As most of you know, I’m deep into my research on beauty within the works of C.S. Lewis. Recently, I discovered some old parchments in the bowels of the Bodleian Library. I was not supposed to be in this particular room. The old oak shelves rose floor to ceiling, stacked full of ancient books. Near the end of aisle seven, I pulled what I believed to be a book on Old Norse mythology. What I found was a rickety old box deceptively painted like a book.
Inside I found a treasure; ancient parchments from ninth century Iceland. I'm slowly translating them and have found them to be a series of discussions between two liminal beings, what we might call gods or angels or daemons (in the classical sense), about “the Good.” The older god refers to himself as Gangari, meaning “Wanderer.” He addresses the younger god as Balder, meaning “Beautiful."
I have taken some poetic liberties in my translation to improve their readability. I’ll try to add more of their conversations each week. Enjoy.
The Bramble Ruin
"I am working on my chug,” he said as the shadows danced in the flickerlow glow. I knew what he meant. He was soaking it all in; gathering the glory.
This was our first meeting. Prior, we communicated through emails and texts. I was pleased he stopped by, even if it was for just a fire and a drink.
“It’s a good fire,” I added. “How’s your work going?”
“It’s good,” he said. “Well, by ‘good,’ you know what I mean. It’s not Good like you and I know Good. But in the more common meaning."
“Yes, I know what you mean. But I’d love to hear you explain this ‘good.’ It is rather dreadful some are using it at all, but I get it. Times change."
Balder could describe things better than most. It was a gift. But even more than this great gift, he was able to make the things he described. I once found him in some lowly forgotten garden that was planted around a ruin ages before. He didn’t hear me for the evening birdsong. I quietly watched as he pulled the brambles from the earth and painted them with berries and blossoms. They climbed the ruin walls with haunting glory. When he finished we celebrated by inviting a parade of Lampyridae—fireflies.
But as gifted as he was, Balder was often discouraged in his work due to his pure naïveté. He was a hopeless romantic.
“Well,” he said as he finished his drink and began pacing in front of the fire, “as you know, I’ve had to work hard at reinventing myself. In the past my work stood on its own merit. Remember the old bramble ruin you watched me revive? The village marveled at the the contrast of thorns and blossoms, the twisting and color. And they worshipped. It's form and value, I tell you. I know you know this."
“Ah yes, the bramble ruin. I remember with great delight!"
“Now," he continued, "a flowering bramble ruin elicits pleasure, but the pleasure ends in mere sensuality."
“You must always remember, Balder, the Dark Elves work fast. They focus on changing the thought of the Children so that they esteem form over value. Indeed, they sunder beauty in fragments hoping to kill its power."
“Yes, I understand that now. But I feel like a hermit now, off somewhere building objects I feel are full of the thickness of the heavens. But no one seems to notice."
He grabbed his glass and filled it. The fire breathed low, and cast long shadows into the darkness.
“Let’s keep meeting here and discuss this further," I said, "The Children cannot walk outside of themselves; the thickness is inside of them as well. Let us discuss a new bramble ruin. One that carries the thickness.
If enough of the Children rediscover the thickness, then perhaps we can revive your work. The Dark Elves love to twist the Good, which blinds the Children to your work—the work of the Beautiful."
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.