The Way of True Romance: Valentines Day 2018

Two robins, under their Maker’s care, find their way within the bleak yet beautiful conditions of mid-winter.

The painting above (Two Robins, 2010, Craig Gallaway) and the song below (Love Is Like, 1994,Craig and Deborah Gallaway) are a poetic introduction to the themes explored in the longer essay below. Both song and painting evoke reflection on our human experience of romantic love. Love, as something deeper and more difficult than we often acknowledge; something that is grounded, moreover, in the Mind of our Maker and in the order of creation itself. We hope you enjoy the song and the painting, and then, if you choose, spend some time with us thinking about the way of true romance.

Love Is Like, 1994, Craig and Deborah Gallaway

Deb and I first met in the fall of 1975 at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. A little over a year later, with a strong sense of adventure and romance, we began our journey into the mystery of Christian marriage. From the beginning, we were buoyed up by many things. We were studying together at a great school, surrounded by brilliant teachers and stimulating friends. We took long walks along the shores of English Bay, and watched one night as a family of geese swam through the channel of light reflected from the moon over the top of Hollyburn Mountain. We snowshoed up that mountain, strolled the seawall at Stanley Park, and shared wonderful meals, music, and church services with friends and colleagues. And then we completed our degrees, left Canada, and moved to Texas.

We moved to Dallas to work with some of my old friends in a rundown, inner-city neighborhood. Our first child, Ben, was born in 1979, and we began the long pilgrimage of making a household, keeping jobs, and building our family. Our second son, Chris, came to us in 1983 while I was completing doctoral work at Emory in Atlanta. And then we moved to Nashville to take a job in publishing where our third son, Zach, was born in 1992. Of course, not all of these times were as “romantic” as those early days in Vancouver. We had to face hard times financially, to rediscover our own woundedness while learning to face differences and work through conflicts with each other; and then, later, to wrestle with rearing our sons through adolescence, and even to lose dear Zach in a motorcycle accident in Birmingham in 2013, just when he had nearly made it through those stormy years.

There have been times in this pilgrimage when, as both Deb and I could tell you, we weren’t sure there was much left of the two young romantic people who met in Vancouver. And yet, by a providence not our own, the dark and trying times did not destroy us, or ruin our journey into the mystery of Christian romance and marriage. That mystery, as we see it now, might be summed up in a single phrase from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians (5:21). “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

To be sure, this idea of “submission” will raise red flags for some in our era of sexual “liberation” and romantic adventurism (which Deb’s and my 60’s generation sadly helped to launch). The mantra now, as we all know, is that everyone is “free” to explore, or to invent, one’s own sexual identity or romantic style, and then to honor these experiments, so long as they are consensual, with the title of “marriage.” Likewise, the commonplace of “Hollywood” romance (both in the movies and among the stars) is that one “falls in love” under the thrill and ecstasy of romance; but then one is free again, when difficulties arise, or the shine wears off, to fall out of love, and to seek a new partner who will take one’s breath away. The idea of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” sounds archaic and stilted over against these contemporary themes. Is Christian marriage then simply out of touch with what is really romantic?

In 1976, when Deb and I first began to think about marriage, we started discussing a book with a somewhat daunting title, The Theology of Romantic Love. This book, by Mary McDermott Schideler, explores the ideas of Charles Williams concerning how our experiences of human romance, at their best, are grounded in the reality of God’s love for the world in Christ. Williams (a friend of C. S. Lewis) also followed the logic of Ephesians 5, where Paul urges “husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And “wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ.” Paul’s conclusion anticipates Williams’s main theme. The gift of marriage is given to us as a sign of an even greater and deeper mystery: God’s sacrificial love for the whole world in his Son, the Bridegroom, Jesus the King. From our first conversations, Deb and I felt that we were touching here on something deep and rich, a key to the full reality and potential of our own romance and marriage. But, of course, we were just starting out, and there was as yet a long way to go.

