Perelandra Chap. 4

An archived study of the second book of Lewis' theological science fiction Space Trilogy.

Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Kanakaberaka » November 11th, 2004, 6:46 am

Synopsis : Ransom awakes on the floating island to dicover a dragon-like creature around a tree. He attempts to communicate with it thinking that it might just be hnau. But the dragon turns out to be simply an animal. Later, Ransom catches sight of a human figure on a nearby island and after an extended and gradual period of antisipation, he makes contact with the Green Lady.
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Ransom's attempt to talk to the small dragon makes for some needed humor in this chapter. But it's more than just an incidental joke. Remember that the hnau of Malacandra were far from human to our eyes. But at least Ransom found himself a "pet" for a time.
Next came a sermon against "encore" with Ransom's breakfast. The oval green berries provided a parable with their occasional and unexpected surprise of a red center with extraordinary flavor. The bubble trees provided another pleasant alien flora for Ransom to enjoy. But once he catches sight of what proves to be another human figure, these natural luxuries prove to be unimportant.
Lewis spends a lot of time gradualy bringing the distant human figure into Ransom's view. At first it's indistinguishable from an unusual bump on the back of a dolphin-like sea creature. She is only noticed after she wades ashore onto a nearby island. Finaly Ransom manages to get her attention. And when he sees that this being is a green skinned woman he worries that she might be like Circe or Alcina from mythology. Both women were sorcereses who live on enchanted islands. Circe turned Odysseus' crew into pigs and Alcina transformed her lovers into trees, stones, and wild creatures when she tired of them. I think it was all the animals surrounding the Green Lady which gave Ransom this impression. It also gives me the impression that Lewis valued pets as companions in life. Ransom is chagrined that all this beauty can do is laugh at the sight of him. Untill he realizes that it is his unusual sunburn on one side of his body that causes this reaction.
I wonder if Lewis was prescient when he had Ransom say to the Green Lady, "I am a stranger. I come in peace...". "We came in peace" was inscribed on the plaque left on the moon by Apollo XI. All the Green Lady can reply is "What is peace?". But of course she in unfallen and does not know the alternative. Then their islands drift apart and Ransom must make a desperate swim to continue the conversation with the Green Lady.
so it goes...
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby loeee » November 11th, 2004, 8:34 pm

Having no self-control, I finished reading the book and now cannot remember which things occur in which chapters. Is this the chapter where Lewis mentions that Ransom, for his first several days on Peralandra, was often surprised that he did not feel guilty for enjoying the intense sensual pleasures afforded by life on the floating islands? I thought that was a very interesting observation.

We do sometimes, I think, feel guilty for enjoying a sensual experience. Perhaps because there is in us that tendency toward "encore" or gluttony?
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Stanley Anderson » November 11th, 2004, 8:42 pm

[from loeee]:
>We do sometimes, I think, feel guilty for enjoying a sensual experience.
>Perhaps because there is in us that tendency toward "encore" or
>gluttony?

I think though, that Lewis' point here was that Ransom could experience them without the guilty feeling because of the unfallen nature of the world he was on (and to which his very soul and body were beginning to revert back to -- not completely of course -- but he was able to get hints of "unfallen" things and sensations). But I think part of the implication was also that such a guilt-free experience was not possible (nor even "proper" in some sense) on Earth because of our fallen nature -- sort of like how Jesus was without sin, and yet he still wore clothes while among us because that is the way our world "is".

