“There’s a sadness in the heart of things.”
~ Warren Zevon
[from his song ‘The Heartache’]
GOLDENSHADOW: THE SET-UP
It occurred while I was flying alone from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Or maybe I was headed back to L.A. from Phoenix. Either way, the woman seated next to me on the airplane initiated a discussion by commenting on the book I was reading. In the course of our talk, she learned that I was a new follower of Jesus (not the gardener; the mystical Savior!) And she recommended to me the C.S. Lewis book ‘The Screwtape Letters’.
It probably took me a year or two to get around to reading “Screwtape” but when I did, I was floored by the brilliant mind of Christian writer C.S. Lewis. That book was diabolically brilliant! Soon afterwards, I read his acknowledged classic on Christian apologetics, “Mere Christianity”, and was again blown away by this amazing thinker! One thing I knew for certain: I would have never relished the idea of debating Lewis about ANYTHING, even if I knew I was defending the correct position and had possession of all the information available. When I later ran across the following quote, it came as no surprise to me:
One of Lewis’ leftist students in the late 1930s, John Lawlor, wrote of Lewis’ effectiveness in dispelling Lawlor’s collectivism after Lawlor entered Oxford’s Magdalen College: “I was allowed the initiative on every occasion; Lewis gave me the choice of ground and of weapons and of course beat me every time.”
No, my brand of religion/spirituality is not altogether in sync with that of the mainstream “orthodox” Christian writer C.S. Lewis, but nevertheless, as correct as I believe my views are, he’s not someone I could have debated and felt optimistic about beating.
Those first two Lewis books were so rewarding that I ended up reading two more of his books – ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ from his Chronicles Of Narnia series (I didn’t care for it) and later his autobiographical account of how he reasoned his way from atheism to Christianity, titled ‘SURPRISED BY JOY: The Shape Of My Early Life’. Hokey-Smoke! Was I myself in for a surprise!
In the preface to ‘Surprised By Joy’ C.S. Lewis writes this:
How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call “joy.” If it is at all common, a more detailed treatment of it than has (I believe) been atttempted before may be of some use. I have been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, “What! Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.”
And later in the book, along the same lines, Lewis writes:
Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.
I had assumed that by the word “Joy” in the book’s title, C.S. Lewis meant something like “glee”, which is what the word “joy” has always implied to me. And I didn’t know what he was referring to with that allusion to some sensation that might engender a response such as “Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.” But I didn’t have long to wait in finding out. And never in a million years would I have guessed that by “Joy” C.S. Lewis meant what I have always meant when I used the word “Goldenshadow” – a word I had invented to describe a feeling that I always assumed I was the only one to experience, and thus a new word was needed!
Please allow me just one major flashback in this blog bit.
Flashback . . .
In a blog bit from May of 2008, I wrote the following paragraph:
So, imagine my surprise to find a huge portion of myself being sung back to me while I was listening to [Bob Dylan’s album] BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME. It felt like I had stepped back in time and come face to face with my youthful self as it was unconsciously developing its own writing “voice.” I always knew that I had picked up some of Steinbeck’s empathy and Twain’s cynicism, humor, and sense of irony. But I never realized before that I had learned how to manipulate words, how to PLAY with concepts, and learned how to swing wide the mind’s gate encouraging the ingression of ideas, by listening to Bob Dylan all those many years back. Only now do I realize that my “voice” is a combination of Twain, Steinbeck, Dylan, and the most lonesome and homesick shade of the color Goldenshadow that we can live with. (If only I had one tenth the talent of any of these three aforementioned artists, I would be rich and famous, and you’d have to pay $ to read what I write… which would be much better than THIS!)
Naturally, when I posted that paragraph, I expected at least one of my readers to ask me what “Goldenshadow” was. And naturally, none of my readers ever did.
But I considered “Goldenshadow” to be my secret weapon as an artist; it was that one totally indefinable “feeling” that enveloped my life and ran through it going back to my earliest memories. It was a special gift from God. I could use it in my art and in my life. When Warren Zevon sang one of the greatest lines ever committed to song, “There’s a sadness in the heart of things”, I got it! I totally got it and I figured that nobody else did. Certainly I never saw where anyone else ever pointed out what a perceptive, accurate and fabulous line that was. Frankly, I even kind of doubted that Warren Zevon, who wrote the line, really fully understood it. But in one simple yet brilliant sentence, he had captured “Goldenshadow”.
