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"Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." -- CS Lewis

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Constructing Eros' Love

 Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, [that] the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. (Song of Songs 4:16)

CS Lewis’ depiction of “Eros” in The Four Loves rings with the imagery of the Bible’s Song of Songs, in which the lover and the beloved are shown reveling in the pleasure of being together. They praise one another for all of their qualities, physical, intellectual and spiritual. It is a beautiful picture of the love that a husband and wife see in themselves, a godly love that blesses them boundlessly.

This seems to be the purest, most heavenly form of Lewis’ Eros: that state which we call ‘being in love’; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are ‘in.’” It is the love that wants the other in their entirety, not just for their bodily pleasures or their attractive looks. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly a part of Eros, but is more specifically the part that Lewis calls Venus: “what is known to be sexual by those who experience it; what could be proved to be sexual by the simplest observations.” In fact, Lewis even says that this is a completely secondary desire within the relationship, as the one partner is first and foremost fascinated with the whole person that the other represents. To experience Eros fully is to delight in an earthly experience that is one of the closest illustrations of God’s holy connection with the Church, and Venus is merely a “byproduct.”

On the other hand, we all know just how corrupt and damaging Venus can be in a relationship; it can leave scars that are nearly impossible to erase. This, however, may not be the whole danger. Lewis dispels the myth that sex itself is the great “moral danger” of Eros, and states that this idea is simply not biblical. Paul writes in the New Testament that Eros in whole is the threat, as it can completely consume a couple oblivious to all else but their love, detracting from their relationship with God. Even though marriage is intended to be a divine portrait, how can it possibly claim divinity if it neglects the Heavenly One? Eros assumes the role of “god” in that context, substituting the élan vital for the Giver of Life himself. Indeed, Eros seems almost to demand that we treat it as a deity, since it has such a strong grip on our meek human desires; it can thus become an idol, which God clearly forbids us from creating in our lives. As Lewis puts it, “Love ceases to be a demon only when it ceases to be a god.”

In Lewis’ recording of The Four Loves, he goes on to compare a marriage to a garden that one keeps. It is a beautiful, fragrant, wondrous thing at first, with its blossoms and its lusciousness; leave it unattended for very long, however, and it ceases to be a garden altogether. Weeds infest it and choke all that was good and lovely in it in the beginning. Such is the case in any relationship, but particularly in a romantic one that leads to marriage. If two lovers lose themselves in the heat of the initial passion, they do not build a strong foundation for their future life together, and once this once-thought eternal bliss turns into something nasty and unhealthy in the end. Lewis notes that “passion can only move us,” just as we can dive into the water, but once we hit this water we must then swim to keep from drowning. Likewise, love can create a preliminary feeling of ecstasy, but without the self-sacrifice and toil that accompanies a life-long commitment, it withers and dies out quickly. If tended to correctly, however, it produces the exquisite garden that Solomon speaks of in his Song of Songs, which both partners can cherish and frolic in and expand together for the rest of their earthly days together. That is the true picture of divine love – the best possible and most sought-after form of Eros.

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