(boy this opens a whole slew of questions and topics I'd love to explore, but would probably depart too much from Perelandra)

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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby loeee » November 11th, 2004, 8:46 pm

I think the whole topic, imagining what it would be like to innocently enjoy intense sensual pleasure, is fascinating. It give you a bit of an idea what heaven will be like, yes? That relates back to the Ransom/MacPhee discussion mentioned in the first chapter.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby a_hnau » November 11th, 2004, 9:16 pm

My thoughts on this chapter;

- what does Lewis mean by "when a man is out of his own world"? He speaks as though this can be a real experience for some, and I'm sure he's not thinking of Neil Armstrong (wups! anachronism. Not really). Perhaps he had in mind those who travel out of their own culture. I'm reminded of the part in Clarke's Childhood's End where the aliens are identifying the mysterious and awesome places in the Universe 'dreamed' by the young boy - a similar feeling of beauty, alien-ness, awe is evoked. There's also A Midsummer Night's Dream - the lovers awake, and say wonderingly "Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream".
- in fact, the theme of 'dream' is continued here and later - "anyone who has had a dream, from which they nevertheless very much desired to awake..." This is a theme of medieval literature - The Dream of the Rood, other dream narratives (oh, I wish I knew more about this! Try http://www.bloomsbury.com/ARC/detail.asp?EntryID=107310&bid=9)
- "Were all the things which appeared as mythology on Earth scattered through other worlds as realities?" This is answered elsewhere and in THS, can't find the exact quotes just now.
- "do you give me welcome?" I'm reminded of Christ's words, "stay where you are welcomed, shake the dust off where you are not".
- "it's madness to wait for it [the dragon]" - like the voices Lewis heard on the way up from the railway station.
- when the dragon leans on him and treads on his foot; this is exactly what large dogs often do :) (I once had a large pig decide to scratch itself against my leg, it was really heavy but I put up with it for the sake of friendliness)
- "enacting a myth" - this is (almost) a description of a sacrament, and there is a sacramental quality about all of Ransom's experience here.
- "he fancied he was in Europe and that a plane was flying low" - another war reference - certainly there were planes in England, but for Lewis at that time planes=war=Europe.
- "two lines of winged objects" - parallels the section in The Great Divorce when the Lady (Sarah Smith from Golders Green) appears in procession.
- the Green Lady is compared to a "tall sapling among bushes" - this is a stroke of genius - the 'bushes' (the animals) are to some extent at their full stature, though she will later speak of teaching them - but the Lady is a 'sapling' - young, flexible, capable of growth, destined to be a strong tree branching out - as she says shortly her mind is doing as she grows older listening to Ransom. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed, which grows into a tree, and all the birds take refuge in its branches".
- overall, I think the Green Lady is the most successful and remarkable of all Lewis's characters in any of his fiction - one requiring a real reach of the imagination to create. As Lewis himself says, anyone can create or portray a character worse than him/herself, just by relaxing their standards. But to describe someone much better than yourself, you have to imagine every one of your best moments and then imagine someone who can live to that standard and better, all the time. Lewis achieves this with Tinidril.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Stanley Anderson » November 12th, 2004, 11:04 pm

(since this week didn't appear until Thursday, I haven't had time to get all my notes down into a post yet. Can I have some more time here? Of course there is no reason a previous chapter cannot continue to receive posts even after later chapters have started, so the study can go ahead if you like, but I just wanted to note that I do have comments on this chapter that I haven't gotten up yet)

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dragon, serpent?

Postby Steve » November 15th, 2004, 12:32 pm

I wonder if the dragon in this chapter is meant to be an echo of the serpent in Genesis 3. Lewis must have been aware of the interpretation that the serpent used to have legs (perhaps wings) and they were taken away when he was cursed by God.

This Perelandra dragon seems friendly and innocuous. Is Lewis imagining an unfallen dragon that did not fall prey to Satan's schemes? Or Satan did not need to corrupt a Perelandrian life form in order to tempt the Green Lady, because Weston was available?
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Stanley Anderson » November 15th, 2004, 7:05 pm

Pretty much a bunch of random notes on the chapter – so much stuff to comment on here that I hardly know where to start or stop.

A couple things I notice several times in this chapter (as more examples of what occur throughout the book, really) are the continued mentions (as I noted about previous chapters) of Ransom’s worry about lapsing into madness – a curious constant theme of Lewis’. And also various manifestations of water conveying images of Joy and pleasant sensation. We see the bubble trees of course, and then Ransom drinks from the ocean, “The island at that moment was a little valley of bright land nestling between hills of green water, and he as he lay on his belly to drink he had the extraordinary experience of dipping his mouth in a sea that was higher than the shore.”

