Continuing yesterday’s installment from A Prison, A Paradise. After her near-suicide, Gay Taylor writes:
…when I came back from Tripoly, the peace of God seemed to enter my heart. I feel that it all had to happen, and happen in just that way. Nothing else would have removed the suicide-obsession I’ve cherished secretly, ever since I was a child. Those hours by the northern river had to be, when I was beyond all human help, and knew at last that God was there.
October 4th. Mist and cold, after yesterday’s Indian summer. It was one of the perfect days—the high tide of this present time. I went out for a walk, then picked blackberries on Periton Hill, in that far clump at the edge of the downs. For a long time I sat on the crumbling turf, sheltered from the wind, with the blue distances below, and warm sun lying over this lovely autumn land. And suddenly I was swept out of myself—knowing, knowing, knowing. Feeling the love of God burning through creation, and an ecstasy of bliss pouring through my spirit and down into every nerve. I’m ashamed to put it down in these halting words. For it was ecstasy—that indissoluble mingling of fire and light that the mystics know. There was a scalding sun in my breast—the “kingdom of God within”—that rushed out to that All-Beauty.
Concluding installment from Katharine Trevelyan’s remarkable experience in the garden at Coombe. Previous installments tell more about Ms. Trevelyan.
Every prayer was fulfilled, every possible desire for the whole world consummated; for His Kingdom had come and I had beheld it with my very eyes. Never again the need to meditate for He was here, to be stood in, sat in, as a child might play on the edges of a great sunny river. And, indeed, I found myself only a child, playing in Him, laughing with Him at the way He was visiting His world. When I stood within Him, He gave and was everything. The years to come, which He showed me as easily as a father shows his child a curious shell beside the great river, held in them no surprise; only wonder and joy.
Continuing Katharine Trevelyan’s experience in the garden at Coombe from her “autobiography of a natural mystic.” The book was originally published as A Fool in Love in 1962. Trevelyan came from a prominent British family. Her uncle was the noted historian George Macaulay Trevelyan. She dabbled in anthroposophy (a belief system C. S. Lewis was well acquainted with because of his life-long friendship and debate with Owen Barfield). Before the 1958 experiences recounted in these installments, Trevelyan had joined the Church of Christ but had become disenchanted with its divisions. This is the second of three installments.
Every flower spoke to me, every spider wove a miracle of intricacy for my eyes, every bird understood that here was heaven come to earth. Turner must have been seeing the skies as I saw them then—living cloud shapes crossing and recrossing each other as though conversing inform or singing in color.
But there was something more wonderful than the Light within the light – more wonderful than the standstill of time. It was that God walked with me in the garden as He did before the Fall. Whether I sat, whether I walked, He was there – radiant, burningly pure, holy beyond holy.
When I breathed, I breathed Him; when I asked a question, He both asked and answered it.
My heart was unshuttered to Him, and He came and went at will; my head had no limit or boundary of skull, but the Spirit of God played on me as though my mind were a harp which reached the zenith.
From Katharine Trevelyan’s above-named autobiography. This is an example of a mystical experience that transforms nature itself. “Seeing face to face at last” is likely a reference to the Bible’s I Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on love: “For now we see only a reflection as if in a cloudy mirror; then, we shall see face to face.” More from this experience of Trevelyan will be published next time.
When I knew myself as nothing but a prize fool in love, I took my pain and foolishness in both hands and quite simply offered them to God, whom I recognized through this last anguish to be the backcloth of my life and my eternal love.
What followed was beyond me to understand.
Whether it was predestined or whether the Heavens had been waiting with an open question to hear an uncomplaining acceptance of this last sorrow, I cannot say.
It felt as though an infinitely complex machine had in all its parts, between one moment and the next, clicked silently into gear and started to work with inexorable power.
I saw face to face at last.
Light streamed down from the sky such as I have never beheld. The sun shone with a new light, as though translucent gold were at its heart. I saw not only the physical sun, but the spiritual sun also, which poured down on me as I walked in the garden at Coombe.
The wonder was beyond anything I have ever read or imagined or heard men speak about. I was Adam walking alone in the first Paradise. That it was a garden near the outskirts of London in the twentieth century made no difference, for time was not, or had come round again in a full circle. Though I was Adam, I had no need for Eve, for both combined within me. Marriage and maternity fulfilled and surpassed, I had run beyond womanhood and become a human being.
Lewis completes this part of his memoir. Note again the role of literature in this mystical experience–but also that its role is tangential, almost accidental. We can speculate that the piercing juxtaposition of “the beautiful” with “is dead” foreshadowed Lewis’s acceptance of Absolute Goodness himself dying on a cross—just as the snippet from Tegner’s Drapa represents all the pagan myths showing the longing for the death of someone so good to be meaningful, redemptive.Be that as it may, one reason Lewis belongs here at the beginning of this blog is that his ability to both describe the indescribable and reflect upon its nature may be unsurpassed. Note that this Joy was a beacon throughout his life: “in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.” (Same for me.)
The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual, shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa and read
I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful Is dead, is dead—-
I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.
–-C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1955. @ C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.