I believe it was in August that I read Till We Have Faces, a myth retold by that mastermind hero of mine, C.S. Lewis. Whenever I think about this concept of love, something draws my mind back to this book. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Lewis was a genius. I devoured this book cover to cover, but it's one of those things that you have to take time to process afterward. I'm certain I didn't understand half of the message that Lewis put in there--it's a confusing but riveting tale.
"A good book should leave you…slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." -William Styron
To start, let me summarize the myth it centers around. In ancient Greek tradition, Psyche was a mortal woman who was so beautiful that Aphrodite (the goddess of love) was jealous of her. In an attempt to get rid of her, Aphrodite sends her son Cupid (the god of love) to do the dirty work, but Cupid falls in love with Psyche, takes her to a hidden valley, and there only comes to her in the darkness of night so that she does not see his true form as a god.
Meanwhile, Psyche's two jealous sisters come visit her, convincing her that her lover might be a horrific beast. They persuade Psyche to light a candle in the night, but when she does, Cupid awakens, enraged. He punishes the sisters and leaves Psyche, who is forced to flee to her enemy, Aphrodite herself, for help. Aphrodite sends Psyche on a number of impossible missions, each of which Psyche miraculously completes. In the end, Cupid returns for Psyche and she is granted immortality, becoming a goddess.
Till We Have Faces tells the story from the perspective of Orual, one of Psyche's sisters. Ever since she was a little girl, Orual has lived knowing three things for certain: Psyche was beautiful, she was ugly, and she loved Psyche to death. Literally, to death. Orual's love for Psyche is desperate, reckless, and mostly, selfish. When Orual persuades Psyche to undermine Cupid, it is not out of spite. It is out of her dangerously great love that wishes to protect Psyche, and her dangerously great fear that some brute would seek to destroy her sister. Plus, Orual cannot see the beautiful valley, the lovely place where Cupid has brought Psyche--she sees only a desolate, lonely place inhabited by her hallucinating sister.
Orual is punished. She becomes hardened, bitter. She becomes queen, and yet she is so unfulfilled. She never sees Psyche again, only later discovering that she has become a goddess and that Orual's own name has lived on in infamy. And through it all, she is possessed by a confusingly massive amount of love for Psyche. At least, she calls it love.
But I suppose that is where the book ends and the imagination begins. Orual never did anything for or toward Psyche except what she meant to be for her good. But Orual's love was selfish--so, so selfish. She did not love Psyche for love's sake; she loved to be loved in return. She wanted to get some sort of reward from her devotion, and in the end, it led them both to ruin. And that just makes me wonder: where is the fine line between selfish and unselfish love?
"Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness." -C.S. Lewis
More stern? Stern. Hmm. As in serious, Lewis, is that what you're trying to tell me? Because yes, love is more serious than kindness, than simply attempting to do good to someone. Love is a commitment, an act. And like anything else, messing up is all too easy. Acting out of line comes much too naturally.
And more splendid? Yes. Oh yes. Especially in His love.
"God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love." -C.S. Lewis
"When we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy." -C.S. Lewis
"If there is equality it is in His love, not it us." -C.S. Lewis
And that makes me infinitely grateful. For various reasons, but namely that I was blind, but now I see. That I have Love. That I don't have to desperately seek fulfillment in loving a Psyche or being a queen. That my identity is in Him, however great the amount that I don't deserve it. That he is my lover and beauty and truth. And I must seek to love as unselfishly has He has loved me. His love is so great, so vast, so unselfish, so important, so good, so necessary to my existence.
"There are four questions of value in life...What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love." -Johnny Depp