This is the third in a series of guest posts written by readers of The Place of the Lion, one of CW’s great novels. Most of these posts assume the reader’s familiarity with The Place of the Lion, so you might want to read the novel first. You can find it here and here.
Today’s post is by Doug Jackson. Doug Jackson was a pastor for over twenty years and now teaches spiritual formation, New Testament Greek, and pastoral ministry for Logsdon Seminary at the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. Doug has presented papers on various aspects of the writing of C. S. Lewis and other Inklings as well as articles on G. K. Chesterton and the Harry Potter series. In addition to his teaching, Doug writes a popular lectionary devotional blog entitled “Sermoneutics,” and has appeared in local productions of various Shakespeare plays. He and his wife Becky have two grown sons, Landry and Jay Don, as well as a rescued bullmastiff named Spurgeon. His poetry chapbook, Nothing There Is Not: Poems of Faith and Doubt has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press and will appear sometime next spring.
“‘Really, father,’ she said, ‘if it was as beautiful as all that I don’t see how you can bear to go on eating mutton and potatoes so ordinarily.’ ”
Her father opened his eyes at her. ‘But what else can I do?’ he said. ‘It was a lovely thing; it was glinting and glowing there. This is very good mutton,’ he added placidly.”
That may not be the most important line in The Place of the Lion, but it is undoubtedly my favorite. A moment later the imperturbable Mr. Tighe tells his blue-stocking daughter, “Personally I find that mutton helps butterflies and butterflies mutton.”
That little acorn of dialogue holds the entire forest of Charles Williams: We live in a God-charged world where the membrane between the perfect and the perceptible is not just permeable but largely illusory; each moment pulses with the demands of the eternal and everything from lunch to archetypes offers an identical opportunity for salvation or damnation.
Williams unsettles me, not because he is capable of believing that Plato’s archetypal butterfly might land on my shoulder and ravish me with joy, but because he makes me believe I can deserve Hell by refusing to be just as ravished by the apple I ate earlier today. The novelist plays fair; he does not attempt to bully me into a blinkered embrace of his pre-approved opinion. Instead, he simply lays out, embodied in disturbingly believable characters, the choices I face and the consequences that each invites.
There is the way of the magicians, like Miss Wilmot and Mr. Foster, alive to the numinous but dead to common decency, ultimately undone by their own spirituality. Williams warns me that my deep belief in the Divine can damn me as nicely as a bottle of booze. There is the way of fear, taken by Quentin Sabot, who believes and trembles. Williams won’t let me substitute gut-deep, unshakable belief for love. There is the way of the intellectual, of Damaris Tighe, for whom Plato and Abelard are subjects to be studied, not ways to be walked, the basis of a career, not the foundation of a life. Williams reminds me that I can face the eagle of living obedience or the pterodactyl of cold speculation. There is the way of the mystic, of Mr. Richardson who hurls himself into the midst of the divine flame, who “must make for the end when and as soon as I see it.” Williams allows me this; “But – I’m not saying you’re wrong – but why?”
Or there is the way of the Anthony Durrant, the way of the editor of the Two Camps who lives in amused reverence, surrounded like the patriarch Jacob by camel dung and angel song. Williams invites me to battle the magicians and comfort the fearful and save the soulless. (I can’t, it seems, do much for the mystic, nor he for me, but the conversation is pleasant.) And I can do all of this by love, the kind of love that rejoices in both mutton and butterflies. Or I can decide not to. What I cannot do is live in a world uncharged with the grandeur of God. That is what Williams makes me believe, makes me feel to the tips of the fingers that tap these keys like a seraph before the throne touching the coals of the altar.
And that is why Williams terrifies me. But beneath the terror lies comfort: the comfort of butterflies and mutton.