Monthly Archives: September 2012

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Further up and further in!

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!
–Jewel the Unicorn, The Last Battle

It is amazing how much of the human experience (and the promise of Christianity) is summed up in these few words.  It encapsulates both the finite, mortal nature of humanity, and it screams out the promise offered to those to whom Christ will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To nearly everyone who has taken the time to think about it, the experience of life is summed up by constant motion and perpetual change.  As each moment fades imperceptibly into the next, we learn that nothing remains the same for long.  Bound by the law of entropy as surely as the smallest particle of physical reality, our lives can go only one of two directions:  forward or backward.  We either grow and blossom into something new and different or we degenerate into wasted potential.  In it’s ideal form, the Christian life is a perfect picture of this.  There are always new trails to explore, new knowledge to acquire, new experiences to have, and each is unique from the last.

The problem is that everything in the universe tends toward decay.  In fact, we have to pursue constant and intentional forward motion to prevent it.  The older I get, the more apparent this becomes as my body slows down and begins the tiring process of degeneration.  It is also clear in the lives of anyone who, for one reason for another, cannot or does not attempt to better themselves.  To stand still is the surest way to see ourselves slump into sloth, destitution, disease, and want.

Worse, we are born into a reality where this is a losing battle from the very beginning.  From the moment our first cries echo through a harsh, cold world, we are living on borrowed time.  When we are young, we tend not to notice, but as we age the truth becomes inescapable; we say with Frodo (though for very different reasons), “Will I ever look down into that valley again?”  Will I ever hold my loved one in my arms again?  Will this be the last time I cuddle on the couch with my child before she is “too old” for that sort of thing?  How much longer can I perform at this level?  The end, of course, comes eventually.  We die, our bodies broken and wracked with pain, our treasured experiences spent, and the world moves on without us giving hardly a blink.

And that leads us to one of the truly amazing promises upon which Christians stand:  Our story, short as it is, is not over with death.  We will be translated into a new world that has no end.  There will be time to truly understand, to experience, to love, to build, to create…and we will do so basking in the light of the One “by whom all things were made” and the One who loves us enough that He suffered and died to ensure that we have the chance to experience mortal life and what lies beyond it.

Further up and further in, indeed!

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Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

Seeing: the Light of Intellect and Desire to Ascend

– A little discussion on Dante’s Purgitorio 
Augustine teaches that believing is seeing, while Aquinas teaching that seeing is believing. The difference between these two philosophies is at once subtle and yet very distinct. Augustine’s concept relies on faith or what also could be called desire—the desire to draw near to God. If faith comes first, then it is a person’s desire that compels them to the truth of sight. However, Aquinas emphasizes sight or what could be called intellect—the truth about God. If sight comes first, then it is a person’s intellect that draws them to God and faith in him. In both instances, seeing is associated with intellect and belief is desire. Although Augustine’s view is more popular in modern circles, it is not the case with Dante. Dante uses the concept of seeing is believing in the Divine Comedy, employing it most effectively in Purgatorio as a means of describing the process of penitence “through lack or excess of light or distance, obliquity of vision, movement of the object of vision or its background, similarity of colour between the object and its background” (Rutledge 152). Light becomes synonymous with sight, and the higher up Dante climbs, the more light he sees and the more understanding he has. Dante uses three different elements of light and sight—the light of the stars and other natural light, the sight of the penitence, and the light of the angels—to reveal that seeing is the way to belief and desire.
To truly understand all of the uses of light in Purgatorio, it is necessary to explore the larger picture of the Divine Comedy and how it uses light. The three different sections of the Divine ComedyInferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso—are reflections of three different kinds of light as Scott explains:

[W]e learn from St. Thomas Aquinas that each of these three lights is natural to some order of existence. The first represents the vision of Truth attainable by the natural light of man’s intellect (philosophical contemplation); the second, the perception given by the light of Faith to the saints in this life; and the third, that contemplation of the glory and essence of God which is only to be enjoyed by the blessed in Heaven. (Scott 169)

As is seen in Inferno, man’s intellect devoid of God’s intellect is only darkness and despair. Those souls in Limbo can only contemplate the limits of their human understanding without the hope of receiving any truth. This is where Virgil suffers his eternity. The second type of light, the light of Faith through penitence, is slightly out of Virgil’s grasp as a guide but it is something he can still relate to because the suffering and the process is not unlike the philosophers pursuit. The advantage is that the saints have seen the light of God. The final light is beyond Virgil’s comprehension and since he did not know God while he lived he cannot know God know that he is dead. The contemplation of the divine truth requires a holy guide and Beatrice is that light for Dante.

