The Lion in my House

Month: November 2017

Part 3: Behold, Celaeno

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with…

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with the body of a great bronze bird and a hag’s face, clenched and deadly as the talons with which she gripped the wood. She had the shaggy round ears of a bear; but down her scaly shoulders, mingling with the bright knives of her plumage, there fell hair the color of moonlight, thick and youthful around the hating human face. She glittered, but to look at her was to feel the light going out of the sky. Catching sight of the unicorn, she made a queer sound like a hiss and a chuckle together.

The unicorn said quietly, “This one is real. This is the harpy Celaeno.”

The unicorn began to walk toward the harpy’s cage. Schmendrick the Magician, tiny and pale, kept opening and closing his mouth at her, and she knew what he was shrieking, though she could not hear him. “She will kill you, she will kill you! Run, you fool, while she’s still a prisoner! She will kill you if you set her free!” But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One.

For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.”

The unicorn lowered her head until her horn touched the lock of the harpy’s cage. The door did not swing open, and the iron bars did not thaw into starlight. But the harpy lifted her wings, and the four sides of the cage fell slowly away and down, like the petals of some great flower waking at night. And out of the wreckage the harpy bloomed, terrible and free, screaming, her hair swinging like a sword. The moon withered and fled.

The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey. The unicorn knew that she was going to strike again.

The harpy folded her wings and fell like a star — not at the unicorn, but beyond her, passing so close that a single feather drew blood from the unicorn’s shoulder; bright claws reaching for the heart of Mommy Fortuna, who was stretching out her own sharp hands as though to welcome the harpy home. “Not alone!” the witch howled triumphantly at both of them. “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” Then the harpy reached her, and she broke like a dead stick and fell. The harpy crouched on her body, hiding it from sight, and the bronze wings turned red.

The unicorn turned away. Close by, she heard a child’s voice telling her that she must run, she must run. It was the magician. His eyes were huge and empty, and his face — always too young — was collapsing into childhood as the unicorn looked at him. “No,” she said. “Come with me.”

The harpy made a thick, happy sound that melted the magician’s knees. But the unicorn said again, “Come with me,” and together they walked away from the Midnight Carnival. The moon was gone, but to the magician’s eyes the unicorn was the moon, cold and white and very old, lighting his way to safety, or to madness. He followed her, never once looking back, even when he heard the desperate scrambling and skidding of heavy feet, the boom of bronze wings, and Rukh’s interrupted scream.

“He ran,” the unicorn said. “You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” Her voice was gentle, and without pity. “Never run,” she said. “Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

Such is evil. It seeks to kill and destroy (Romans 6:23).

Here, Celaeno reveals the strange contradiction of our souls: “I will kill you if you set me free,” yet, “Set me free.”

Why are we compelled to free within ourselves the very thing things that will seek our destruction? Why does sin nature, even on this side of the cross and on this side of baptism and on this side of the indwelling of the Spirit of God, yet insidiously persist?

I have prayed many times that I, the ego that has been so destructive and selfish and weak (Matthew 26:41) will die. I have asked that the Lord crucify my ego Himself, or at least that He would bless me by taking me captive and locking that wicked part of me in a cage of His design.

But, alas, He came to bring freedom and not captivity (John 8:36). And what is freedom if not the freedom to do with our sin nature what we choose?

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, argues that freedom is the manner in which intellectual beings seek goodness and, if ever there was a source of the good, the true, and the beautiful, it is found in Christ.

So why then am I so confused?

Perhaps because the evil is a thing so like me that I often can’t tell the difference. This must be why we “fix our eyes on Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and why we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It is the kind of process by which God seems to be shaping us not into people who merely follow rules, but into the kind of people whose worst sins point others to Jesus.

And so, we — I — walk slowly, sing songs, say poems, do tricks, and as we are going, we teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

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Part Two: Belief and the Spider

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the…

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the greatest weaver in the world — her fate’s the proof of it. She had the bad luck to defeat the goddess Athena in a weaving contest. Athena was a sore loser, and Arachne is now a spider, creating only for Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, by special arrangement. Warp of snow and woof of flame, never any two of the same.”

Strut on the loom of iron bars, the web was very simple and almost colorless, except for an occasional rainbow shiver when the spider scuttled out on it to put a thread right. But it drew the onlookers’ eyes as well — back and forth and steadily deeper, until they seemed to be looking down into great rifts in the world, black fissures that widened remorselessly and yet would not fall into pieces as long as Arachn’s web held the world together. The Unicorn shook herself free with a sigh, and saw the real web again. It was very simple, and almost colorless.

“It isn’t like the others,” she said.

“No,” Schmendrick agreed grudgingly. “But, there’s no credit due to Mommy Fortuna for that. You see, the spider believes. She sees those cat’s-cradles herself and thinks them her own work. Belief makes all the difference to magic like Mommy Fortuna’s. Why, if that troop of willing withdrew their wonder, there’d be nothing left of all her witchery but the sound of a spider weeping. And no one would hear it.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

So much for the promises of this world. So much investment in the world’s guarantees to result in nothing; empty vanity. But the power seems to be in our belief in them, and this isn’t so far removed from Christ’s promises to believers:

“For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Close enough to promote lies and obfuscate truth. False horns are made of such as this.

