As the Ruin Falls
by C. S. Lewis
“All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.“
C.S. Lewis was a beautiful writer that had a firm grasp on the mystical nature of a questioning spirit. He was a Christian mystic and a well-spoken one at that. The poem As the Ruin Falls is moving when read with a measure of humility. It is a window into the inner struggle that many face when asking the deeper questions of life.
I believe C.S. Lewis was pointing out that we all have a cross to bear and are “broken” in some way simply by living. I liken humans to the walking wounded. No one escapes pain, sadness, hurt or disillusionment in this life. Similarly, it is also evident that many find themselves self-consumed and self absorbed. This is a constant danger for one reflecting more intently on the meaning of our existence. When self-introspection becomes more important than the needs of others, the entire concept of selflessness is lost.
I hesitate to offer my interpretation of specific lines of poetry, as poetry by its very nature is individual. That being said, the lines “I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin: I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin” are so powerful. I humbly suggest that C.S. Lewis is speaking to the consequences of believing that one knows the answers when in fact this is farthest from the truth. Have you experienced, when speaking with someone and venturing into spiritual territory, that you are now being lectured? In their excitement, some feel the need to spread the word forgetting that no one person can do the work of another. The Greek definition of Mysticism means, “to conceal” or “initiate”. I have never met another student of mysticism that wears the practice on their sleeve. In most cases they are quiet about it until asked, never trying to push ideas on another.
Education and personal study cannot independently provide the intimate and personal experience with the Divine that many seek. Surrender to the unknown is required and for that, one needs to step outside of all ideas of self and find humility. This is a tough pill to swallow for most. My truth is that I do not know what I think I know. I suspect that at the end of this lifetime, I will still be questioning what I thought I understood, but did not. C.S Lewis ends his poem with “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains You give me are more precious than all other gains.” Let your ruins fall. Stop trying to figure everything out. Live in the unknown and enjoy the mystery of it all. It is after all in the mystery that we are truly alive.