. All achievements and triumphs, in so far as they are merely this-worldly achievements and triumphs, will come to nothing in the end.” – C.S. Lewis

Every retreat is very different and this one was no exception. This was my third consecutive winter retreat (the second during Advent) and whilst no personal theme emerged (discernment is always very tricky), the silence was a nice panacea from the vitriol and divisiveness of a bitter election (and ongoing hyperbole and histrionics).

I took two books by C.S. Lewis from the Limestone library. The first was The World’s Last Night and Other Essays and the other The Great Divorce. Here is Lewis, in the former, from his essay of the same title:

“I can imagine no man who will look with more horror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hopes to confer on future generations: generations who, as one terrible moment reveals to him, were never going to exist. Then he will see the massacres, the faked trials, the deportations, to be all ineffaceably real, an essential part, his part, in the drama that has just ended: while the future Utopia had never been anything but a fantasy.”

As we approach the shortest day of the year, Lewis asks us about our preparedness for the “irresistible light” that’s to come again:

“I do not find that pictures of physical catastrophe–that sign in the clouds, those heavens rolled up like a scroll–help one so much as the naked idea of Judgement. We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world–and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.”

In The Great Divorce, Lewis continues his reflection on light (and the daylight of the next):

“I glanced round the bus. Though the windows were closed, and soon muffed, the bus was full of light. It was cruel light. I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities, some gaunt, some bloated, some glaring with idiotic ferocity, some drowned beyond recovery in dreams; but all, in one way or another, distorted and faded. One had a feeling that they might fall to pieces at any moment if the light grew much stronger. Then–there was a mirror on the end wall of the bus–I caught sight of my own.

I kept thinking about Gollum, from the pen of another Inkling, after reading that excerpt:

“‘Light, light of Sun and Moon, he still feared and hated, and he always will, I think; but he was cunning. He found he could hide from daylight and moonshine, and make his way swiftly and softly by dead of night with his pale cold eyes…'”

In one more passage from The Great Divorce, Lewis writes about glimpses of heaven (and light) captured through the eyes of the artist:

“‘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…When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the early landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see glimpses too.'”

On one of my very first retreats to St. Joseph’s I found a book in the Abbey Bookstore by Peter Kreeft entitled, C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium. I return to it often, and just found this relevant and very beautiful passage that brings together this rumination:

“The vacuum is the typically modern world view, which we would call the joyless cosmology. Lewis’ is the joyful cosmology. We have all breathed that modern air, even those who disbelieve it or even despise it. Our lungs are full of reductionism, which is dead air. Then, suddenly, a gust of wet, salty air blows in from the sea, and our spirits spring up like children, full of mysterious joy. A smell from another country, a gleam of celestial beauty falling on our jungle of filth and imbecility (to use a formula from Perelandra itself). An angel, a heavenly messenger, a star. Ralph Waldo Emerson (I think) said: ‘If the stars should only appear one night in a thousand years, how mankind would wonder and be grateful for that vision of Heaven that had been shown!’ Well, something like the “Great Dance” appears only once in a thousand books. That is why we appreciate it, as a Bedouin appreciates an oasis.”

Related
St. Joseph’s Flickr Album
Advent Retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey
Weekend 327.0 (2015 Winter Retreat)

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