A book by Charles Williams, Descent into Hell, keeps turning up in my thoughts. I have a copy somewhere but I cannot find it. I would like to reread it; I read it so long ago. The main character, whose name I do not remember, has recurring bouts of anxiety when she leaves her house because she keeps seeing herself coming toward her self.
Part of the plot’s resolution, the only part I remember, is that the heroine discovers that the person meeting her is not herself but an ancient ancestor, a reformist of some sort who is preparing to die at the stake for what he believes. She becomes his sustainer in the midst of his sufferings. This idea was a part of what Williams named co-inherence. It is a complex idea but in the novel, Descent into Hell it focuses on the sustaining love and help Christians offer to each other even through differing generations and ages. As one might be able to see, this also unites the believer to the sacrificial love of Jesus.
Williams’ writings often connect the church, the body of Christ, to the Lord of the church in fascinating ways. I believe I have written before about the image in the ‘Place of the Lion of a small Methodist chapel filled with the glory of God as the tiny congregation receives the Lord’s Supper. Co-inherence is seen in the text also:
There didn’t seem to be many there; one or two figures were moving at the upper end; a few more were scattered about the small building. They were seated as if waiting—perhaps for the Breaking of Bread … It was standing at the other end of Zion; it was something like a horse in shape and size, but of dazzling whiteness, and from the middle of its forehead there grew a single horn. He [the main character, Richardson] recognized the myth of poems and pictures; he saw the Divine Unicorn gently sustaining itself in that obscure and remote settlement of the faithful. … It moved with the beauty of swiftness however small the distance was that it went; it lowered and tossed its head, and again that gleaming horn caught all the light in Zion, and gathered it, and flashed it back in a dazzling curve of purity.
Williams goes on to mesh the whole picture together, the light, Richardson, the Unicorn and whole multitudes “whom no man could number.” It is his idea of Christ sustaining the church and the church sustaining one another. He jumps from this dazzling picture to two very ordinary and sweet church members who are concerned about a man turning into a monstrous wolf. (You will just have to read the story.) But they are also concerned about the salvation of Richardson the main character.
“Beautiful” the old lady said, she hesitated, fumbling with her umbrella; then, taking sudden courage, she took a step towards Richardson and went on, “You’ll excuse me, sir, I know its old-fashioned, and you quite a stranger, but—are you saved?”
Richardson answered her as seriously as she had spoken, “I believe salvation is for all who will have it,” he said, “and I will have it by the only possible means.”
“Ah, that’s good, that’s good,” the old gentleman said. “Bless God for it young man.”
“I know you’ll pardon me, sir,” the old lady added, “you being a stranger as I said, and strangers often not liking to talk about it. Though what else there is to talk about …”
“What indeed?” Richardson agreed. …”
Humanity and simplicity wrapped in the glories of Zion because the Lord of the universe became man. The church is human and the church is glorious because she is filled with the glory of Christ.
I will end with a poem of mine I placed here almost four years ago as my first posting. It has a bit of co-inherence too.
The Sweetness of Gathering to the Vine
I am sorry, the lines should be three for each verse until the last with four. Blogger is just having problems with my verse.
These, childlike made, they bless the cup and dine
upon the fleshy food they cannot see, and drink the holy bloody wine.
Like sibling children fighting in a line, who later laugh when by the bell set free, these happy ones are laughing in the vine.
And raging gods whose deeds their shape confine have called for war, whose very end shall be determined by the drinking of the wine.
Go death to death, the children life define; now blood of saints and Christ's good blood agree the holy life is living in the vine.
If nails be sharp pursuing flesh to pine, and wooden burdens bend and bruise the knee, feast on the broken flesh, drink up the wine; hold fast the fellowship within the vine.