Goldenshadow was my own utterly unique “thing” – a state of mind, a prevailing feeling of the soul that I had and yet no one knew I had it because I wasn’t telling; I wasn’t even going to attempt the impossible and try to explain it to anyone. And no one could ever really understand it anyway because I alone possessed it. Or so I thought. Re-enter ‘Surprised By Joy’ by C.S. Lewis . . .
GOLDENSHADOW: THE “JOY” OF C. S. LEWIS
On just the 5th page of Chapter One, I encountered this passage:
Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. … As long as I live, my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.
My reaction to this was immediate: Oh, my God! Oh, my God, I think he’s talking about Goldenshadow! He’s talking about Goldenshadow!
In amazement, I read further:
…The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me. Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden comes somewhere near it.
Now I was nearly sure that what C.S. Lewis called the sensation of “Joy” was the same sensation that I called “Goldenshadow”. Why did I believe this? Because although people cannot really induce the feeling of Goldenshadow within themselves, there are certain things that can help trigger it. The catalysts may be somewhat different from person to person, but for me, one of them I had already identified as carefully cultivated and manicured miniature scenes or models. Just as his brother’s “toy garden” had triggered the first experience of “Joy” for C.S. Lewis, I had discovered over the years that the sight of a similar sort of “toy garden” or “toy forest” could induce the feeling of Goldenshadow within me . . .
Back in the late 1970s and through the ‘80s I was a Disneyland junkie. I used to buy the Annual Pass and drive down there sometimes two or three times a week after work, and often by myself, just to roam the park, people-watch, and sometimes ride the attractions by myself. I loved the “safe” and beautifully maintained atmosphere of Disneyland.
Now, being a blue-collar, heterosexual, “Old School” type guy who grew up playing baseball; who was a varsity wrestler in high school; who loves to see a bone-crunching, A-List hit on the football field; who loves the power running game of the NFL; and who thinks tennis is for “Tinkerbells”, what do you suppose my favorite Disneyland ride was? Space Mountain, right? Or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Maybe the Matterhorn? Or perhaps even Pirates Of The Caribbean because of all the pillaging and drunken revelry, right? Wrong! Wrong, wrong, and wrong!
My favorite attraction at Disneyland was always the sedate, quaint, kiddie ride called Storybook Land Canal Boats. No trip to D’Land was complete without cruising the canals of Storybook Land.
The ride begins when the slow boat carrying you enters the mouth of Monstro from the movie Pinocchio
and when you exit Monstro where his tail ought to be but isn’t, you’ve entered Storybook Land, where many buildings and even whole towns from famous stories and nursery rhymes have been constructed in miniature along with miniature parks and miniature mountains.
More often than not, a trip through Storybook Land on one of the canal boats on a sunny day would bring about Goldenshadow in me. How I wanted to climb out of the boat and just lie down amongst those sets like some crazy, Goldenshadowed Gulliver and spend the day there on my stomach examining all the small, fine detail of Toad Hall or Geppetto’s Village. I could have happily spent the rest of my life there in Storybook Land.
The following photographs of The Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Land have been stol— er... that is to say, they have been “borrowed” from Richard Harrison’s excellent ‘Photos From The Parks’ blog and from Dave DeCaro’s wonderful ‘Daveland’ website:
More from ‘Surprised By Joy’:
… It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”
Autumn? OK, now I was absolutely, positively CERTAIN that Lewis’ “Joy” was my “Goldenshadow” because “Autumn”, the idea of Autumn and the feeling engendered in me by Autumn was indeed another trigger that could awaken the Goldenshadow within me. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, and Goldenshadow bubbles up in me most during the “Autumn” part of a day. And, of course, most powerfully during the “Autumn” part of an AUTUMN day! That’s a totally unbeatable combination. Yes, to describe Goldenshadow in the best abstract way is to say: It’s that feeling you get during the “Autumn” part of an Autumn day, when the grass is mottled with shades of bright golden sunshine that is streaming between the leaves of a tree but which are highly contrasted by the elongating shadows where the sunbeams have been stopped short of the lawn. Add just the wisp of a crisp breeze and now it’s “perfect Goldenshadow”.
But what does it feel like in a more specific way? Let C.S. Lewis tell you:
The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.
Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.”
Do you know what Lewis and I are referring to? Have you felt this also? Here’s more from ‘Surprised By Joy’:
I had, to be sure, the society of Tim, who ought to have been mentioned far sooner. Tim was our dog. He may hold a record for longevity among Irish terriers since he was already with us when I was at Oldie’s and did not die till 1922. … He never exactly obeyed you; he sometimes agreed with you.
Admittedly, that had nothing to do with Joy or Goldenshadow, but I slipped it in here only because I thought it was funny. Now this next part IS about Joy/Goldenshadow:
GOLDENSHADOW: THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION
I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.
Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.
The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, “It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”
We mortals, seen as the sciences see us and as we commonly see one another, are mere “appearances.” But appearances of the Absolute. … we have, so to speak, a root in the Absolute, which is the utter reality. And that is why we experience Joy: we yearn, rightly, for that unity which we can never reach except by ceasing to be the separate phenomenal beings called “we.”
Shortly after reading ‘Surprised By Joy’ and being shocked to learn that Lewis knew my Goldenshadow (even if he referred to it as “Joy”) I described Goldenshadow to my Brother and Sister and was again surprised to learn that they also knew what I was referring to. So much for my having a “unique gift”, eh?
I had now come to realize that those fleeting feelings of “Joy” or “Goldenshadow” are probably a nearly universal human experience. In fact, my brother Nappy even recognized that Warren Zevon’s line “There’s a sadness in the heart of things” was an excellent description of Goldenshadow, and my Sister said that - as with me - Goldenshadow is sometimes induced in her by certain songs, although the songs that worked on her were different from those that work on me.
The autumn part of Autumn Days can give life to Goldenshadow in me. Heck, even high noon of Autumn Days can do it. Disneyland’s Storybook Land Canal Boats can do it too. Just staring out at the setting sun and seeing it reflect off the glass windows of a building or glinting on the chrome bumper of a parked car can do it. I can’t make myself feel Goldenshadow, but a couple of songs can usually be counted on to give life to it within me. One of them is “Magic Journeys” the song from the now defunct Disneyland 3-D Fantasyland Theatre movie of the same name.
And another one (perhaps even more effective for me) is the Henry Mancini soundtrack song “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. Interestingly, two other songs from that same movie score can also bring out Goldenshadow in me – “Holly” and “Sally’s Tomato” – but neither of them quite so powerfully as the title track.
In my recent participation in Alex Cavanaugh’s “Top Ten Tunes” Blogfest, did any of y’all happen to notice the semi-poetic way I described Henry Mancini’s tune “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”? I wrote: “What a sublime piece of music. It flows like a wistful, lonely, melancholy stream emanating from some ancient, half-remembered dream. It always breaks my heart.”
Based on the above excerpts from ‘Surprised By Joy’, do you now recognize that I was attempting to describe the “Goldenshadow” feeling? I’m sure C.S. Lewis would have read my description of that song and said, “What you mean to say is that the song gives you Joy, right?”
GOLDENSHADOW: THE MOST NOTEWORTHY EXPERIENCES
In my waking life I have experienced Goldenshadow many times. But undoubtedly the two most powerful encounters I’ve ever had with it took place in the sleep state. Some of you might mistake these experiences for simple “dreams” but I can assure you they were no mere dreams. These were remarkable spiritual experiences.
In one of them, I found myself as an adult back in my paternal Grandmother’s Orange County Mobile Home, where we used to go to spend Christmas Days with her when I was a child. But it didn’t really look like her mobile home did in reality. For one thing, it was considerably larger and most everything was a deep, rich green or glowing gold color. The old-fashioned beauty of it and the longing it created in me to “go back” to those good old days was so strong that it sort of hurt me. It was a mixture of glee and pain – overwhelming! I had that dream many years ago and yet I still sort of feel the emotion it induced in me even as I type this now.
[However, the “good old days” of my Grandmother’s mobile home which I was longing for was merely a symbol for something else. The real “Good Old Days” that this dream was pointing back at took place in a spiritual Kingdom long, long ago. As you shall learn at the very end of this blog bit.]
The other Goldenshadow “dream” I had was even more powerful. The next morning I wrote about it in the Spiritual Journal I used to keep. Here is a word-for-word copy of my journal entry:
Feb. 4, 1998
I HAD A REMARKABLE DREAM LAST NIGHT; LIKE NONE I HAVE EVER HAD BEFORE! I found myself in a fairly nondescript setting; there were a number of trees in view, and they were, perhaps, lining a dirt path – that’s all this place consisted of – the location for this dream seemed irrelevant. It was my very favorite time of the day, when the sun is finishing its descent toward the horizon, when patchy spots of golden light are contrasted by long shadows stretching toward the east… the last of the day [Note: the “Autumn” time of day], when the world begins to settle into the stillness of evening.
