Sunday, December 13

Repentance: A Selection from George MacDonald's 'Lilith'

Spoiler alert: Don't read this if you don't want to know where the story ends up.


      At last…Lilith’s hour has been long on the way, but it is come! Everything comes. Thousands of years have I waited—and not in vain…This woman would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must do what I can to make her repent…
      “Will you hurt her very much?”…
      “Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me…It would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done again, only worse…She loves no one, therefore she cannot be with any one. There is One who will be with her, but she will not be with Him…
      “Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?’ …
      “I will not,” she said. “I will be myself and not another!”
      “Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?’”…
       “I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires.’”…
      “Then, alas, your hour is come!”
      “I care not. I am what I am…Another shall not make me!”
      “But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you…”
      “No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman! …You may be able to torture me…but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!”
      “Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another’s… Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!…—See your own self!”…
      A soundless presence as of roaring flame possessed the house…I turned to the hearth: its fire was a still small moveless glow. But I saw [a] worm-thing come creeping out, white-hot, vivid as incandescent silver, the live heart of essential fire. Along the floor it crawled…going very slow…The shining thing crawled on to a bare bony foot…Slowly, very slowly, it crept along her robe until it reached her bosom, where it disappeared among the folds.
      The face…lay stonily calm, the eyelids closed as over dead eyes; and for some minutes nothing followed. At length, on the dry, parchment-like skin, began to appear drops as of the finest dew: in a moment they were as large as seed-pearls, ran together, and began to pour down in streams…from the poor withered bosom…But…no serpent was there—no searing trail; the creature had passed in…and was piercing through the joints and marrow to the thoughts and intents of the heart. [She] gave one writhing, contorted shudder, and I knew the worm was in her secret chamber…
       [She] bent her body upward in an arch, then sprang to the floor, and stood erect. The horror in her face made me tremble lest her eyes should open, and the sight of them overwhelm me. Her bosom heaved and sank, but no breath issued. Her hair hung and dripped…and poured the sweat of her torture on the floor…
      “She is far away from us, afar in the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is…No gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch.”
      It may have been five minutes or five years that she stood thus—I cannot tell; but at last she flung herself on her face…
      “Will you change your way?”
      “Why did he make me such?” gasped Lilith…
      “But he did not make you such. You have made yourself what you are.—Be of better cheer: he can remake you.’
      “I will not be remade!”
      “He will not change you; he will only restore you to what you were…Are you not willing to have that set right which you have set wrong?”
      She lay silent…
      The strife of thought, accusing and excusing, began afresh, and gathered fierceness. The soul of Lilith lay naked to the torture of pure interpenetrating inward light. She began to moan, and sigh deep sighs…
      “Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance…The true tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father’s arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account. It will be so with her.”…
      Gradually my soul grew aware of an invisible darkness, a something more terrible than aught that had yet made itself felt. A horrible Nothingness, a Negation positive infolded her…
      With that there fell upon her, and upon us also who watched with her, the perfect calm as of a summer night. Suffering had all but reached the brim of her life’s cup…—What was she seeing?
      I looked, and saw: before her, cast from unseen heavenly mirror, stood the reflection of herself, and beside it a form of splendent beauty. She trembled, and sank again on the floor helpless. She knew the one what God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself…
      She rose…and said, in prideful humility,
      “You have conquered. Let me go into the wilderness…”
      “Begin, then, and set right in the place of wrong.”
      “I know not how,” she replied with the look of one who foresaw and feared the answer…
      A fierce refusal seemed to struggle for passage, but she kept it prisoned.
      “I cannot,” she said…
      “You must…”
      “I have told you I cannot!”
      “You can if you will—not indeed at once, but by persistent effort. What you have done, you do not yet wish undone…”
       “I will not try what I know impossible. It would be the part of a fool!”
      “Which you have been playing all your life! Oh, you are hard to teach!”
      Defiance reappeared on [her] face…
      “I know what you have been tormenting me for! You have not succeeded, nor shall you succeed! You shall yet find me stronger than you think! I will yet be mistress of myself! I am still what I have always known myself—queen of Hell, and mistress of the worlds!”
      Then came the most fearful thing of all…I knew only that if it came near me I should die of terror! I now know that it was Life in Death—life dead, yet existent…
      She stood rigid…I gazed on the face of one who knew existence but not love—knew nor life, nor joy, nor good; with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived…She had killed her life, and was dead—and knew it… Her bodily eyes stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential—her own indestructible evil…
      “I yield,” [she] said… “I am defeated…”
      “I will take you to my father. You have wronged him worst of the created, therefore he best of the created can help you.”
      “How can he help me?”
      “He will forgive you.”
      “Ah, if he would but help me to cease…I am a slave! I acknowledge it. Let me die.’
      “A slave thou art that shall one day be a child…Verily, thou shalt die, but not as thou thinkest. Thou shalt die out of death into life…”
      Lilith lay and wept…
      Morn, with the Spring in her arms, waited outside. Softly they stole in at the opened door, with a gentle wind in the skirts of their garments. It flowed and flowed about Lilith, rippling the unknown, upwaking sea of her life eternal…She answered the morning wind with reviving breath, and began to listen. For in the skirts of the wind had come the rain—the soft rain that heals the mown, the many-wounded grass—soothing it with the sweetness of all music, the hush that lives between music and silence. It bedewed the desert places…and the sands of Lilith’s heart heard it, and drank it in…
      When we reached the door, Adam welcomed us…
      “We have long waited for thee, Lilith!” he said.
      She returned him no answer….
      “She consents to…restore: will not the great Father restore her to inheritance with His other children?”
      “I do not know Him!” murmured Lilith, in a voice of fear and doubt.
      “Therefore it is that thou art miserable,” said Adam…“Come and see the place where thou shalt lie in peace….And now Death shall be the atonemaker; you shall sleep…” 
      “I shall dream…?”
      “You will dream.”
      “What dreams?”
      “That I cannot tell, but none he can enter into. When the Shadow comes here, it will be to lie down and sleep also.—His hour will come, and he knows it will.”
      “How long shall I sleep?”
      “You and he will be the last to wake in the morning of the universe.”
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