Ransom’s meeting with the dragon is a sort of foretaste of his meeting with the Green Lady. He has intentions of making noble introductions to the dragon only to discover that it ignores him and his efforts at decorum. And likewise as he is to experience in meeting the Green Lady. Instead of a noble meeting, he is met with laughter and frustration. Both meetings remind me a bit of the scene in the movie “Enchanted April” (one of our favourite films) where Melursh (sp?) is intent on making an impressive first meeting with Lady Caroline Dester and instead meets her in a very undignified manner, much to his surprise.

I notice another comment about the concept of “Reason” (as I mentioned in a post on a previous chapter) when Ransom is waiting while the dragon approaches him – ‘ “It’s madness to wait for it”, said the false reason, but Ransom set his teeth and stood.’ Again, as in the previous reference, he is commenting about reason in the modern sense as being limited only to “logical” deduction as opposed to the medieval sense of Reason encompassing more than that with a “moral” sense of things. It is this modern sense that his “indoctrination” in the Perelandrian atmosphere is trying to overcome – ie he is being “prepared” for his encounter with the Green Lady and his role as advocate against the Un-Man’s attacks on her.

I was initially intrigued and a little confused about why the dragon seemed to be “steering” him too the bubble trees. What was it’s purpose in doing so. But now I think it was part of this “preparation” that Ransom is undergoing in this initial part of the book. After the “baptism” of the bubble tree, Ransom has a renewed view of the world – colours seem richer and he views his condition with more “acceptance”. As that sections says, “for at that moment he had a sensation not of following an adventure, but of enacting a myth. To be the figure that he was in this unearthly pattern appeared sufficient.” This preparation is meant, I think, to put him more in a frame of mind of accepting the Will of Maleldil. (notice the contrast later in the book where he momentarily rejects this acceptance, feeling that it is “unfair” of Maleldil to pit him, a mere human, against the wiles of the Un-Man. Without this preparation, that feeling may have turned to despair instead of the determination of will he relies upon instead).

Here is the description of the mechanism of the bubble trees: “Their life, apparently, consisted in drawing up water from the ocean and then expelling it in this form [the sudden burst of shower], but enriched by its short sojourn in their sappy inwards.” I’m not exactly sure of the details of connection, but this seems like a very “theological” idea too – ie, something like what God does with us via the Holy Spirit, or perhaps some sort of parallel to the conversion of bread and wine into the body of Christ in the Sacrament of Communion – not sure exactly, but it seems to have significance.

Also, we see another example of the idea of seeing things from different points of view that Lewis uses so much here (and in his other books of course) that is also part of the “preparation” Ransom is going through. In particular, the difference in seeing individual bubbles bursting in comparison to their perception when viewed from a distance (“…but looking at the wood as a whole, one was conscious only of a continual faint disturbance of light, an elusive interference with the prevailing Perelandrian silence…”).

The whole “encore” theme is important to the book of course and has been commented on elsewhere. It too is a precursor to his meeting of the Green Lady who does not (initially, anyway, until she is “made older” by Ransom) view time very sequentially or of constant progression. She seems to be more “on” time rather than “in” it. And in the description of the problem with “encore” Lewis writes, “…a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film”. This analogy of unrolling of the film is the linear sequence of time, and Ransom’s whole experience in this part of the book is, as I have mentioned, a sort of preparation for not being so much “embedded” in this linear view of time.

I am rather surprised though that after all this philosophy about the spoiling effect of an encore of the bubble trees shower, the next paragraph immediately begins, “He rose and got a second shower from the bubble tree.” I suppose it means that he received it accidentally – ie that he didn’t “try” to get another one, but the mere act of getting up apparently caused one to burst on him.

