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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seascapes and Scanzons: A Link with Lewis

Some people don't like the ocean.  This has always been difficult for me to understand since it has been a part of my DNA since I was born.  My mom had me under an umbrella at the beach when I was only 8 weeks old. I can't remember a time when the smell of cedar and sand and saltwater didn't make my hands tingle with excitement and something as substantial as joy.  

There are times when I sit down and try to explain this affinity in writing.  What is it about this collection of water molecules that stirs me?  Why do I dream about it and long to be near it?  It's not even safe.  Waves give the illusion of predictability, but in reality we know more about the depths of space than we do about the ocean. Every time a human being sticks a toe in ocean water, it's a triumph of faith over reason. That alone is something to consider.

I thought of Lewis's poetry while I was at the beach this past week.  This was our first family vacation in six years.  The togetherness was delightfully palpable.  I finally ousted my brother in Scrabble one night, breaking his championship status.  We paddle surfed on the sound and watched the sunset and ate charcoal-grilled dinners.  Mom and I noted the colors of the sea grass and the thousand shades of green and blue inherent to sky and sea and shrubbery.  We walked barefoot on scalding sand and laughed when our freckles appeared after a day in the sun. I spent ridiculous amounts of time just watching foamy ocean punish the shore, and I flew an ill-fated kite with a picture of a butterfly on it.  A kite which no longer exists as any recognizable object.  (The wind was rather strong that day...) And I was especially thrilled to engage in an activity that my brothers and I have enjoyed since we were little...running from the top of the dunes and throwing myself recklessly into the water to feel the powerful currents blast over my head.  Seconds of deceptive peace before the next wave.  Again and again.  Contented exhaustion always follows.

With all this flagrant life surging around me, maybe it seems strange that a Lewis poem about death kept running through my head.  Not death, exactly, but humanness and the "pang of the particular."  This was the sense I knew the entire week.  It's a tangled little thought wrapped up in my recent musings on Beauty and Image bearing and the character of God and the mundane extravagance He has infused into this hopefully dying planet.  I can't let go of the paradox of it.

Scanzons by C. S. Lewis
Passing to-day by a cottage, I shed tears
When I remembered how once I had dwelled there
With my mortal friends who are dead. Years
Little had healed the wound that was laid bare.

Out, little spear that stabs, I, fool, believed
I had outgrown the local, unique sting,
I had transmuted away (I was deceived)
Into love universal the lov'd thing.

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest Thine own plan
When the angelic indifferences with no bar
Universally loved but Thou gav'st man
The tether and pang of the particular.

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit's sweet water to astringent soul.

That we, though small, may quiver with fire's same
Substantial form as Thou — not reflect merely,
As lunar angel, back to thee, cold flame.
Gods we are, Thou hast said: and we pay dearly.

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