"There is a stage in a child's life when it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal aspect of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began ‘Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.’ This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life."
C.S Lewis "Reflections on the Psalms."
This quote is apparently the most controversial and obscure thing I have ever reproduced.
Mr Lewis is not saying "Without a belief in the resurrection, the practice of giving sweetmeats at Easter will soon be abandoned" or "The reason that we give each other sweets is because we believe in the resurrection" or "Ha-ha you say that you are an atheist but you eat cream eggs ha ha so you must believe in the resurrection really, atheists are silly." (I have heard clergymen argue the latter, though not in quite those words.)
Lewis has written extensively on, e.g how the traditions of Christmas are widely practised among non religious people; and how the tradition of church going survives among non Christian people.
The context of the quote is a discussion of "praise" in the book of Psalms.
Having talked about death and curses in the psalms, I'm now going to talk about joy and beauty in the Psalms.
King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant: his wife didn't approve. Most Anglicans would have been on the side of the Queen. Our worship is quiet, respectful, even clinical. The Jews, in that sense, were more like pagans.
David's dancing might not be as holy as a great mystic's visions of god; but it was a lot more holy than a churchgoer just "saying his prayers" out of duty (although that's good too if it's the best we can manage.)
This "joy" was focussed on the temple.
By the way, don't make the mistake of thinking that the Temple was to the Synagogue as the Cathedral is to the Parish Church. The Temple was the place for sacrifice. The Synagogue was a meeting place for prayer and study.
It would be strange to us that the Jewish temple, like the Parthenon, was a holy abattoir, but bare in mind that it was also a holy barbecue, smelling of cooked meat.
The Jews didn't "do" philosophy in the way the Greeks did. If you'd ask David to distinguish between "enjoying" God in a spiritual sense and enjoying the festivities of the temple, he wouldn't have understood the question.
Think of a modern Christian farm labourer enjoying harvest festival: he's really thanking God for a good harvest; he's really pleased that the work is over; he's really looking forward to harvest supper, and he's really enjoying the old hymns. To ask him "how much of your enjoyment is in praising God, and how much is in singing an old song that your dad and grandad sung?" would be meaningless to him.
c.f The little boy with his easter egg.
It didn't occur to the Psalmist, then, to separate "religion" from "agriculture" and "festival": they were all one. (QUOTE: "This assuredly laid him open to spiritual dangers which more sophisticated people can avoid; it also gave him privileges that they lack.")
When the Psalmist talks of "seeing" God, he is, in fact, talking about things which have happened in the temple. (QUOTE: "The fatal way of putting this would be to say 'they only mean that they have seen the festival'. It would be better to say 'If we had been there, we would only have seen the festival.'")
If a modern Christian could, in fact, have seen the ancient Jewish worship, he or she would see the dancers, the musicians, the priests, etc, and might in addition have "felt" the presence of God. The modern Christian would be aware of that duality. The ancient Jew would not.
Once you can make the distinction between the "rite" and the "vision of god" then there is a danger that the rite becomes a substitute for a rival to God.
This did, in fact, happen in later Judaism, and it is what the prophets complain about.
When the sacrifices became distinguishable from the meeting with God, they don't necessarily become less important: they may in fact become more important. (QUOTE: "They may be valued as a sort of commercial transaction with a greedy God who somehow really needs large quantities of carcasses....Worse still, they me regarded as the only thing he wants.")
However, we already know the ways in which ritual and sacrifice can be abused. and don't need to dwell on it. The good thing about the praising Psalms is that they remind us that this need not be so: that there is a time or a state of mind when the Temple was the "living heart of Judaism" which the singer longed for.
This joy is less like "love for God" than it is like "appetite for God": the singer wants to live in the temple and sing songs to God, but he doesn't think that these are pious or merit-worthy feelings.
It wouldn't be a good idea to try to bring this kind of exuberance back into the church of England. Firstly, we're British and bad at it. More importantly, the concept of the Atonement was not present in Judaism: there's a "tragic" element to Christianity. You can't dance before the ark so unaffectedly once you know what your salvation cost.
In the following chapter, I will continue the theme of joy and talk about why the Psalmist feel that the Torah is "sweeter than honey."
Can I go, now? Please? There's some TV series people keep asking me about.