Watching Shadowlands with my husband one evening, I was struck by a line in the marriage vows of C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman: “With my body, I thee worship.” It was the declaration of a man and woman, before God, binding themselves together for life.
If this movie had been pure fiction, in one sense the marriage between this “confirmed old bachelor” and the divorced, critically ill expatriate would seem a bit… convenient. She had young children (only Douglas is mentioned in the movie), and her body was riddled with cancer. For Joy, returning to the States was not an option. But life is often stranger than fiction, and anyone familiar with the writings of Lewis, including both Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed, can see that this was no “marriage of convenience,” but a true joining of hearts. In the latter work, Lewis observed:
One thing marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love, we ought to have lost all interest in Him… We both knew we wanted something besides one another – quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want. You might as well say that when lovers have one another they will never want to read, or eat – or breathe.
Tending to our Soulish Needs
Though he helped to pave the way for some of the rest of us (myself included), C.S. Lewis never made the final leap “home to Rome”. And yet, this quote – an eloquent tribute to the spiritual intimacy God wants with us – speaks to the heart of the sacramental life, which is also reflected in the second reading from this past week (Philippians 2:1-5):
“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…”
This passage goes on to describe all the things Christ did on our behalf – physical manifestations of a divine love so complete, so overwhelming that it conquered death itself. Not a 50-50 kind of love, not a “keeping up with the Joneses” enterprise. This ultimate self-sacrifice was born of perfect love and calls for a response equally momentous proportions. A response of true humility and reverence, and of total self-giving, body and soul.
When we approach Our Lord at Mass, especially in the Eucharist, we feast on love with all the gratitude of one who does indeed (in the words of St. Paul) “regard others as more important,” and yet who (in the words of Lewis) wants “something besides one another.” Only when both these conditions are met can our souls be satisfied.
It can be difficult to strike a balance. When we judge harshly the actions and motives of those around us, we fail to tend to our own souls with humility. By the same token, if our choices about where and even whether to worship are determined solely by the “feelings” our surroundings engender, we cannot hear the still, small voice of God. We may kneel deeply, or bow profoundly. But reverent we are not.
As in a good marriage, reverent worship is an exterior expression of an interior commitment, a desire to know and be known – in other words, intimacy. When we approach Our Lord in the Eucharist in this way, “with the same love, united in heart … humbly regarding others as more important,” even the hungriest soul may be satisfied.