Reflections on my Life and That Hideous Strength

Old Testament

One of my friends said, "Star Wars is my life," and talked about having his father be the best pilot in the galaxy.

I have some real resonance for C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. I have come to an odd and eclectic family, a "St. Anne's Company", headed by a Ransom (more than a philologist, His Eminence Metropolitan JONAH).

Where is Merlin? That could be me, and let me explain.

There are three or four characters in literature I was strongly drawn to before becoming Orthodox: Charles Wallace of Madeleine l'Engle, A Wind in the Door, and later Blajeny from the same book; then Michael Valentine Smith of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. And there was something toxic in my identification with each.

I asked one brilliant friend if he knew of any good treatments of gifted children in literature besides A Wind in the Door, and he mentioned Stephen Lawhead's Merlin, and partway through reading it I went from wishing for such spectacular manifestations of awen to "We both belong to the same college!"

A standard distinction between flat and rounded characters in literature is that a rounded character believably surprises the reader. In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Merlin comes awfully close to delivering nothing but believable surprises, and he is riveting. He is described, not as a figure from the ?5th? century, but as "the last survival in the ?5th? century of something much older", and while you could then "still do some things innocently, you couldn't do it safely."

Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and somewhere in there a sorceror's bargain slips in. "Give me your soul, and I will give you power," but under the circumstances it is not you who have the power. Count distracted parenting, where moms glued to mobile devices are pushing strollers in front of cars. My magnum opus is The Luddite's Guide to Technology, in which, instead of Merlin being told "You can't do that today," I am saying "You can't do that today."

And as far as believable surprises, one of my monastic brotherhood asked, with a warm smile, "Are you from another planet?" He sung a tune, and I said something about newer music. He said it was from ZZ Top in the 70's, and I said that I meant as the centuries go by.

More is perhaps to be said, but I wish to move on.

Here, I have been blessed to read Archimandrite Zacharias (Zachariou), and it talks about the cosmic nature of monastic repentance. He describes giant saints who have extended the life of the world. While this monastery may not have any epic saints or any saints at all, if the world does not end it will be due to the repentance of those today, and the college of Orthodox monasticism may do the job of little St. Anne's overcoming the hideous strength of Lewis's "N.I.C.E." And I am glad to be approaching membership in that team.

New Testament

The analogy could be pushed still further (see the Christmas homily in The Sign of the Grail about how the figure of Merlin, deepened and enriched, becomes an image of Christ, but I do not wish to do so. In things that are truly great, a man may be asked to give up even the motives that led him into seeking something truly great.

I have learned instead a better understanding of what a monk is. A monk identifies with all Adam, and repents for all Adam, and this is a cosmic act, even as each sin is a cosmic act that repeats Adam's sin. The priest is responsible for representing God to his flock and his flock to God, while the monk is a representative of the human race.

The beloved St. Seraphim of Sarov echoed St. Isaac the Syrian: "Make peace with yourself and Heaven and earth will make peace with you." "Save yourself and ten thousand around you will be saved." And this is not primarily through the unlawful, to a monk, means of human struggling, but with a wholehearted flight to God.

The flipside of needing to sacrifice even the motives that led me to monasticism is that monasticism holds treasures I had not even guessed at before approaching monasticism, and a coincidence of similarity to being in a C.S. Lewis novel is an utter consolation prize to the feast I have been invited to and participate, if in the smallest way, to saving the world.

This much is written with heavy use of the discursive reason as applied to divine topics, and true monasticism has the heart hold all things and discursive reason be a sun next to the moon of the heart or spiritual eye. And even this description is dust and ashes next to the realities tasted in monasticism, and many which I am far from tasting even yet.

This "New Testament" is an "Old Testament" next to the realities of the spiritual struggle, the spiritual path, in monasticism.

Author: C.J.S. Hayward

C.J.S. Hayward is an Orthodox author and Renaissance man with master's degrees bridging math and computers (UIUC) and theology and philosophy (Cambridge). His most prized work is what he writes in Eastern Orthodox, Christian theology and apologetics. Readers of apologists like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft, contemporary Orthodox authors such as Met. KALLISTOS Ware, and classic authors like St. John Chrysostom will find much food for spiritual reflection.