I love the part about the berries where Lewis writes, “A man, or a at least a man like Ransom, felt he ought to say grace over it; and so he presently did. The gourds would have required rather an oratorio or a mystical meditation.” I can’t help but think of Karl Henning and the idea of composition here. If he is reading this, I wonder what his comments about a musical parallel to grace vs an oratorio ro mystical meditation would be? Any thoughts? (anyone else too of course).

As Ransom sits with his legs dangling in the red weeds in the water at the edge of the island, he contemplates his solitude. Lewis writes, “It was strange that the utter loneliness through all these hours had not troubled him so much as one night of it on Malacandra. He thought the difference lay in this, that mere chance, or what he took for chance had turned him adrift in Mars, but here he knew that he was part of a plan. He was no longer unattached, no longer on the outside.” Well, this is again an illustration of the Romantic vs the Classical view that Lewis talks about in The Discarded Image, and which I mentioned so much about in the Out of the Silent Planet study. Although I quoted it back then, it is so significant to Lewis’ views in all these books that I’ll quote the Discarded Image passage again here for reference:
-----------------------------
“The really important difference is that the medieval universe, while unimaginably large, was also unambiguously finite. And one unexpected result of this is to make the smallness of Earth more vividly felt. In our [ie, modern view] universe she is small, no doubt; but so are the galaxies, so is everything – and so what? But in theirs there was an absolute standard of comparison…The word ‘small’ as applied to Earth thus takes on a far more absolute significance…to look out on the night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about one in a trackless forest – trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building. The ‘space’ of modern astronomy may arouse terror, or bewilderment or vague reverie; the spheres of the old present us with an object in which the mind can rest, overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony. That is the sense in which our universe is romantic, and theirs was classical.
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Here’s a side note: with the description of the islands changing shape from hills to valleys an everything between, I wonder how the trees on the island keep from getting horribly tangled up with each other or bumping into each other as the trunks roll to and fro with the waves?:-)

More hallucination fears as he sees the figure on the other island. “He had a picture of living for ever and ever on this hideous island, always really alone but always haunted by the phantoms of human beings, who would come up to him with smiles and outstretched hands, and then fade away as he approached them”. This is reminiscent of the horror he will feel when confronted by the Un-Man’s queries of “Ransom?” followed by “Nothing”.

Another interesting variation on the changing point of view idea mentioned above: Ransom uses it to his advantage when he is trying to figure out how to attract the attention of the figure. “And then, like a revelation, came the very simple idea that if he wished to attract the attention of the man-like creature he must wait till he wa on the crest of a wave and then stand up so that it would see him outlined against the sky.” Here, instead of Ransom seeing from a different point of view, he realizes he must change the point of view of the other figure.

I love the surprise for the reader after the buildup and let-down that Ransom experiences in seeing the other person, when the next sentence says “And the green man was not a man at all, but a woman”. Here the whole passage seemed to be about attracting the other’s attention, but we suddenly realize it is a buildup to a revelation of an entirely different sort.

Again, when Ransom sees the Green Lady laughing at him, he thinks of hallucination and of an evil spirit that mocks him. This thought, also a sort of precursor to the Un-Man’s “Nothing” responses.

Whatever the truth of the matter, many people think The Dark Tower to be unlike Lewis because of its sensual erotic suggestive imagery. But can anyone doubt Lewis’ play with such ideas with lines like this (after Ransom, in his unclothed state, has seen the Lady laughing uncontrollably at him): “It might not be she who was mad but he who was ridiculous. He glanced down at himself”. Of course Lewis goes on to describe the piebald state of Ransom’s body, but I can’t help thinking Lewis was perfectly aware of the momentary humouous thought that must go through every reader’s mind at this point. But on to the piebald image. I wonder if this is more of the “mythological” images that Ransom experiences in the other worlds. Here his apparently comedic image is almost like that of a harlequin, half dark and half light as an object of humour.

Lewis writes of Ransom, “He felt a momentary impatience with the creature who could mar the meeting of two worlds with laughter at such a triviality.” This reminds me very much of Weston’s response to Ransom on their way to Malacandra in OSP where he can’t believe Ransom is not more overwhelmed at the momentous occasion of interplanetary travel to worry about such a mere thing as being kidnapped.