Charles Williams’s reflections on romantic love are also illuminated with Dante’s poetry about his beautiful and beloved Beatrice. Williams saw in Dante and Beatrice three stages In the romantic journey of lovers, which parallel three stages in the love of Christ for the world. First is the stage of the appearance, or the revelation, of the image of love. For Dante this occurred when he first met Beatrice. She was the very image of love incarnate. Her beauty and grace stunned him. To be addressed by her on the street was to have his whole world set right all at once, to see the color of the sky anew, to hear the sounds of nature as if for the first time. This is what we call “falling in love.” It is echoed, at least dimly, in the scripts of Hollywood. It is what Deb and I experienced along the shores of English Bay, when the whole world seemed to have been remade just for us. And in the life of Christ, it is the period of his first appearance, his birth, and his early, vibrant ministry. He was the image of God’s love made visible. And the response of the people, at least at first, was like that of Dante, or me, or any lover: They were flocking to be near him, to see him, to touch his garment, to be healed and fed, and to hear his words of authority and power. Once they opened their hearts to him, they couldn’t get enough of this wonderful, magical person.

But just as Jesus’ popularity with the people came under strain as he and they met with resistance from various sources–trials, testings, temptations, difficulties, and direct opposition–so the first glories of romance do not last forever, as lovers go on to face the challenges and responsibilities of life together. This leads to the second stage of romantic love, the stage at which the image of love fades and dies. According to Williams, this happens to all lovers. For one reason or another, sooner or later the beloved no longer embodies all of those superlatives that once seemed to set the whole world humming. For Dante, this occurred when Beatrice literally died. For Deb and me, and for many married couples, it comes with the daily grind of living, the trials of being different, with conflicts about important decisions, or poor communication, and eventually with the trials of growing older. It can also come, of course, with abuse, or unfaithfulness. In Jesus’ case, it came with his growing conflict with the religious authorities, and then emphatically with his crucifixion by the state. At this point, lovers (even spouses and disciples) often lose faith and turn away. The really important question, then, is whether lovers will make it through this death to what lies beyond.

Williams expands on this: In the first stage of love, the image of the beloved comes to us and shocks us, almost as if we were a passive observer. As we open our hearts to the other person, despite the dangers and risks involved, we are overwhelmed with life and joy. Likewise, in the second stage, we may feel anxious and helpless as the exhilarations of romance begin to fade. Even Hollywood seems to get these two stages more or less right. In the third stage, however, the stage of Ephesians 5, of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” we enter a new dynamic. There is to be no more passivity, no more waiting for everything to be given to us. We are called, instead, to make a very conscious and active choice in faith, to become the image of love for our beloved, to lay down our lives in love for our wife or our husband, as Christ laid down his life for the world. And the promise in this is that those who lay down their lives will find them. “The happy old couples,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth.”

The third stage of romantic love, then, according to Williams, is the stage of resurrection. Had the cross been the end of Jesus, we probably would never have heard anything more about him. He would have been at best another brave revolutionary whose vision and foresight betrayed him. But as the Scriptures attest, and as his presence by the power of his Spirit with his people, the church, has proven to countless believers throughout history, his life did not end with his death on the cross. As Paul says elsewhere, “He humbled himself, even unto death on a cross . . . therefore God has highly exalted him.” And for those of us who face the loss of romance, when it seems that love itself has died, this is our calling in Christ as well. He submitted his life to his Father, and so broke through the fearful power of death that binds the world; just so, “out of reverence for Christ,” and by faith in Him, we are called to serve and to love one another, even when it looks like love has died.

In this way, Deb and I are still seeking to live into the mystery of Christian marriage and romance. We see how the prototype for our love is the deeper reality of God’s love for the world in Christ. We bear witness that Christ’s presence and guidance in our lives has made our love and romance grow richer, finer, fuller–not thinner or duller. And yet we also see that our marriage, on this foundation, is not in itself the goal of everything, even for us. There is, after all, to be no marriage or giving in marriage in the world to come. When Dante encounters Beatrice again, in his vision of Paradise, she is his guide for a while; but then she turns back to the eternal fountain. The kind of love we are learning in marriage, then–including eros, friendship, family, shared decision-making, and sacrificial serving–is not just about us. It pulls us forward and outward, beyond ourselves, to anticipate with justice, beauty, and kindness toward others in this life, the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, when all things shall be made new and we shall “grow up into Christ in all things.” And this also means, even now, the best and richest and most down-to-earth romance as well.



“The Whole Creation Groans . . .”

