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Let’s pray together: Lord, let our souls rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Father, we pray for Belgium, Djibouti, Haiti, UAE, Tonga and the church in these countries as well as the lost. Jesus, we are so grateful for your sacrificial love Forgive us for our impatience in these difficult times, Let us with great perseverance and great freedom. May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us: wherever He may send us; may You guide us through the wilderness: protect us through the storm; may You bring us home rejoicing: at the wonders You have shown us; may You bring us home rejoicing once again into our doors. Amen Meditation For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 So let’s take a look at CS Lewis’s book the Great Divorce, maybe it can illuminate what can go wrong with memorializing the dead. This is a long one again so stick with it, it’s worth it. "The Great Divorce, written in 1945 is a fictional account of a select group of citizens from hell who are transported to heaven for a “visit.” The book is comprised of 14 brief chapters, each containing dialogue by representatives from heaven and hell. The book is not a systematic and/or strictly scriptural explanation of heaven and hell—which Lewis makes clear in the preface, “I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course—or I intend it to have—a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative proposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us.”* Characters: Pam (the Ghost), the late Reginald (the Spirit/Pam's brother), and her son Michael. Michael died when he was still a boy, and it is clear in the story that Pam never recovered. When Reginald meets her, Pam is clearly disappointed: “Oh … Reginald! It’s you, is it?” “Yes, dear,” said the Spirit. “I know you expected someone else. Can you … I hope you can be a little glad to see even me; for the present.” “I did think Michael would have come,” said the Ghost; and then, almost fiercely, “He is here, of course?” “He’s there-far up in the mountains.” “Why hasn’t he come to meet me? Didn’t he know?” “My dear (don’t worry, it will all come right presently) it wouldn’t have done. Not yet. He wouldn’t be able to see or hear you as you are at present. You’d be totally invisible to Michael. But we’ll soon build you up.” In the logic of C.S. Lewis’ heaven in The Great Divorce, it is not that people are disallowed into heaven, but not all are strong enough to be there. For these visitors from hell , heaven is too bright because it is full of light, the terrain too hard because it is built with truth, and the atmosphere overwhelming because it is shot through with love. The only way to become strong enough is to surrender the self; to be supported by one of heaven’s inhabitants. To all who have died in the body, heaven is eternally open to them. But they must also die to the self It is this second death that is all the more difficult. The first one is natural: one day our cells will stop dividing with efficiency, our neuro-chemical processes will slow, and our hearts will stop. But the second death is so very hard and harder still if one has refused to surrender self. The death to self is the unbending of all that is inwardly bent, the resistance of all the self-preservation patterns we have developed throughout life. But Pam should be okay, right? She is a grieving mother who has kept her son’s room the same as when he died. She has lived her life not for herself, but to Michael’s memory. What can be more like God’s love than motherly love? It is true that ‘true love’ is as quite like God’s love as anything we can experience. And there is an element of motherly love that haunts the eternal. But look at Pam’s response to heaven: “Well. When am I going to be allowed to see him?” [she asked]. “There’s no question of being allowed, Pam. As soon as it’s possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit.” “How?” said the Ghost [Pam]. The monosyllable was hard and a little threatening. “I’m afraid the first step is a hard one,” said the Spirit [Reginald]. “But after that you’ll go on like a house on fire. You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.” Pam’s response is chilling: Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing? This is hardly the moment… and from you, of all people. Well, never mind. I’ll do whatever’s necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy. I’m quite ready.” Pam still doesn’t get the physics of heaven. Reginald tries to explain: “But, Pam, do think! Don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.” You perhaps feel frustration on Pam’s part here. She responds, “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.” We can identify with that, I think. She is a mother, who lost a son. Is there anything more harrowing? Her frustration is palpable with a complaint that I have heard in various contexts so very often: “If [God] loved me He’d let me see my boy. If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn’t going to say anything about that. But it’s pretty hard to forgive, you know.” When we are six inches from grief, I don’t know any other way to feel. But as the story goes on, we discover there are deeper levels. It becomes clear what life was like after Michael died: “All that ten years’ ritual of grief. Keeping his room exactly as he’d left it: keeping anniversaries: refusing to leave that house though Dick [her husband, Michael’s father] and Muriel [Michael’s sister] were both wretched there.” “Of course they didn’t care. I know that. I soon learned to expect no real sympathy from them.” “You’re wrong. No man ever felt his son’s death more than Dick. Not many girls loved their brothers better than Muriel. It wasn’t against Michael they revolted: it was against you-against having their whole life dominated by the tyranny of the past: and not really even Michael’s past, but your past.” “You are heartless. Everyone is heartless. The past was all I had.” “It was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with a sorrow. It was Egyptian-like embalming a dead body.” Pam’s response is not motherly love for her daughter who lived, or a partner’s response to a grieving father. Her pain and grief is at the centre of all things. She screams her response back to the universe: “…Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don’t care about all your rules and regulations. I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.” What does love mean? Doubtless Pam had love for Michael as a child. But in his death, loss was paramount. Who was she loving when he was gone? The only answer is her self. She was feeding her self, feeding her hurt and rage and grief with the memory of the past. Refusing the march of the present into the future by rooting herself in history. Love cannot grow in that environment. Humans cannot breathe with so little oxygen. Lewis does not tell us the end of the story. Nor does he tell us the story of the grieving sister or father. In The Great Divorce we hear that some mothers chose to keep their children in hell with them because they loved them so much. I have seen mothers and fathers and lovers “love” like this on earth. Though he was not a stranger to grief, perhaps Lewis would have re-written this character’s story after he lost his wife, Joy. His journal, A Grief Observed, shows a weightier handling of loss and love. But the passage isn’t really about motherly love. The lesson is broader: all natural feelings and affections, no matter how beautiful and true in and of themselves–as motherly love certainly is–all of these “go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.” Love is never love if love itself is the object. Love is always about the other. This post is part of a loose series on The Great Divorce, published in The Guardian in 1944-45. *

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