Monday, August 11, 2014

The Spiritual Nature of True Love

In George MacDonald’s Phantastes *, the central theme of Anodos’ journey is his heart: more specifically, the nature of true love. Throughout his adventure, he encounters women with whom he fancies himself being in love. Some of his attractions are merely physical, some end with discovering the woman is evil, and some are obsessions. In all of these experiences, there lies within Andodos’ heart a self-centeredness that is the antithesis of love. Love is all about him: his feelings, his needs, and his projections upon the beloved.

At one point in his journey Anodos enters a house with a great library where he discovers books that, upon reading, pull him inside the story where he experiences first hand what the protagonist is experiencing. One such story is about a man named Cosmo. In this story, Cosmo finds a mirror; in this mirror he espies a woman with whom he falls in love. Cosmo is mesmerized. Does she see me? How can I get her to pay attention to me? How do I meet her and let her know of my love? He is obsessed with her.

Finally being able to communicate with the lady, he tells her of his love and asks if she might feel the same. As she is bewildered by her predicament, she replies that she cannot know as long as she is under an enchantment.

“Cosmo, if thou lovest me, set me free, even from thyself: break the mirror.”

A fierce struggle raged in his heart. “To break the mirror would be to destroy his very life….Not yet pure in love, he hesitated.”

“With a wail of sorrow, the lady rose to her feet. ‘Ah! he loves me not; he loves me not even as I love him; and alas! I care more for his love than even for the freedom I ask.’”

Upon investigation, he learns that the lady is a princess who has fallen deathly ill. Lying abed, she is “a form more like marble than a living woman.” What he is seeing in the mirror is an apparition. As he seeks to discover how to free the woman, his love for her is converted from being a self-centered obsession into a love that transcends his self. All he cares for now is her welfare.

Cosmo finally breaks the mirror. The princess opens her eyes and calls out his name, and then runs to find him. Seeing him, she proclaims, “I am free—and thy servant forever.” But Cosmo has been mortally wounded by a shard of glass.

For Anodos, experiencing the story of Cosmo and the lady in the mirror leads to the transformation of his heart so that, at the very end of his journey, before returning to his own world, he has learned the spiritual nature of true love:

“It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being beloved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew now that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul knew him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs there-from dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad.”

* George MacDonald, “Phantastes,” Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

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