Thursday, October 4, 2012

Charles Williams Sees Reality, Part III

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.

My guide, Plato, has shown me the reality above the shadows and the reality above the reality. But he has just told me that if I am to progress farther, I will need new guides. He surprises me the next day by bringing, not the friends that I expected, but books. I have seen the shadows of books on the cave wall, and I have heard people speaking after opening books. But I never understood before that the books have speech inside them. Plato teaches me that certain shapes make certain sounds, and after a few days of practice, I can sound out the words myself. My joy at my accomplishment is soon replaced by a moment of sorrow as Plato announces that he can now leave me. He has grown very old in the few weeks we have spent together, but of course I now see in his face not wrinkles or blemishes but Time and the passage of succeeding generations. He is gone now, but I receive comfort when I find that one of the books he has given me bears his name.

I begin to explore the other books in my new library. The first is a collection of Holy Scriptures that in several places compare the Word of God with the penetrating light of the sun and identify the Word with the Glory of God. The next one I turn to is a very large set of books by a man called the Angelic Doctor. That teacher explains that God is the light by which we understand all things. We do not understand God directly, though, just as I cannot look directly at the sun; we know God only through his material effects. Then I devour a triplet of books by an exile from Florence, who also begins his journey of discovery with an ancient guide that must give over his duty to others. The last volume depicts the blessed soul rising through the lights of the celestial spheres, coming ever closer to the Love that moves the sun and the other stars. After these books, I read the words of a great professor from England who one day in a toolshed found the difference between looking at a beam of sunshine and along a beam of sunshine. I smile when I read in one of his stories of an old teacher who says repeatedly, “It’s all right there in Plato. What are they teaching in these schools?”

I keep reading in the treasures my mentor has left me, I know not how long. It may be hours and it may be years. My heart races when I come to a small book called The Place of the Lion by a man named Williams, a friend of the great professor I mentioned earlier. In the book, I read of a man named Anthony Durrant who has visions like those I have had in the forest. He sees a great butterfly that attracts and encompasses all butterflies as if they merely participate in its delicate beauty. He sees the world peeled back to reveal Strength, Subtlety, Beauty, and Speed working in balance and friendship. He sees a Lion that is at once the archetypal Lion and the personification of Strength. He sees the Lion in the great trees around him, and he sees the trees in the Lion. Anthony’s friend Damaris then sees Anthony subsumed in the archetypal Man, naming the beasts in love.

Taking a mental step backwards, I see the book, and suddenly the book becomes the shadow of a world. I see that world, and it suddenly becomes a shadow of the Strength and Beauty it speaks of. I see the author and his friends and predecessors, and suddenly they turn transparent, and through them I see Love and Friendship. Before my eyes, Love becomes both Lion and Lamb. All the words in all the books reveal the archetypal Word. Each book shines a light, and the lights mingle and become the Light by which I see the world.

But these ethereal visions do not take me out of the world. In the book of the lion, I discover that some people who see Ideals lose contact with the material world while others do not. Damaris’s father is enraptured by the Butterfly and has no further need for the world and, sadly, no notice to spare his daughter. But Anthony, who sees farther and higher than anyone else in the story and encounters the Absolute by seeing what the Light illuminates, ends the story by offering Damaris a coat. Through lions we see the Lion, and through the Lion we see Strength. Through butterflies we see the Butterfly, and through the Butterfly we see Beauty. Through Strength and Beauty we see Love. Sphere by heavenly sphere, the vision mounts toward the Absolute. But we do not see Strength, Beauty, Love, Friendship, Balance, Time, and Light correctly unless by their radiance we can still see a woman who is cold and in need of a coat.

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