C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew brings us to a strange world beyond 1940s England. Digory and Polly came upon the ruin of a once gala banquet hall in which were seated hundreds of frozen figures, all magnificently robed and crowned-which is what caught Polly's eye.
"But Digory was more interested in the faces. . . . You could walk down and look at the faces in turn. 'They were nice people, I think,' said Digory. . . . Both the men and women looked kind and wise, and they seemed to come of a handsome race. But after the children had gone a few steps down the room they came to faces that looked a little different. These were very solemn faces. You felt you would have to mind your P's and Q's, if you ever met living people who looked like that.
"When they had gone a little further, they found themselves among faces they didn't like: this was about the middle of the room. The faces here looked very strong and proud and happy, but they looked cruel. A little further on they looked crueller. Further on again, they were still cruel but they no longer looked happy. They were even despairing faces: as if the people they belonged to had done dreadful things and also suffered dreadful things. The last figure of all was the most interesting-a woman even more richly dressed than the others . . . with a look of such fierceness and pride that it took your breath away."
I have been thinking about faces. When I walk the dog, a face is the first thing-and in most cases the only thing-a person will see of me. If I get to thinking about the number of people who are lost, and the shortness of the time, I feel sad about all those ships passing without a gospel word.
And yet the face does pour forth speech. I remember the first time I saw Marge Magnuson's face. I was 23 and hippie-grungy and plopped on her doorstep, some unknown vagabond accompanying her "adopted son." She opened the door and looked at me-and beamed. That was my introduction to Christianity.
I remember other kinds of faces, and I have worn them. Passing judgment on Israel, God says, "For the look on their faces bears witness against them" (Isaiah 3:9). Seeking her repentance one more time before judgment falls, He appeals through Hosea: "Plead with your mother, plead . . . that she put away her whoring from her face" (Hosea 2:2). Most do not respond in repentance, of course: "They have made their faces harder than rock" (Jeremiah 5:3). Some newsstand magazine faces should be blushing at this but Jeremiah says, "They did not know how to blush" (Jeremiah 6:15).
If you need a cure for lust, read this encounter between a saint and a damned soul in The Great Divorce: "I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost. . . . [She] seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behaviour to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smokelike body in a quite meaningless fashion.
"At last I came to the conclusion-incredible as it seemed-that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was trying to do so. She was a thing that had become incapable of conceiving conversation save as a means to that end. If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling. In the end she muttered 'Stupid creatures,' and turned back to the bus."
Ah, but then there is Stephen, so filled with the Spirit that at his kangaroo court trial, "Gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15).
I have started asking God for a face like that, a face like the visages of the 24 elders encircling the throne on better thrones than the ones Polly and Digory saw, faces gleaming white because they always look upon the Lamb at the center. It's the first thing people will see of me when I walk the dog. And I'm hoping it will sometimes lead to second and third things.