After the Primates’ Meeting, while we’ve agonized over our church’s and culture’s priorities in faithfulness to God, I have found my own balance in pondering the eternal mystery of the God who loves us despite it all. My only response to the meeting can be a combination of awe, humility, and sadness without despair. But I love C.S. Lewis’s favorite line given by the unicorns in The Last Battle: “Come further up, come further in!” Resting in the many facets of God’s mystery, for he is one, is the right encouragement regarding grace’s ultimate victory over nature.

Tonight we will hear once more the story of Simeon seeing the Word made flesh in the baby boy whom Mary brings to the Temple for the Jewish rite of purification. It is the end of her forty days of bliss contemplating the joyous mystery of the transposition of deity into humanity. I am speaking of “transposition” as C.S. Lewis humbly defined it.

[A]s I have pointed out, Transposition is not always symbolism. In varying degrees the lower reality can actually be drawn into the higher and become part of it. The sensation which accompanies joy becomes itself joy: we can hardly choose but say “incarnates joy”. If this is so, then I venture to suggest … that the concept of Transposition may have some contribution to make to the theology—or at least to the philosophy—of the Incarnation. For we are told in one of the creeds [Athanasian] that the Incarnation worked “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God.”[1]

I can imagine Mary’s dazed focus at the child in her arms, who is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and her humble “yes.”

Advertisement

Luke tells us only that Simeon was “a man in Jerusalem, a righteous and devout man.” We do not know for certain if he was a visitor just recently arrived, a homeless beggar, a Temple priest, or an official. What is important for us to know is that he was looking for the “consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He was in a state of prophecy, a state where certainty about the will of God becomes articulate. And what was the message that he received? That he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah so long awaited!

So here’s the set-up of the drama. Simeon literally “came by the Spirit into the Temple as the parents brought in the child Jesus to do according to the custom of the law concerning him.” Simeon then received him into his arms and blessed God. This perfect stranger, in his passion and excitement, took the child from Mary and began prophesying what we now call the Nunc Dimittis!

I have always marvelled at Simeon’s recognition of the baby Jesus as the Messiah so long awaited. How did he know? Surely, the child appeared like every other Jewish boy-child brought to the Temple. And, having recognized him as the Messiah, why was Simeon ready to die, for that was truly what he meant in proclaiming his desire “to depart in peace?” As with many biblical stories, we are only told what we need to anchor our faith, not satisfy our intellect or curiosity.

Although she was the Virgin Mother, Mary fulfilled the Levitical law by bringing the Christ child to the Temple forty days after his birth (Lev. 12:2). In his writings St. Jerome made the analogy that Mary was the Holy of Holies in that Jesus opened her womb, even as the High Priest alone could open the east door to the Temple sanctuary (Against the Pelagians 2:4).[2]

So in my contemplatio I see a possible lesson in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in this scene: Simeon seeing Mary with the Christ-Child. Thinking analogically, Simeon was seeing two things simultaneously in the embrace of Jesus and Mary — (1) the Ark holding the new Covenant in the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-2), which was also (2) the union of the Bride and the Bridegroom. It’s a stretch for post-Enlightenment empirical thinking, but we are not talking about chronological, natural things here, but about spiritual matters, our understanding in faith, and the relationship between God and humanity. Perhaps St. Luke is painting a word icon in this scene, even as Lewis did in The Last Battle.

On the lips of the noble unicorn Lewis places some of the finest words ever spoken in the lands of Narnia, and some of the most well known: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!’[3]

I imagine Simeon responding to Mary and the Christ-child with the unicorn’s ecstasy. It is the grace that can accept even natural death because there is so much more in the Trinitarian relationship surrounding this child, pulling and pushing every one attuned to the divine dance.

Lewis uses the dance of the unicorns again in The Great Divorce. He characterizes a vain, unnamed ghost of a woman as an almost transparent person, trying to hide herself from the sheer embarrassment of being flimsy and refusing to be helped beyond her embarrassment. She would rather sink into oblivion than be seen as “transparent.” For her it is worse than being naked during her life. The stampede of the unicorns was the only resolution for this vain ghost’s attempt to avoid, and then repel, the “Solid One.” Nothing less would get her attention.

I think that Lewis is having high fun with us in this episode of bringing on the unicorns. Lewis doesn’t allow us to see the result of the stampede of the unicorns around the “vain ghost.” He says, “I heard the Ghost scream, and I think it made a bolt away from the bushes … perhaps towards the Spirit [the Solid One], but I don’t know.” We have to imagine the finale of this scene, even as we pray to learn how Simeon sees.

Why have unicorns shown up in the first place, and what would be the result of bolting into the arms of the “Solid One?” Simeon could give us the answer, having the Holy Spirit upon him. A deeper understanding of how the unicorn serves as a symbol for the Incarnation is the key to the answer. Medieval allegory held that the unicorn symbolized Christ in his Passion as well as in his relation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a sign of virginity and chastity: only the virgin could capture the unicorn.

The violent stampede of unicorns represents the overwhelming of the vain ghost’s sensibilities to the point where the Solid One became a more acceptable refuge to her than her self-centered aloneness. Lewis’s message, decoded, is that Christ in his atoning Passion so rivets our attention to the profundity of God’s love that, by storm, he can take up our flimsy self-centeredness into the Godhead, teaching us, once and for all, what “being one with” the Unity in Trinity means.

In relation to recent news, our Anglican Primates believe that the Incarnation and our redemption are worth suffering, speaking, and exercising authority: suffering with forbearance the pain of disunity with the brethren on earth, speaking hard truth as God’s love to selfish, flimsy human beings, and exercising divinely inspired authority in the place of power (and suffering the consequences of it). They have my loyalty and my prayers, and I accept their censure.

Mother Miriam‘s other posts may be found here. The featured image of the Presentation is a stained glass in Old St. Paul’s, Edinburgh. Photo credit: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. 


 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 27.

[2] See also Arthur A. Just, Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke (2003), p. 27

[3] Myk Habets, “Walking in mirabilibus supra me: how C.S. Lewis transposes theosis,” Evangelical Quarterly 82:1 (2010), p. 27.

About The Author

Mother Miriam, CSM is the ninth Mother Superior of the Eastern Province of the Community of Saint Mary.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of