Without the light of the guides, Dante would be lost in the dark wood. The light is the intellect which draws Dante out of himself and into the truth. He cannot ascend the mountain of Purgatory by himself or by his own sheer will power. His desire to ascend cannot compel him alone. Dante needs his desire to have sight and purpose. The intellect gives the desire or will purpose and direction. If the intellect is God’s intellect, it will cause a person to desire God and his good intellect as opposed to the dark meaningless intellect of man. Dante’s journey through Hell showed him the blindness of man’s intellect and man’s perverse desire. Dante’s climb through Purgatory is a reconciliation of man’s desire and intellect with God’s perfect intellect and will (Purgatorio i.4-6).

  • Hollander, Jean & Robert. Trans. Purgatorio. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
  • Scott, J. A. “Allegory in the Purgatorio.” Italica 37.3 (1960): 167-184. Web. JSTOR. 9 April 2011.
  • Rutledge, Monica. “Dante, the Body and Light.” Dante Studies 113 (1995): 151-165. Web. JSTOR. 9 April 2011.

Forests A Little More Enchanted

I explored light last week, one form of which was the light that filters through trees in the woods. I love woods.  I like the illusion (just the illusion, mind you) of getting lost in the woods.

A forest is a perfect setting for a scene or even a whole book.  A tree is a place or a creature or a character.  How many times does a scene begin with a character lost, running, creeping, hiding, exploring in the woods?  And now, as the trees begin to change color with the new season, I’m sure we’re all noticing them a little more.

What do the woods mean to a story?  I’ll let others explain for me (I’m lazy like that).

“[Treebeard] led the way in under the huge branches of the trees. Old beyond guessing, they seemed. Great trailing beards of lichen hung from them, blowing and swaying in the breeze. Out of the shadows, the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.” ~ Tolkien, Two Towers

‘When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, 
      and sap is in the bough; 
When light is on the wild-wood stream, 
      and wind is on the brow; 

When stride is long, and breath is deep, 
      and keen on the mountain-air, 
Come back to me! come back to me, 
      and say my land is fair!’

~ Song to the Lost Entwives

“Awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Magician’s Nephew

“She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows. A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all around it. And then –Oh Joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

“The trees bathed their great heads in the waves of the morning, while their roots were planted deep in gloom; save where on the borders of the sunshine broke against their stems, or swept in long streams through their avenues, washing with brighter hue all the leaves over which it flowed; revealing the rich brown of the decayed leaves and fallen pine-cones, and the delicate greens of the long grasses and tiny forests of moss that covered the channel over which it passed in the motionless rivers of light.”  ~ George MacDonald, Phantastes

The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. ~ C.S. Lewis, Magician’s Nephew

“Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.” ~ A A Milne 

“She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty, old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his fact and hands, with hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah! –she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the Lady of the Wood.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ~ Milne, Winnie the Pooh

“Great stems rose about me, uplifting a thick multitudinous roof above me of branches, and twigs, and leaves– the bird and insect world uplifted over mine, with its own landscapes, its own thickets, and paths, and glades, and dwellings; its own bird-ways and insect-delights. Great boughs crossed my path; great roots based the tree-columns, and mightily clasped the earth, strong to lift and strong to uphold. It seemed an old, old forest, perfect in forest ways and pleasure.” ~ MacDonald Phantastes

“[The fairy tale] stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” —C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds”

I know I’ve read so many more quotes about forests and trees and woods, but now that I’m trying to come up with them, they elude me.  Perhaps you have one that you are attached to and would like to share?

For now, I will leave you with one last quote about a magical forest… of a slightly different mien:

“Be grateful you’re not in the forest in France
Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance

To escape from the perilous pants eating plants
But your pants are safe, you’re a fortunate guy
You ought to be shouting how lucky am I” ~ Dr. Seuss

On Hutchmoot: A note to be paid shortly, with joy

“Why it will take weeks before we get all these things sized up!”

“Weeks indeed,” said Pippin. “And then Frodo will have to be locked up in a tower in Minas Tirith and write it all down. Otherwise he will forget half of it, and poor old Bilbo will be dreadfully disappointed.” (1)

Last week I had nothing to say in this space. This week I’m bursting with things to say — but I want to take a little time to say them.  A little more time than my deadline of posting something today would allow.

Let me explain.  I spent the last four days traveling to, then staying in, then returning from, Nashville.  The purpose of the trip to Nashville was to join about two hundred other people for a little gathering called Hutchmoot.  If you’re not familiar with Hutchmoot (and there’s an above even chance you aren’t), I highly recommend checking three links: on Hutchmoot itself, see here and here; and on the Rabbit Room, who convenes Hutchmoot, check here.

Hutchmoot is wonderful — as Jonathan Rogers put it, “an embarrassment of riches.”  Between the storytelling, the music, the conversation and fellowship, the food, and the setting, I’d say Hutchmoot is about as close a thing as you’ll find to Rivendell outside the pages of the Red Book of Westmarch.  And, having put the matter that way, those who frequent this blog should now see the relevance of Hutchmoot, and the Rabbit Room, to the work of Lantern Hollow Press, its writers, and its readers.

