Saturday, 12 October 2013

To the chemist's shop


From C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters: ...For the Enemy [i.e. God] will not be used as a convenience.  Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the Stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist's shop. 

Powerful and challenging words. They go with Lewis' notion of "Christianity and..."; I feel another blog post simmering about that (if I get around to writing it.  Blog friends - are any of you as disorganised as I am, having all sorts of ideas at odd moments but always putting off the discipline of writing them down?)

Anyway, back to the Stairs of Heaven and the chemist's shop. I do know, or think I know, what Lewis means. But maybe there's also a sense in which we do use the Stairs of Heaven to get to the chemist's shop - if we only realised it: a way that is the opposite of using God as a convenience, but is rather a way of "finding God in all things."  A way of realising that we stand on holy ground wherever we are, and behaving with appropriate reverence to the people and things we encounter. I suppose we're back to mindfulness again, and reverence for the present moment, but it's a mindfulness not turned in ourselves but an awareness of constant communion, constant dialogue with the Other and the other - God in and through all his creatures. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it in Aurora Leigh:

No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim... Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

It's half way through October, the month of the Holy Angels.  "Turn but a stone and start a wing", as the hymn says. And soon it will be the thin, holy month of November - saints and souls. Look for the wings under the stones and the fire in the bush.

The picture above, by the way, is of one of my favourite chemist's shops - Barry Shooter in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. I always think of Lewis' quote there: just round the corner are the famous (and very steep!) Town Steps, and the top of those is the church of Our Lady and St Peter. At quiet moments in the Mass you can hear the cry of the gulls and when you come out of church you see the sea - beautiful and often wild - at your feet. Heavenly! And after Mass you can pop into the chemist's on your way to lunch.


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