But here is the work of faith, and a question for believers and nonbelievers:

If faith has the power to produce a false horn on Unicorns and white mares alike, which is better?

[The crowd] wondered at Arachne’s new web, which was like a fisherman’s net with the dripping moon in it. Each of them took it for a real web, but only the spider believed that it held the real moon.

So much for the love of the crowd. Even if it were the real moon in poor Arachne’s web, hanging tenuously by her silken thread but pulling waves from the tides, would the crowd know any better?

I suppose it depends upon your crowd. For whom does the weaver weave?

Perhaps a danger of the false horn is in its reflection and the cage that comes with it.

Only the spider paid no mind when the Unicorn called softly to her through the open door. Arachne was busy with a web which looked to her as though the Milky Way had begun to fall like snow. The Unicorn whispered, “Weaver, freedom is better, freedom is better,” but the spider fled unhearing up and down her iron loom. She never stopped for a moment, even when the Unicorn cried, “It’s really very attractive, Arachne, but it’s not art.” The new web drifted down the bars like snow.

Have you invested in a false horn? Are you ready to give it up? Are you able?

So they fled across the night together, step by step, the tall man in black and the horned white beast. The magician crept as close to the Unicorn’s light as he dared, for beyond it moved hungry shadows, the shadows of the sounds that the harpy made as she destroyed the little there was to destroy of the Midnight Carnival. But another sound followed them long after these had faded, followed them into morning on a strange road — the tiny, dry sound of a spider weeping.

When the break is made and freedom opens its maw, will you give up on the work you’ve invested in the false horn? Will you leave it behind for something better?

That is the work of faith. The kind that moves mountains.

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Part One: A False Horn on a Real Unicorn

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.” “Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond…

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.”

“Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond her, if it weren’t for the eagerness of those gulls, those marks, to believe whatever comes easiest. She can’t turn cream into butter, but she can give a lion the semblance of a manticore to eyes that want to see a manticore there—eyes that would take a real manticore for a lion, a dragon for a lizard, and the Midgard Serpent for an earth quake. And a unicorn for a white mare.”

Schmendrick the Magician drew himself up several inches taller than the unicorn would have thought possible. “Fear nothing,” he began grandly. “For all my air of mystery, I have a feeling heart.” But he was interrupted by the approach of Rukh and his followers, grown quieter than the grubby gang who had giggled at the false manticore. The magician fled, calling back softly, “Don’t be afraid, Schmendrick is with you! Do nothing till you hear from me!” His voice drifted to the unicorn, so faint and lonely that she was not sure whether she actually heard it or only felt it brush against her.
It was growing dark. The crowd stood in front of her cage, peering in at her with a strange shyness. Rukh said, “The Unicorn,” and stepped aside.

She heard hearts bounce, tears brewing, and breath going backward, but nobody said a word. By the sorrow and loss and sweetness in their faces she knew that they recognized her, and she accepted their hunger as their homage. She wondered what it must be like to grow old, and to cry.

The show was over. Alone in the moonlight, the old woman Mommy Fortuna glided from cage to cage, resettling locks and prodding her enchantments as a housewife squeezes melons in the market.
Mommy Fortuna turned toward the unicorn’s cage. “Well,” she said in her sweet, smoky voice. “I had you frightened for a little while, didn’t I?” SHe laughed with a sound like snakes hurrying through mud, and strolled closer.

“Whatever your friend the magician may say,” she went on, “I must have some small art after all. Do you really think those gogglers knew you for yourself without any help from me? No, I had to give you an aspect they could understand and a horn they could see. These days it takes a cheap carnival witch to make folk recognize a real unicorn. You’d do much better to stay with me and be false, for in this whole world only your enemy will know you when he sees you.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

So much of church history is this: to put a false horn on a real Unicorn. That is, to cheapen the majestic with some dimestore garnish.

For all the luster of Rome, our Lord didn’t arrive in a gilded chariot but a squalid feeding trough. Even his mother, for all her humility, was a vessel made glorious by carrying the Lord, but the priestly class decided in their human wisdom that she must be more and for the masses to see her and revere her, the Lord’s presentation wasn’t enough. She was given a crown of her own.

We do much the same in so-called Evangelical circles when we crown the Holy Spirit with fog machines and effects pedals and light shows. We work so hard to make the Word of God relevant to eyes that may never see the real horn, and I’m afraid we may be teaching them instead to fall in love with the false one.

If the time one day comes when we look at the head of Christ and see two crowns – one real and one false – I wonder what we will make of it.

Will we love the false horn more? WIll we commit ourselves to the appearance of Good, like Pharisees worshipping their feeble legalism and immune to the piercing blade of the Law once beneath it?

Our world is full of Mommy Fortunas, spinning their cheap carnival witchery to sell us gospels where there are none, and dunderheaded Rukhs carrying their water.

Do not mistake the false horn on a real Unicorn; the Horn of David does not need to be made beautiful to be true, rather the beauty is in its own absolute truth. And that is more than enough.

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