But having said that much, I’m going to defer everything else I have to say about Hutchmoot to a post to appear shortly.  The fact is I’ve logged too many miles, and not taken quite enough sleep, to say anything else that would come close to doing any facet of Hutchmoot justice.  So consider this post a promissory note to give you a more complete report from Hutchmoot in the very near future.  Cheers.

(1) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King 251 (1955).

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Right Defense through Education

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.
–The Abolition of Man

Here, Lewis is pointing out the only effective defense against the falsehoods of the world:  teaching the Truth.  This would seem to be so obvious that one would ask, “Where is the profundity in that?”  Unfortunately, if it were that obvious, we would be doing it more often.  Actually reaching that goal, thinking it through to the present and future, really will require a revolution in a modern western church that has abdicated it’s responsibility to teach more than a Sunday morning sermon.  We must “inculcate just sentiments” not just on spiritual issues, as we have for many years now, but on all levels of science and knowledge.  What’s more, the church must take this responsibility onto itself. We cannot rely on others to do it for us.

There was a time in the historical West when the most widely read and educated people resided in the Christian church.  Christians set the standards for research in history, science, and philosophy.  Christians created and discovered knowledge, they didn’t just borrow it and warm it over with their perspective.  Also, for a very long time, first in Europe but also later in the United States, Christian Truth and the Gospel were both at least acknowledged as right even by those who refused to follow them.  People did not object to their inclusion in broader education or government.  While that that was the case, Christians could “safely” delegate large portions of what was rightly the church’s authority to outside entities, like the government schools, and the government would in turn trust the churches to handle important cultural work, like charity.  That system, one could argue, was never very healthy in the best of times, and it led directly to the mess we are in now.

In more recent years, churches have distinguished themselves primarily for how disconnected from the wider culture they can be, especially after the Scopes debacle in the years of the fundamentalist movement.  When they do connect with the world, it is usually in less than positive ways–to copy a music style that secular culture pioneered and Christians only produce in pale imitation or to scream at the government that we are not afforded the special rights of a bygone era.  It is rare to find a truly well-educated, well-rounded pastor who really understands issues of philosophy, science, and technology or who makes any effort to find out about them.  Most sermons and attempts at church education fail miserably from an intellectual perspective, focusing exclusively on relationship building, the all consuming need to be “nice” people, or giving a shallow rehashing of Biblical stories that we’ve heard since childhood.

This has to do with the fact that the culture, by and large, has changed around us.  We no longer live in a “Christian” nation in any meaningful sense of the term.*  That requires a completely different approach to education, charity, politics, and many other topics.  Increasingly, we will need to take our lessons from believers in places like Japan, where Christians account for less than 1% of the population, Muslim nations, or even China. Part of that will involve the church redefining its approach to education while it still can.  It must once again become a center of all knowledge, not simply a purveyor of moralistic tidbits.

What should that look like?  Of course I can’t lay out an entire revolution in 1000 words, but here are some ideas:

  • Churches must begin to conceive of themselves as real communities of believers, not just Sunday morning associations–The churches must begin to minister to the whole human being:  mind, body, and spirit.
  • Churches must broaden their topical horizons–Like it or not, they now, at this moment, bear the responsibility for educating their members on apologetics, science, history, literature, philosophy/worldview issues, finance, relationships, theology, and much, much more.  If the churches do not take on this responsibility, they will take the blame before God for the failed lives of their parishioners.
  • Churches must pay attention to the very idea of education–Each church will need to make a serious effort to connect believers of all ages with engaging material from a very broad spectrum  of subjects.  Am I suggesting that a church offer classes in history and science on Sunday morning.  Yes.  And other times during the week, and on a broad range of other subjects too.  
  • Churches must follow their mouths with their monies–Once a church is talking about the right things, it must be willing to back up that talk with cash.  Pay for good materials and speakers, set up scholarships for poorer children to attend good high schools, and for older individuals to find good colleges and universities where they can get a balanced education.
  • Churches must, above all else, begin teaching their parishioners how to think, not just what to think.–They must engage the greats of Christian thinking, Lewis among them.

I could go on for much longer, but I think the general point is clear:  Lewis is 100% correct that as Christians we must “inculcate just sentiments” into our children and ourselves if we are to hope to survive the next century as a people and as a nation.  We can no longer afford to simply wait on someone else to do it for us.  It’s time for the churches to “summon up the blood” and Henry V put it, and close the breach in the evangelical mind.

Do you agree with me?  Share this article with your pastor, Christian education director, your Sunday School, or your congregation, and see where the conversation takes you.  (Yes, I am enough of an idealist to think that mere blog post could make a difference!)

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*Incidentally, I think this is where many Christian political movements run afoul of reality.  It is no longer a question of a “silent” or “moral” majority reasserting control.  The country must be re-evangelized from the ground up.

Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.