I was admiring the light and shadows in the foilage of the trees when I became absolutely OVERWHELMED BY AN INDESCRIBABLE SENSE OF WELL-BEING! It was as if I had become a part of the serenity around me, and rather than beholding beauty, I HAD BECOME BEAUTY! And instead of inhaling air, it seemd that I was breathing the light and shadows I had been admiring, and had become dusk itself. I was filled with unfathomable peace, although “peace” is really not the right word for it – I was wonderfilled (yes, a slightly better description) and I felt far better than it is possible for a mortal mind to even imagine! I felt so great that it quite literally took my breath away, and I found myself gasping between exclamations of, “OH!...OH!...OH!”
Indeed, I felt so good that weeping seemed to be the only natural and reasonable response, and an act of inexpressable gratitude. Soon I began to experience a pervasive melancholy because there was nobody else present to share this with. It was truly too good for just one person to have, and all that was lacking in this perfect state of being was others. I, one of the great loners, suddenly found that I desperately wanted to have people around me to share this feeling with, and so a deep sadness was mixed with the euphoria.
I thought to myself: I’ll have to remember how this feels so I can tell others about it. But then instantly I realized that this would not be possible, and I answered: No, it’s no use. I’ll never be able to tell ANYONE about this because there aren’t any words that can describe it. This feeling can’t be translated in words!!! And this saddened me further. Soon after, the dream ended.
I have had many unexplainable spiritual experiences in my life, but to this day, I consider that the most powerful one of them all. If, by my description above, you believe you have gotten some glimpse of how I felt in that dream, think again! Because even I, who had the dream, can’t really recreate in me what that felt like. It was something “given” to me but which I couldn’t hold on to and keep and which I can’t truly remember in any worthy way. I can only say that my mortal consciousness was overcome by wonder and Love. And that’s an utterly failed attempt to use words to describe the indescribable.
GOLDENSHADOW: THE EXPLANATION?
While it’s clear from the above excerpts from ‘Surprised By Joy’ that C.S. Lewis perceived a spiritual component to his “Joy”, still, in the end, he seemed unable to explain it, other than to equate it in some way with a desire for “Eden” or “Paradise”.
And yet, he caught the essence of the thing so perfectly when he wrote:
the experience was one of intense desire. … It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”
“It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.”
In my opinion, the “orthodox” spiritual beliefs of C.S. Lewis are what prevented him from fully grasping the meaning of Joy or Goldenshadow. I believe that his limited understanding of the thing was due to his viewing it through a too narrow, mainstream, “accepted” Biblical Lens of mankind’s origin and destiny. That, I think, is what prevented Lewis from being able to correlate the feeling with that sense that it somehow “reminded” – that it was a desire for something the person has been somehow reminded of, a desire for something in the past.
And yet, he nailed it so exactly when he also tied it in to the future. Goldenshadow or Joy is a “desire for something longer ago or futher away” and yet something that is (as Lewis said) “still about to be.”
I think my spiritual outlook adequately makes sense of Goldenshadow / Joy. Because unlike Lewis, I believe that our souls pre-existed our bodies. I do not believe that God creates a new soul for every new conception that takes place in a womb. God finished His earthly work on the “Sixth Day”, therefore the incoming soul already existed and was alive prior to conception.
I also believe that all of us, Created by God, once dwelled with Him in His Kingdom, in a state of Paradise or Eden. The real “Fall” of mankind took place in the spiritual realm – it was our souls that fell from Grace - and our current lives on the Earth are the results of that “Fall”.
I am convinced that the key to fully understanding the Bible’s parable of “The Prodigal Son” is in realizing that it speaks of a fall from a state of spiritual perfection. When the prodigal son leaves his Father’s estate, he has left his spiritual Paradise and gone out into “this world” to live foolishly. When the son comes to his senses and decides to return to His Father’s House, it is really speaking of a decision to forsake the ways of “this world” and return (thanks to the Grace and Forgiveness of God our Father) to the Heavenly spiritual State where he previously lived.
Therefore, that feeling of Goldenshadow or “Joy” that sometimes springs up within us is in fact a genuine soul “memory” that has been somehow triggered by something in “this world”. And that memory is one of intense longing or desire for our authentic spiritual estate mixed with the pain of realization that it is something we gave up a long time ago when we chose to live the life of “a prodigal son”.
However, because I believe a deeper understanding of The Holy Bible reveals that in the final analysis, “The Good Shepherd” (Jesus) will ultimately recover every one of His lost sheep (because, as Jesus told us, that’s what a “good” shepherd does), all of us “prodigal sons” are destined to eventually rejoin our Father in His Heavenly Mansion, or in other words, our original spiritual state of Paradise with God.
And that is why C.S. Lewis was right in saying that Joy or Goldenshadow “reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away” and yet something that is “still about to be.”
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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