“Universal Spirit” or the dreaded “Landlord”?

Continuing with C. S. Lewis’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress, we find John continuing his hopelessly difficult struggle down and up a treacherous, dry canyon in pursuit of his heart’s desire, an Island he has glimpsed and desired throughout his life. In the allegory we can be sure that the Island is Heaven or unity with God. His companion Vertue has gone on ahead, not caring whether he or John dies. John decides the climb is too treacherous and his supplies are gone and he must go back “and live out the rest of my life as best I can.”

Then a mysterious “Man” appears coming towards him down the path. John tells him that his companion Vertue has gone insane. But the man replies that Vertue is no more insane than John, and if they do not stick together neither of them will regain sanity. The Man pulls John up and across a particularly difficult gap. The Man disappears, and John looks back and sees that trying to go back would now be impossible. But the way ahead makes his heart fail.

John has learned from Wisdom that his true identity is Universal Spirit, that in essence they are one.

From The Pilgrim’s Regress, Book VIII, chapter 3

Then he tried to recall the lessons of Mr. Wisdom, whether they would give him any strength. “It is only myself,” he said. “It is myself, eternal Spirit, who drives this Me, the slave, along that ledge. I ought not to care whether he falls and breaks his neck or not. It is not he that is real, it is I–I–I. Can I remember that?”

But then he felt so different from the eternal Spirit that he could call it “I” no longer. “It is all very well for him,” said John, “but why does he give me no help? I want help. Help.”

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Then he gazed up at the cliffs and the narrow sky, blue and remote, between them, and he thought of that universal mind and of the shining tranquility hidden somewhere behind the colors and the shapes, the pregnant silence under all the sounds, and he thought, “If one drop of all that ocean would flow into me now–if I, the mortal, could but realize that I am that, all would be well. I know there is something there. I know the sensuous curtain is not a cheat.” In the bitterness of his soul he looked up again, saying: “Help. Help. I want Help.”

But as soon as the words were out of his mouth, a new fear, far deeper than his fear of the cliffs, sprang at him from the hiding-place, close to the surface, where it had lain against this moment. As a man in a dream talks without fear to his dead friend, and only afterwards bethinks himself, “It was a ghost! I have talked with a ghost!” and wakes screaming: even so John sprang up as he saw what he had done.

“I have been praying,” he said. “It is the Landlord under a new name. It is the rules and the black hole and the slavery dressed out in a new fashion to catch me. And I am caught…”

****

(C) 1943 Clive Staples Lewis. Paragraphs added to increase readability. First photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash.

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