Reflections on Reading

Since most of what I’m doing at Oxford really is reading, I thought I’d include a little bit of reflection on some of what I’ve read for today’s class. This portion is an excerpt from Chapter 3 (“Membership”) of C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. The first bit I’d like to think about reads as follows:

“There is, in forms too subtle for official embodiment, a continual interchange of complementary ministrations. We are all constantly teaching and learning, forgiving and being forgiven, representing Christ to man when we intercede, and man to Christ when others intercede for us. The sacrifice of selfish privacy which is daily demanded of us is daily repaid a hundredfold in the true growth of personality which the life of the Body [i.e. active participation in a church community] encourages. Those who are members of one another become as diverse as the hand and the ear. That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints.”

In this essay, Lewis is defining what it means to be in a church community and defending the necessity of such communities. Lewis is obviously drawing from scriptural sources and the thoughts of earlier Christian apologists, but his words also remind me of some specifically LDS passages. His allusion to 1 Corinthians 12 (v. 12-27, specifically) works as a shaping metaphor throughout his essay, but I think King Benjamin’s assessment of our position vis-a-vis our fellow humans is also applicable. I often think of Mosiah 4:19 & 21 (For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend on the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? . . . . And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.”) because it is one of my favorite scriptures in The Book of Mormon, but that’s not the only reason it connects. I think both excerpts of scripture, as well as Lewis, point to the necessity of humility. We have said in my class that in order to have positive community, we need to have self-sacrifice. People have to be willing to put the needs of others before their own, and find that helping others is, in fact, in their own best self-interest. However, before we can have self-sacrifice, we need to have humility. Humility is the virtue that makes self-sacrifice possible. Without the recognition that each individual is necessary as an individual, as an Other, sacrifice is meaningless, if not nonexistent. True humility is that virtue not of self-abasement, but of true self- and Other- recognition. It allows us to see where we fit into our systems, and how our place is essentially and importantly ours. If we are able to be humble, we are able to perform our best work, to be our very best selves, because we no longer need to be concerned with fitting ourselves to the measurement of others. Humility is a kind of freedom, then, or that which enables freedom.

The other section I wanted to talk about reads:
“It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense– if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining — then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally — He certainly loved all to the death — and I am not certain what the expression means. If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us.”

I like this passage because I think it’s cleverly done. I like how he points out that it is God who gives our lives and existence meaning. That grates against my perhaps American sense of independence, my cultural belief that I have value simply by existing, and that others do likewise. However, that tension is resolved by the recognition that there is no human that exists “out of relation to God.” Whether we choose to follow Him or not, whether we know of Him or not, we still exist in relationship with Him, if only because He created us and our world, all we know and are and all we can ever know or be. But again, I really appreciate Lewis’ emphasis here on humility– our “equality” (such as it is), like all other virtues, rests not in ourselves, but in Him. In 3 Nephi 12 (and elsewhere) we are reminded that we humans really are powerless and dependent upon Christ for everything.

Hopefully this was more interesting than foot-whining. I know not all of you are interested in religious themes, so I hope this wasn’t too uncomfortable for you. Do let me know what you think.

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