We must cast aside the false facades, the veils which hide our innermost selves.
“Nothing that’s beautiful hides its face. Nothing that’s honest hides its name,” she protests. In C.S. Lewis’s masterful Till We Have Faces, Orual argues with her sister Psyche, since Psyche believes herself to have married a god. Orual believes that Psyche’s compliance with her mysterious husband’s wish to remain unseen has allowed Psyche to be deceived.
Despondent at losing her sister, Orual then herself dons a veil. She hides her face. Originally an act of defiance, Orual realizes that her veil gives her power over others and distances herself from them. She hides her pain, her character, and the secrets of her innermost self, burying them under the fabric of a veil. Perhaps too by donning a veil Orual imitates the gods, whom she finds shrouded in mystery and aloof.
Lewis’ thought here is not just the question or examination of an ancient myth. It is a question each believer asks: Why does God hide his face?
It may seem at first glance, but hardly is, an impudent question. There was a time when our first parents knew God’s face. They heard his voice and knew him walking in the garden (Gen 3:8). It is pride, our first and great sin, which separates us from God.
God begins to draw his people back to himself by leading Israel out of Egypt. Moses, the Lord’s chosen prophet, would converse intimately with God, however, even holy Moses could not gaze upon the Lord’s face.
Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” The Lord answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “Lord,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live (Ex 33:18-20).
This tradition, this longing for God’s face is expressed throughout the Old Testament. A prayer for God to reveal his face constitutes a prayer of great blessing (Num 6:25-26). Further, we can think of the prayers of the Psalmist who begs, “Lord make us turn to you; show us your face and we shall be saved” (Ps 80) or “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your mercy” (Ps 31).
God hears this prayer and instructs his people, leading them to himself. In a new covenant with his people, Jeremiah says, God will be so close! The word of the Lord comes to the prophet saying, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). The Lord invites us to seek him, to know him, to love…
The drama of the Lord’s veiled face is placed directly before our eyes in many parishes this Sunday. Images are covered, leaving us in a place distant from God and his holy saints. The veiled crucifixes and shrouded statues are haunting harbingers of the truth of this side of eternity. On earth, as we carry on in the pilgrimage of this life, we do not yet see clearly.
St. Paul teaches, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). We may not know fully, in the here and now, but we can come to gradually know more fully.
The Lord invites us to begin to pull back the veil. In suffering, in trial, it is Christ who comes, knocking at our hearts. The Dominican priest Dominique Barthelemy writes, “Let men discover the Most High at the bedside of sufferers. In this way an intimacy will be formed, a heart-to-heart relationship that will make it possible to recognize, in the face-to-face relationship that is to come, the risen Lord, the human image in divine glory.”
Jesus teaches, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). We must die to the idols we have made in our hearts. We must cast aside the false facades, the veils which hide our innermost selves.
C.S. Lewis’s retelling of an ancient myth chronicles a woman’s loss, of her beloved sibling, and her battle to come to know her own self. In an astonishing monologue, Lewis writes,
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
Christ will dig the word out of us. He will shape our hearts, giving us the courage to reveal our faces. This is the very grace of the coming Easter feast, when the veil is torn open, and the living God shines his love upon us once more.