“Would you listen to him? He’s making the story sound like some great tragedy.”
“Lighten up dude.”
“We’ll take it from here darling.”
You go girls.
“We are the Muses, goddesses of the arts and proclaimers of heroes.”
I am tempted to type out the whole song here, but surely it would be of much greater pleasure for you and much less pressure for me if you just listened to the song. I suggest a video of the actual beginning scene of Hercules, or the whole movie for that matter, as it is quite extraordinary and good.
The Muses layout the context of the story. The world was in bad shape, “a mess wherever you stepped,” “where gigantic brutes called titans ran amuck… and earthquakes and volcanoes never slept.” Zeus comes on the scene, zaps them with his thunderbolts and locks them in a vault. He stops chaos in its tracks, and life on Mount Olympus becomes quite “smooth as sweet vermouth.” In case you are wondering what vermouth is, as I was, it is a “aromatized white wine in which herbs, roots, barks, bitters and other flavorings have been steeped.” Not exactly sure if this holds significance within the story or just flowed neatly in the song. Vermouth seems to be considered more cheaply than godly, at least from what I am reading. I guess we shall wait and see its relevance.
Before I go on, my intent is not to lessen the seriousness and destructiveness of the circumstances we find ourselves in by liking them to fantasy. Rather I endeavor to make light of them in this certain way to uncover the truth and hope available to us always, regardless of circumstance.
I dare say there is a titan on the loose we would all very much like Zeus to come and zap with his lightening bolt, namely Covid-19. This titan has become a whole army in himself, transforming doctors, nurses, grocers, deliverers, and many others into soldiers called to the frontlines. For our own safety and to aid the efforts on the frontlines, those of us not called to active duty are asked to stay at home, in a sort of passive duty, it seems. The titan Covid-19 has made his battlefield in our very own neighborhoods. In a different time, the heart of warfare did not concern civilian spaces. A code of conduct acted as a forcefield around homes, parks, markets, schools, etc. Now, outside of the home, these are the very spaces most avoided and most dangerous. Covid has swiped at the jugular of our very humanity- relationship and community. Surely, this has sounded an alarm. What poor form. The line has been crossed. Where are our supernatural reinforcements? If not Zeus, the Avengers?
One of C.S. Lewis’s major works, Mere Christianity, is a compilation of radio broadcasts Lewis gave in Great Britain during WWII. His task was to explain Christianity. Of all things to talk about during the atrocities of WWII and the utter onslaught Great Britain suffered by the raining bombs of merciless German air raids, it was the beliefs of the Christian on the BBC radio. I can say now how refreshing this would be on the receiving end to listen to, but, honestly, I do not envy him his task. When nothing seems to be as it ought to be and suffering is blaring to all, how do you explain everything is as its always been and the real problem is not it but us. Hearing this message muffled through a radio in the confines of a bomb shelter rattled to its very bearings, I may have scoffed.
Claimed to be “in love with the imagination” by a friend, C.S. Lewis “betrays a deep faith in the power of the human imagination to reveal the truth about our condition and bring us to hope” [Mere Christianity]. No doubt he employed this method when describing the beliefs of Christianity to his fellow Britons, giving “images of our world as an enemy-occupied territory, invaded by powerful evils bent on destroying all that is good” [Mere Christianity]. Still, even as the master of imagination himself, how did he penetrate the fear-gripped minds of men that may have been very nearly on the edge of giving in to hopelessness and the seemingly titan forces of tyranny? He was no Zeus with supranatural powers. In fact, he identified as an “amateur” in Christianity. What, indeed, did he tell the British people then? Well, the one thing he was certain of, the Gospel Truth.
“And they came, bringing to Him [Jesus] a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’- He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’” [Mark 2: 3-11]
If NPR called me up today and asked me to talk live to our country, faint by the tyranny of Covid, about Christianity, would I have the guts to say the problem is not truly the titan Covid nor any other evil force that is or has been but rather, ourselves? Would I have the boldness to say the Gospel Truth, as Lewis did, that sin is not obsolete and in our blaming of science or religion for not solving human suffering, we have but only to grasp at “the easy answers?” Jesus tells the scribes the reasoning in their hearts is the easy answer. Laws and theories and philosophies. He had already been healing the crowds and casting out demons from people, why would it be any more difficult to heal the paralytic? Jesus addresses the even greater sufferable reality. Sin. How small this man’s paralysis is when considering the fiery abyss sin, if left alone, thrusts us into. How small Covid-19 is when considering the withering condition of our hearts, if left alone. How merciful Jesus is to come not only for the hearts of sinners (our hearts), eating and staying in their homes (our homes), but out of pure compassion, the brokenness of their very bodies (our bodies). Though we may not all experience physical healing, He redeems every part of us because He took on every part of us.
“The ‘mere’ Christianity of C.S. Lewis is not a philosophy or even a theology…it is a way of life, one that challenges us to always remember, as Lewis once stated, that ‘there are not ordinary people’ and that ‘it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.’ Once we tune ourselves to this reality, Lewis believes, we open ourselves to imaginatively transform our lives in such a way that evil diminishes and good prevails. It is what Christ asked of us in the taking on of our humanity, sanctifying our flesh, and asking us in turn to reveal God to one another.”[Mere Christianity]
We, too, are the paralytic. We ought to go to great lengths to be healed of our current Covid affliction. We ought to ask unceasingly for its quick resolution. But we should not forget the sort of people we are nor the kind of reality we are offered to tune ourselves to, the immortal kind of reality. This does not mean being rescued by thunderbolts from a god reigning on Mount Olympus. Not even escaping suffering whatsoever. It does mean, though, we get to be the Muses. We get to proclaim our hero, Jesus the Nazorean. Not the son of Zeus but the Son of YHWH. Not a warrior with mighty strength but a lowly servant. We proclaim God made flesh, taking the form of us sinners to crush the Titan of all titans, Death. His thunderbolt? The shame and embarrassment of a crucifixion.
Thus, our story, indeed, is not a tragedy, and we should not make it sound like one. The titans and volcanoes and earthquakes will all come, one after the other, wreaking chaos and causing us to question the very existence of good in the world. Hopefully, we will see the Light illuminating our fellow man and remember our own supranatural song.
“Though it may seem imposs’ble, that’s the Gospel Truuuuuuuuuuuuthhhhhh!”