We next see more of the “timeless” nature of the Green Lady sitting with her legs in the sea as if she had always been there. Steve (I think it was – is that right, Steve?), sometime back in these forums, wondered about the description of the Green Lady as having a “complete absence of resignation”. I wonder if this lack of resignation is part of her unfalleness – ie that fallen creatures have to “give in” to an acceptance of God’s will, whereas an unfallen creature does not need to “resign” itself, but simply already is there?

When the Green Lady asks “What is peace”, “Ransom could have danced with impatience”. Surely I am not the only one that has an image of having to go the bathroom really badly and having no place to go?:-)

Finally, at the end of the chapter, we see Ransom once again undergoing a radically chaotic experience in trying to get to the other island. But this time it is due to his own attempts to control the situation instead of accepting the will of Maleldil. As we will see in the next chapter, it was all for naught. He needn’t have worried – the next morning he finds he has ended up on his own island after all his effort anyway, and that the islands have gathered together close enough for him to casually walk over to the Green Lady’s island. After his great effort, he falls into a deep sleep so that he can awake to perform his appointed task in Perelandra.

(Whew. Sorry for the length. I could have gone on and on even more, but one has to stop SOMEWHERE. Practically every sentence and idea of this book could be commented on. Tough for me to hold back here:-)

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Re: dragon, serpent?

Postby Guest » November 16th, 2004, 1:54 pm

Steve wrote:I wonder if the dragon in this chapter is meant to be an echo of the serpent in Genesis 3. Lewis must have been aware of the interpretation that the serpent used to have legs (perhaps wings) and they were taken away when he was cursed by God.



Oh! I'd never thought of this before, and yet it seems fairly obvious that Lewis did indeed mean some kind of echoing connection. In which case, all the interactions between the two seem to have a dual meaning: as in when Ransom says to the dragon, "Do you know that you are a considerable nuisance?"

Steve wrote:This Perelandra dragon seems friendly and innocuous. Is Lewis imagining an unfallen dragon that did not fall prey to Satan's schemes? Or Satan did not need to corrupt a Perelandrian life form in order to tempt the Green Lady, because Weston was available?


There's a sadder, more sinister connection there then. A son of Adam has become tempter when once he'd been only the tempted.
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but he's not a misogynist :-)

Postby Guest » November 16th, 2004, 1:57 pm

From Stanley:
>>>>A couple things I notice several times in this chapter...are the continued mentions of Ransom’s worry about lapsing into madness... also various manifestations of water conveying images of Joy and pleasant sensation.


And we do know, from Lewis own autobiography and biographies of him, that he loved to 'bathe' or swim and that he did indeed worry about madness. So, who says you can't know an author from the themes of his books?

.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Guest » November 16th, 2004, 2:18 pm

[From Stanley]:
>>>>Here’s a side note: with the description of the islands changing shape from hills to valleys an everything between, I wonder how the trees on the island keep from getting horribly tangled up with each other or bumping into each other as the trunks roll to and fro with the waves?:-)

How? The bubble trees, of course. During the shifting, rolling undulations, they break and provide the necessary stability, harmony and lubrication that untangles any knots. :-)


Your comments on this chapter, on the symbols and layers and depths in almost every line, seem to echo your quote about Lewis enacting a myth. Indeed, this whole chapter is an example of Lewis flexing his mythopoeic muscles. Lewis at his best -- Lewis in Narnia, Lewis throughout almost all of "Till We Have Faces" -- is a writer of myths. How appropriate that his main character lives as in a myth itself.