I last posted on this page in 2012. In August of 2013 Deb and I lost our twenty-year-old son, Zachary Colin Gallaway, in a motorcycle accident. Since that time, to be honest, I have hardly had the heart to make art, or to write songs, much less to comment on the process. Now after almost four years, Deb and I find that we are able once again to consider trying to express in some way what has until recently seemed just too tender to touch.

The images above are of Zach. The first, a painting I made of him and his dog, Abbie, in 2007. Then there is a photo from 2010 of Zach with Deb at Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Next is a portrait that Zach made of himself as part of his art studies at University just a few months before his death. And finally, a photo of Zach with our whole family at Christmas in 2011.

Deb and I have only been able to bear Zach’s loss, it has seemed, by following closely the wisdom of the Christian scriptures as reflected in the title (above). That phrase is drawn from the apostle Paul’s description in the epistle to the Romans of how the whole world groans, and we also groan, as we await the goal of the new creation, the redemption of all things including our bodies (Romans 8:18-39). In the early days of our loss, some well-meaning friends tried to counsel us that, in view of the promises of faith, we really didn’t have to grieve. But then we listened to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where he says “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” And in Romans 8, as above, where he shows so clearly that we also hope, but not as those who have no grief. And we remembered Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb, where it says so simply, “He wept.” Thanks be to God for these sign posts that have helped us on our way.

And then we were troubled, after watching the recent film “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams as a fictional mom (Professor Louise Banks). The film begins with Prof. Banks, Louise, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her twenty-year-old daughter to cancer. We felt that we could understand the portrayal of this mother’s bewilderment, and her painful dreams of loss and death. As the story develops, however, and Professor Banks (a linguist) is drawn into the main plot–a crisis with extraterrestrial beings where she must find a way to translate their purpose–she discovers from them that time is cyclical, as the ancient Stoics believed; and this enables her also to accept with Stoic equanimity the loss of her daughter. At a crucial moment of insight, she realizes not only that she can “do it all again,” but that she will be glad to do so. Indeed, in the fictive timeframe of the movie, and in contrast to the much longer and larger arc of history conceived by the Stoics, Professor Banks meets the man who will be her daughter’s father while she is starting her new job with the alien project, and while she is still grieving her daughter’s loss.

By the end of the film, I was analyzing the philosophical constructs of the Stoic world view in contrast to the Christian point of view. Deb, on the other hand, was just mad. She was angry, she said, because the film’s resolution “just wasn’t true.” Granting that the plot of the film and it’s time frame is not true, even to the Stoic conception, much less to the way most of us experience time most of the time, we have wondered what else needs to be said about the different ways involved (in our life and in the film) of seeing the significance of suffering in the world. We conclude this post with two reflections:

1. Unless we are prepared to ignore the huge differences of world view and the related attitudes to suffering (with a kind of post-modern acceptance of radical subjectivity) we must conclude that the Stoic and the Christian world views cannot both be true to reality. If we accept post-modern subjectivity, on the other hand, we may also find ourselves unable to question another man’s claim that he is Napoléon, or Hitler, or a poached egg. One of these world views could be true. Or both could be false. But both cannot be true.

2. The Stoic approach tries to handle suffering by minimizing it, side-stepping it, or explaining it away. (If things really do repeat, then nothing is ever really lost.) The Christian point of view, by contrast, does not regard suffering as the ultimate goal of reality, but it does regard our temporal losses as real in the linear flow of history. Deb and I will not be again with Zach and Abbie in this world. We will not stand again at Devil’s Courthouse with a nineteen-year-old Zach as he reaches out his arms to embrace the beauty and wonder of that place and time. He will not again draw his self-portrait at twenty years old. And our family will never again pose all together in the sunroom for Christmas. Yet our Christian hope remains, that all of these real losses are yet not the final goal of creation. Nor do they cancel the many good and cheerful moments that we share along the way. Nor will they, in Paul’s phrase, be able to “separate us from the love of God in Christ” (Romans 8:39). One day the whole creation will be released from it’s current groaning. Loss is real. But hope is real as well.



Lenten Disciplines like a Walk in the Woods

A quiet walk in an old growth forest offers a place of refuge and retreat from the bustle and pace of modern urban life. We need time in such places–set aside, left alone, undeveloped–to restore our physical and emotional life.

