Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wearing Your Soul on the Outside

Susan Boyle’s “fifteen minutes of fame” has arrived and so far, she’s seems to be taking it in stride. Boyle is the woman who stunned audiences worldwide (thanks to You-Tube and the Internet) when she melted hearts with her moving rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” (from the Broadway musical Les Misérables) on the British version of American Idol called Britain’s Got Talent. Not what we’ve come to expect from these “idol-maker” shows (which really function more as a barometer of our culture’s vapidity and bankruptcy than anything else), Boyle is a rather frumpy, plain-looking, unassuming 40-something who calmly proceeded to waste the audience (including the ruthless Simon Cowell) with her jaw-dropping voice and poignant passion with which she interpreted a lyric seemingly written with her in mind.

Watching her, it reminded me of something C. S. Lewis said. Somewhere in his writings (Letters to Malcolm, I think it was), Lewis observes that one of the chief differences between this life and the next is that in the former we wear most of our souls on the
inside, but in the latter most of our souls we will wear on the outside. "At present," he says, "we tend to think of the soul as somehow 'inside' the body. But the glorified body of the resurrection as I conceive it – the sensuous life raised from its death – will be inside the soul. As God is not in space but space is in God….”

What he meant by that, among other things, is that here and now, depending as we do on empirical data with which to draw our conclusions and to make our decisions, we tend to be shallow and superficial in our judgments. Beauty is, as they say, “skin deep.” And yet we’ve all known those persons who were beautiful on the outside and hideous on the inside. I am reminded of the story that the Broadway diva, Elaine Stritch, tells. She was in a hotel in a city where her company was performing, and the maid came in to tidy up the room while she was getting ready to go out on the town for dinner. Sitting in front of the dressing table finishing her hair, she looked the picture of beauty. The maid, watching her, commented: “You certainly do have it all on the outside.” Stritch, taken aback by that word "outside," replied: “I’ve got it on the inside too.” To which the plucky maid, not to be outdone, said: “Yeah, but I bet it took ya longer.” Indeed.

In another place, Lewis suggests a haunting image for the business we call “life” and the values which guide us through it. He says that most of the things we take the most pride in are not really due to our effort of merit at all – our appearance, our talents, our “personality,” etc. Rather, he suggests, these kinds of “externalities” are merely due to our digestion. “Some people have good digestion; some don’t,” he quips. In any case, those are not the things that God is interested in. Rather, He’s more interested in what we’re becoming
on the inside, what Lewis calls our “central selves.” He means by that the part of me that decides and chooses. The part of me that most people see, my “outside,” is not really the part of me that God is interested in because it’s so fleeting, transient, ephemeral. Rather, it’s the inside, the “me” I’m becoming as a result of the choices I make and decisions I make that most interests God. “Every time you make a choice,” Lewis says, “you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”

I often describe that to audiences as a sculpting process. Think of yourself as a large, amorphous lump of shapeless clay. Every time you make a decision or a choice, it is as though you’ve taken a sculpting tool and made a tiny indention in the clay. Now, think of the thousands, millions of little decisions and choices you’ve made over your lifetime – to tell a lie; to do something cruel; to commit a random act of kindness simply because you could; to do the right thing when it was easier and safer to do the wrong thing – and with each decision your “shapeless clay” is starting to take shape. Indeed, over a lifetime, that formless, shapeless clay is becoming something – either a beautiful creature fit for heaven to be enjoyed forever, or a horrible, hideous monster to be endured forever. And notice, on the
outside, you still look the same…for now. Someday, as we all know, that “outside” will fall off, fall away, and then, the souls we’ve been wearing on the inside, we’ll have to wear on the outside. With typical British understatement, Lewis quips: “There will be surprises.”

I don’t know Susan Boyle, and it’s not up to me to judge the quality of her soul in any case. But listening to that voice, I can’t help but wonder what she’ll look like when she’s wearing her soul on the outside.

1 comment:

BellsOn said...

This post is blessed assurance. A dear cousin of mine just passed to the other side. She was still young, but had been ill for decades. As I looked at the shell of her in the casket, I was reminded that she is now beautiful beyond words. Thank you for this affirmation.