Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Wisdom of Perelandra (or Having It All Over Again)

Is Life like a circle? Or is Life like a line? Or is Life a series of looping, sometimes concentrice circles traveling in a line?

Perhaps to answer this question we have to ask another...What should Life be?

Or perhaps the Individual life - yours and mine separately- should be divided from the corporate Life of Humanity. One can make an argument fairly easily I think that the Life of Humanity is a Large set of circles traveling along a Large Black Circumference of a Large Circle while the Individual Life is a smaller set of smaller circles traveling along a smaller line. That is, this is how it seems. Perhaps this is the central, or one of the central, questions religion attempts to answer. When confronted with the question "Where am I going?" one has to look at what really is. The evidence is all around and through this life we lead - we but have to look and accept things as they are. Let's explore this a little more.

Have you ever eaten at a new restaurant and come away thinking that you had experienced the best service, the most enticing of atmospheres, the best tastes and combinations of tastes? I can think of one such instance in my life. Patt and I were in Baltimore for one of my business trips BQW (Before Quitting Work). Cinghiale's ( is an establishment along the Inner Harbor of Baltimore featuring a dinner menu comprised of all local ingredients. In fact, many of the ingredients are purchased from the Farmer's Market that sets up just down the street. Just order dinner and see what comes. The menu for dinner is set in advance and is based on what is available at the market during the season. It was one of the most memorable dining experiences we've had. Now this may seem odd, but I can't remember what we had. But the memory is the most important thing, the memory of desire being filled, the memory of absolute satisfaction; the memory that we may never experience that again.

Of course,given enough money and time, we could fly to Baltimore for the express purpose of eating a Cinghiale's again. But something inside me says that it would not quite be the same. We would not experience the surprise of the set menu for dinner; we would not be impressed in the same way as we were at first, by the mostly local ingredients, we would not be as pleased with the courteous and knowledgeable service, or the excellent wine (chosen for us and perfectly paired with the meal). We would not be quite so awestruck of the view of the harbor out of the front windows. Though the desire to have that experience again would still be there; I am sure it would fall short-even if everything was enjoyable and the food excellent.

It is like this in every aspect of our life. The first full-double rainbow one sees becomes common place after the third. The smell of a crisp Autumn morning would be dull and perhaps even loathsome if it were Autumn all year long. This is a curse. The need for we humans to "have it over again"; our insistence that we are going to live this life in a circle; that we, as in the words of C.S. Lewis in Perelandra,

"(go) into a forest to pick food, the thought of the one good fruit you desire is always before your mind. Then it may be, one finds a different fruit than the one first thought of. One joy was expected but another is given. But still the desire for the unfound fruit remains and if one could he would keep it there. You could send your soul after the good one had expected rather than the good one had got. One could refuse the real good and make the real fruit insipid by thinking of the other. Chapter 5.

Lewis, is here, explaining the concept of the circular life. He suggests that our efforts to constantly have pleasant experiences over again is living in a circle or series of circles. He further suggests that life should be lived in a line. Value each positive (and perhaps negative) experience as a step along the line and instead of focusing one's desires on repeating yesterday's joy at whatever the cost, focus one's desires on the next joy to come.

In Perelandra, Lewis postulates that this kind of living is like an audience asking for an encore performance of a symphony one as just heard. The second would not live up to the first. Our desire to "have it over again" gets expensive. Listen to this wisdom. All things are connected. One can not separate money or things, from the rest of life. How much do we spend (of time, money, things) just to repeat pleasures over and over again; pleasures which no longer quite satisfy?

"Money then, perhaps, provides the means of saying encore in a voice that can not be ignored." - Perelandra CH 4

He goes on to say further, "This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to run backwards. Money (perhaps) is a defence against chance, a security for being able to have things over again; a means of arresting the unrolling of the film" Perelandra CH4

I am convinced, though I do not always live like it, that life is a line and past pleasures and pains are past and can do me no good beyond shaping my next step or providing pleasurable memories. I am convinced that life is a line and the next joy or the next heartbreak is going to be better than any that I would ever try to relive.

In Perelandra, Ransom the main character in Lewis's Space Trilogy, finds himself on an as yet unspoiled planet. He meets there a queen and a king and finds an innocence, a joy, a serious joy, that his own planet has lost. They are still living in a line and each new experience brings a new joy greater than the last. Ransom becomes hungry and goes looking for fruit. He finds berry bushes and bravely tastes a berry from one. It is not bad. In fact it offers a strangely satisfying feeling that he could not explain as "joyous" just satisfying. He eats another and another off of this bush that he has found. His last berry, though is different. It is filled with a red kernel that when eaten gives him such a feeling of elation that he desperately wants another. Something inside him tells him no. He then states that if these berries were on earth, mankind would breed out the satisfying qualities and only propogate the ones with the ecstasy inducing red kernels and then charge more for them. That is the difference. On earth, man would attempt to fit the Life of the Line into one of its circles...Ransom realized the choice he had and the outcome of the possible decision. He could destroy the entire crop of berries in an effort to find the red kernelled ones and thus "have it all over again" or he could accept that joy he felt upon eating a red-kernelled berry and wait expectantly for the next new joy to come.


  1. I remember what we had! :) Lot's of good wine, probably why you don't remember the was good to though!


  2. Thank you for writing this! I shared it to Facebook--it doesn't only apply to the food we eat or the experiences we have, but also to the people we have in our lives at any given time. It's sometimes hard to take when the people we love and like best are taken from us and God puts others who make us uncomfortable (for our own good) to make us grow instead which is something I've been pondering (again) this week.