The same can be said for the promise of spiritual disciplines (such as fasting, solitude, and scripture meditation) as practiced during the season of Lent (or at any other time). They serve as places to listen quietly for the Word and the Spirit of God, to restore our souls, and to recalibrate the connections between our emotional, our intellectual, and our physical lives.

Trying to find those connections without the space offered by the disciplines is like trying to listen to a long lost friend on the phone while sitting in a noisy nightclub, or standing on the floor of the stock exchange, or doing the wave in a crowded stadium. Under such conditions we may not hear the message at all. In the midst of our busy lives, apart from places of refuge and discipline, we can become like the impoverished child of which C. S. Lewis spoke: content to sit in the gutter with our mud pies yet unable to grasp what is being offered with an invitation to the beach.

For the early church fathers and mothers, this was at least in part the logic of (as it may seem to us) their strange practices of curtailing food and sleep. They were aiming at something better: to cleanse the palate, to clear the mind, to recover God’s image given originally in creation, revealed again in the life of Jesus. Leaving off all of the extra things allowed them to rediscover the taste of spring water.

The painting featured in this post is entitled Generations. For more information on this painting, and other paintings in the series, go to the Landscape gallery of my art work at Fine Art America.

The Goal of Lent

It is the season of Lent. But why all the long faces? Doesn’t the story of the Christian Scriptures begin with good news (creation) and end with even better news (new creation and a wedding feast)? “Yes, but,” as someone will no doubt remind me, “the story also entails the fall of our race, and the disordering of all of our affections, so that we love (and fear and desire) what is not fitting. That’s why we practice disciplines like fasting, almost like the ancient Stoics, so we can seek a more virtuous life.” All of this is true, I believe, and the Stoics deserve our admiration and study. (“All truth is God’s,” as Justin the Martyr and Thomas Aquinas said.) But are the foundational stories of Stoics and Christians really the same? Stoics view the world as a place of hard law and fate where history offers nothing beyond a cyclical stage upon which to practice heroic courage and self-discipline. On such a stage, the disciplines may be an end in themselves. But in the Christian story, the goal of the disciplines looks beyond such athletic achievements to the creation of a new community, tempered by self-sacrificing love. In that world, as the ancient monastics knew, the disciplines are not an end in themselves. Indeed they must be set aside if they interfere with caring for the needs of our neighbor. It may also be well to consider, as we think about our own goals for Lent, that heroes are sometimes a real handful for others to live with.

The art work in this post is titled “Mahonia Morning,” and is in a private collection. More information about this painting and others can be found in the galleries of my art work at Fine Art America.

Who will save Narnia at the movies?

For several years now the wonders of hollywood and computer-graphics have been harnessed with remarkable creativity to bring C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Tales to the world of the popular theater. A worthy undertaking! I wish yet wonder if we shall ever see a new episode. There is, however, and in my opinion, a problem. With each production in the series the movies have gotten farther and farther afield from the true spirit and wisdom of C. S. Lewis’s original stories. Lewis was a remarkable apologist for an orthodox Christian view of the world, what is wrong with it (us) and how it (we) can be set right. But the theatrical adaptations of Lewis’s fantasy world of Narnia have increasingly avoided the more difficult and incisive insights of their source both in Lewis and in his biblical and Christian sources. This became especially clear with the recent production by Walden Media of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If you would like to read an indepth article on this subject, with insights drawn from Lewis’s other writings, see my article on Narnia at the Movies

An Opening Invitation

Welcome to my forum for discussions of faith and the arts. I am an artist (watercolorist, musician, writer) and a theologian (Christian), and I am interested in the relevance of each of these “fields” for each other, and for the expression and exploration of the Christian faith as expressed in its classical and biblical sources.  In coming days I plan to post a variety of articles on the far-reaching and wide-ranging implications of this subject. I hope you will let me know if any of these thoughts are helpful to you, or if you have suggestions for how to explore a topic with better insight. I welcome your comments and responses. For now I must get used to working in WordPress. See you soon, I hope!

The art work included in this post is titled, “Past and Present.” The subject is a group of Iris blossoms that grow in the cemetery at Glen Cove, Texas, where many members of my family are buried. For more information on this and other of my art works see my galleries at Fine Art America.