Why I Wish My “Voluble Self” Could Have an Off Switch
I realized something today. My brain and I need to take a break. A long one. I need some silence in my head for a little while.
Whenever I reach this point, the first thing I think of is Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. I know that probably seemed to come out of left park, but bear with me. In Perelandra, the protangonist, Ransom, is sent to the planet Venus, which is in a pre-sin state of perfection. There, God gives him the task of protecting Venus’ version of Eve, called the Green Lady, from the temptations of Satan. Ransom, the Green Lady, and Weston (whom Satan—or perhaps one of his demons—has inhabited in the same way he inhabited the snake in the Garden) have a long, exhaustive debate in which Weston tries to convince the Green Lady to sin, and Ransom tries to convince the Green Lady that Weston’s arguments don’t come from God (or Maleldil, as he is called on Venus). Anyway, the Green Lady quite frequently decides to dismiss both Weston and Ransom so she can sleep and be by herself.
During one of these waiting spells, while Ransom is wandering Venus by himself, he lets himself fall into self pity and reflects with frustration on the futility of his efforts, and why God is remaining so silent:
Inner silence is for our race a difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places. Thus, while; one part of Ransom remained, as it were, prostrated in a hush of fear and love that resembled a kind of death, something else inside him unaffected by reverence, continued to pour queries and objections into his brain. ‘It’s all very well,’ said this voluble critic, ‘a presence of that sort! But the Enemy is really here, really saying and doing things. Where is Maleldil’s representative?’
C.S. Lewis goes on for nearly a whole chapter to narrate Ransom’s struggles with this “voluble self”, as he labels that nasty tendency we have to let our minds run amok, infusing us with self-absorption even as we are pondering really important issues—in Ransom’s case, his own sense of inadequacy as the one God has chosen to confront the devil and prevent an entire world from falling into sin.
Ever since I read that chapter in Perelandra, the phrase “voluble self” has stuck with me. We all have one, and we all let it control our thought lives. But so very often, I wish my mind had an “off switch”. That would make it so much easier to hear the whispers of God among the cacophony of voices demanding attention in my head.
I know thoughts are good. Rational thinking is good. Working through your beliefs, and your convictions, and your baggage is all good. But sometimes, too, your voluble self can be your own worst enemy. Sometimes you can think so much that you dig yourself into a pit without leaving yourself footholds to climb out. And I fear I do that often. I’ve come to realize that the only thing I can do at that point is plop myself down at the bottom of my self-dug pit, cross-legged and resigned, with my chin resting in the palm of my hand, and wait for God to pull me out.