One of my favorite books of all time, if not my singular favorite, is Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. In this infrequently read novel of his, Lewis retells the classic tale of Cupid and Psyche giving us insight into the nature of love and loss, both of which permeate the fabric of our lives. When Cupid, the god of the mountain, casts Psyche away to wander the earth for the rest of her life he says to Orual, Psyche’s sister,
“Now Psyche goes out in exile. Now she must hunger and thirst and tread hard roads. Those against whom I cannot fight must do their will upon her.”
Orual, the narrator of the book, describes Psyche’s passing in the following way,
“In the silence, I heard again the noise of weeping. I never heard weeping like that before or after, not from a child, nor a man wounded in the palm, nor a tortured man, nor a girl dragged off to slavery from a taken city. If you heard the woman you most hate in the world weep so, you would go to comfort her. You would fight your way through fire and spears to reach her.”
This passage is particularly poignant as Orual was the one who broke the relationship between Cupid and Psyche thus making Orual the cause of Psyche’s exile and her painful weeping. Cupid delivered his last words of judgment to Orual when he said, “You, woman, shall know yourself and your work. You also shall be Psyche.” Orual’s punishment was that she live her life in emptiness and yearning, always hoping for but never finding satisfaction.
This portion of Till We Have Faces came to mind as I read Psalm 61:2, “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” While this may be a case of me being more melancholy than I ought, I think these words, if we are honest with ourselves, describe each person’s lifelong journey.
Peter begins his letter with the words, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion” and I would guess there are few who think those words apply to us today. But they do, for we like the Israelites during the time of the Babylonian captivity, live in a distant country and we long for home and the time when we will be called to live in the presence of the king. We hope then to sing his praises all day long, for we know that only in his presence can peace and contentment be found. We know it is only with him will find acceptance, fully and without reserve. And we know only there will we finally be home. But until that time, we are Psyche, we are exiled, and our heart grows faint.
Sort of a downer, isn’t it?
But make no mistake, Psalm 61 is not a depressing psalm, at least it isn’t meant to be. Even though David acknowledges his exile and his troubles, he is able to endure them because, despite the worst the world has to offer, his hope rests in the eternal king and his kingdom, the very same king and kingdom we have already read about in Psalm 46, 47, and 48. Yet David’s hope for an event and location somewhere in the distant future is kept strong by those God has placed in his life to help him. When David says, “you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” we find that his gratefulness extends to the fellow travelers who, like himself, are also exiles in this foreign world. For they know what it is to long for a home they have never seen; they know what it is to be empty and cry out; they know the struggles of this life, yet, even so, they love God just as he does. Some of these fellow travelers have gone before and already passed from this life, and some walk along side of him. From those who have gone before, David finds solace in their words, and from those who walk along side of him, he finds comfort in their touch.
Like Psyche, we have been cast into this world where we wander and weep, but unlike Psyche, we are not alone. In his wisdom, God provided wise guides to lead us and flesh and blood to comfort us. We walk this earth with others who endure the same hardships, the same emptiness, and the same longings we do. When we fall, they are there to pick us up. When we cry, they are there to dry our tears. And when we seek to escape into the darkness of our own sin, they gently guide us back to the path where we, now hand in hand, walk onward to our eternal home to finally meet the awaiting king.