“Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces.”
C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956)
William Wildblood has an interesting post about the sanitary masks, which are now mandatory for English shoppers. They are also mandatory here, with compliance close to universal. Wildblood is rankled by the English mandate and has interesting things to say about the spiritual cost of truckling to authority, effacing personal identity, and melting into the anonymous herd of false faces. But I have learned to love my mask and believe we will never give them up or put them away.
The sanitary masks are certainly a symbol of compliance, and this naturally provokes resentment in any man of spirit who is jealous of his traditional liberties. But a man who is jealous of his traditional liberties, and who speaks with contempt of these ‘face diapers,’ should ask himself what sense of the word jealousy applies to this case. Is he like a “jealous husband” who is defending his claim to his wife’s affection? Or is he like a “jealous ex-boyfriend” who is raging over something he lost long ago?
Do we still have faces with which we would wish to meet one another? I am of course using the word face in the sense Lewis uses it in his great allegory, and in the sense St. Paul uses it in the famous passage in 1 Corinthians (13:12). Men and women identify one another by their faces, so that to have a “face” is to have a fully formed identity. It is to have become who you are, and thus to finally be who you are. For Lewis and St. Paul, this face is not simply a fully formed visage of a full-grown man or woman, but rather a fully formed soul that has become, in time, what it is and always will be in eternity.
Lewis expresses this same idea of the fully formed soul when he speaks of “that word” that we finally dig out of ourselves after years of mere babbling, just like a child that can at last tell you its name. No man can really know God until he can tell God who he is. No man will be shown the face of God until he can show God his own face. This is because God can have no clear identity or meaning for a man until that man has a clear identity and meaning for God.
When a man is ashamed of what he has become, he will of course cover his face and go into hiding, from himself, from his fellow men, and from God. This is why men with souls that are unformed or deformed are so happy in the anonymous herd of a “faceless crowd.”
Have you considered how the sanitary masks have made a visit to the grocery store so much more like an hour on the internet? We have all of us learned the pleasure of leaving our faces behind.
Does this mean that I have learned to love my mask because my soul is hideously unformed or deformed? I do not think so. I am not saying that my soul has grown into something altogether lovely in the sight of man or God (or even myself), but I do believe I have pretty well become who I am. After years of “babbling,” I have dug out that “word” and said it, and now have only to wait and hear what God says in answer. For better or worse, I have my own face and know my own name.
But I have learned to love my mask because I have learned to feel fear when I feel the eyes, and look into the faces, of too many other men. As I became what I am, they also became what they are. And now that we are all fully formed, we recoil in a welter of fear, loathing and shame.
This is why I believe that I am not the only one who has learned to love my mask, and why I believe we will never give them up or put them away.