“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is there a Center to the Great Dance?: Other Worlds and the Fruit of the Cross in Lewis' Perelandra

...In the last post I suggested that the story we know - of God creating our world, entering into it in the person of Jesus Christ, and through His death and resurrection redeeming mankind and beginning a new creation - may only be the title page of a much greater Story - a Story of all that God has ever done, which will go on forever, always giving rise to new and more glorious designs.

Into this Great Dance, as Lewis calls it, may be gathered other worlds and universes and ages wholly unknown to us now - it is only reasonable to expect a vast and limitless creation of an infinite God. In my view, there probably are other worlds, other purposes, other stories out there in the far reaches of reality - places unimaginably distant and different from our world, yet places made by the same Maker. They may not tell the same story as our world does (fall, redemption, new creation), but they are part of the same Great Dance, and all creation bears the image of the Creator.

In Lewis' Ransom Trilogy, of which Perelandra is the second book, Malacandra (Mars) is an ancient world, far older than Earth, whose people were never tempted to sin (like the people of Earth and Perelandra) and never needed salvation (like Earth, and in a way also Perelandra). Maleldil (Christ) plants the seed of new creation with his Death and Resurrection in our world, but the firstfruits of this redemption appear on Perelandra - the fruit of the cross bursts out into the cosmos. Something new happened when Maleldil became a man - the universe was changed forever. And something new also happened when Perelandra's salvation and rebirth was complete - a new movement in the Dance had begun. Lewis writes,

"As is the circle to the sphere, so are the ancient worlds that needed no redemption to that world wherein He was born and died. As is a point to a line, so is that world to the far-off fruits of its redeeming. Blessed be He!"
The ancient worlds, the world where Maleldil became a man, the first redeemed world... At every step in the story of creation something wholly new emerges - even a new dimension, one might say, a higher plane of being.

But Lewis cautions again the temptation to rush ahead in the Dance - to see only the new things at the expense of seeing the beauty of what is already in motion:
"The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!"
The former things are not made less by what follows them; rather, they are made greater by the unique and essential role they play. The ancient people needed no redemption, and yet our redemption is for their joy as well. They take part in the same Dance, and Maleldil was with them in a unique way before the story of redemption began. The stories of the ancient peoples and of the angels are different from the story of man ("never did He utter one word twice"), but not any less a part of the Dance. Their movement in the Dance is beautiful in its uniqueness.

One might even think of the "movement in the Dance" of mathematics, or of the physical structure of the universe. Mathematics is beautiful in its role as the most basic and foundational structure of the universe. As the very framework of the Dance, it is totally unlike any other movement.

Because God is present in all things, writes Lewis, any movement or story that plays a part in the Great Dance may seem to be the center of all:
"Set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Where Maleldil is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Blessed be He!"
Lewis is right, I think, to emphasize the presence of God in all things and the fact that this gives value to each movement in the Dance. At the same time, though, I am unsure whether or not it is true to say that all movements are equally the center.

In particular, it seems to me that the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ will always be the cornerstone of the arch and the crux of God's plan for creation. The event in which God himself suffered and died! Where the Trinity appeared for a moment to be tearing apart!* Surely this is the center of centers. For it seems that at the cross of Christ God plants a seed of infinite growth, a seed upon which the whole growing tree of creation is founded. Creation came to be when God said "let there be light," but new creation, real creation as God intended it to be, begins at the cross.
*But in reality, it is at the cross that God is being most fully Himself.

But I must confess I am in over my head. The thoughts and plans of God are incomparably higher than anything we can know (Isaiah 55:9), and God has his reasons for only showing us so much of this Dance. Let us again rejoice that no matter how much we see of the Great Dance, the fullness of God and his plans will remain forever beyond us. If our universe is just one movement in His great design, if our story is only the title page of all that is to come, then how great must He be! Let us join Lewis in worshipping this great Author and Maker: "Blessed Be He!"

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