To take this a step further (in conjecture) I wonder if there were flashes and moments in Lewis's life, perhaps on his country jaunts or during a swim, breathing in the air, awash in the outdoor sensations, when he was able to feel part of a larger story, almost as if he himself were enacting a myth. Perhaps those flashes came unasked for, during his surprised-by-joy moments. Perhaps enacting a myth was the highest form of describing what Joy felt like to Lewis. Perhaps for Lewis that whole 'enacting a myth' idea was a kind of sense of what heaven might be like. All that poetic, otherworldly stuff at the end of Perelandra seems to be a hint of this as well.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby loeee » November 16th, 2004, 7:55 pm

Does anyone else feel that, although all these themes and images are certainly present, they are incorportated almost unconsciously on Lewis's part? He was so steeped in the mythic themes that they were his natural medium. I have read that he very seldom did rewrites and revisions, generally going from first draft to final with no intermediary steps.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby Stanley Anderson » November 17th, 2004, 3:48 pm

loeee wrote:Does anyone else feel that, although all these themes and images are certainly present, they are incorportated almost unconsciously on Lewis's part? He was so steeped in the mythic themes that they were his natural medium. I have read that he very seldom did rewrites and revisions, generally going from first draft to final with no intermediary steps.


Well, certainly one who is a master at his trade does things almost unconsciously, but only because he has worked at it so hard -- ie, a chess master doesn't need to analyze each possible move available to him during a game as he has worked at becoming a master for years and knows by now whole sweeps of possibilities that won't work and such.

And though it is said that Lewis did generally work with few revisions, I would guess that is because he did a lot of the revisions in his head beforehand. Here is a section from Lewis at the Breakfast Table, a series of reminiscences by friends and collegues. This one is from Clifford Morris, a good friend of Lewis' in later years:
------------------
There were occasions when Jack used me as a kind of sounding board when he was trying out some new ideas or some new way of putting an old idea or some fresh outline or even, now and again, some striking phrase. As we might be sitting over a glass of beer, or as we were quietly driving along, he would suddenly say, "Friend Morris, listen to this, and tell me if it means anything to you," or, "How does that strike you?" And if I didn't "catch on" at once, I have known him to scrap the whole idea, phrase, sentence, or whatever it was, and then begin all over again from another angle or in another way. He took tremendous trouble to say, in plain words, just what he meant, and it was always an imperative duty with him to write good English, as concisely as possible, coherently, forthrightly, leaving no loose ends, evading no difficulties, dodging no awkward questions.
--------------------

Well, this sounds like he pretty thoroughly thought through and revised and "rewrote" until he was satisfied, at least in his mind, exactly what he intended to say.

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Re: Perelandra Chap. 4

Postby gaetawoo » June 15th, 2005, 10:32 pm

On the whole Encore theme... i think he merely says that concerning the bubbles or the gourds, on Earth it would be the norm to continue to have more and more of the pleasure because it was so pleasing and you didn't want it to leave you, but on this Paradise where nothing is lacking or in excess, while he may have felt his Earthly desire to have some more of the pleasure, he didn't feel the need for it since in this place he was sufficiently satisfied with what was sufficiently pleasing. I'm speaking in circles i know but this is also along the thoughts of either Lewis in other books (maybe the Four Loves) or from Deitrich Bonhoeffer (Creation and the Fall/Temptation). I forget which. I think Lewis also states that what would become of a pleasure if it became an unending thing.

Either way, the whole point of Paradise which Perelandra was is that nothing is in excess or wanting, including pleasures and desires. Everything is as exactly enough as it needs to be.
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Pleasure in Balance

Postby Kanakaberaka » June 16th, 2005, 5:12 am

gaetawoo wrote: ... I think Lewis also states that what would become of a pleasure if it became an unending thing.

Either way, the whole point of Paradise which Perelandra was is that nothing is in excess or wanting, including pleasures and desires. Everything is as exactly enough as it needs to be.


First off gaetawoo, thank you for responding to my study. I was worried that everyone had lost interest in it. I intend to post a study of Chapter 13 soon.

You bring up a good point about the enjoyment of pleasure in moderation. We don't want to feel deprived. And yet an overabundance of pleasure makes us loose our appreciation for it. Pleasures seem to punctuate life rather than sustain it. I do wonder about the pleasures of Heaven. Since Heaven is outside of time how do the blessed experience pleasure?
so it goes...
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