Thursday, April 14, 2011

C.S. Lewis – The Sacramental and Transposed Life I

On March 19, 1955 Lewis writes to Mary Van Deusen:

I feel strongly, with you, that there was something more than a physical pleasure in those youthful activities. [Since we are only reading Lewis’s letter to Van Deusen we don’t know what she wrote in her letter to him. We are listening to one end of a phone conversation.] Even now, at my age, do we often have a purely physical pleasure? Well, perhaps a few of the more hopelessly prosaic ones: say, scratching or getting one’s shoes off when one’s feet are tired. I’m sure my meals are not a purely physical pleasure. All the associations of every other time one has had the same food (every rasher of bacon is now 56 years thick with me) come in: and with things like Bread, Wine, Honey, Apples, there are all the echoes of myth, fairy-tale, poetry, & scripture so that the physical pleasure is also imaginative and even spiritual. Every meal can be a kind of lower sacrament. ‘Devastating gratitude’ is a good phrase: but my own experience is rather ‘devastating desire’ – desire for that-of-which-the-present-joy-is-a-reminder. All my life nature and art have been reminding me of something I’ve never seen: saying ‘Look! What does this – and this – remind you of?’

I am so glad that you are finding (as I do) that life, far from getting dull and empty as one grows older, opens out. It is like being in a house where one keeps on discovering new rooms.

The above reminds me of Chesterton’s contention that the stories we learned in the nursery are the stories that matter.

How is it that we take the beauty and wonder of childhood, of discovery, and entomb these vibrant jewels in the concrete of pragmatism and materialism? Life for the child can be sacramental; the sun and flowers and rippling brooks and frogs and puppies and kittens and turtles beckon our hearts and enliven our minds until these beauties are debased by a closed system which rivets the lead vault of time plus matter plus chance around little souls – attributing all that we delight in to a roll of the dice. The dreams of childhood are turned from their call to the eternal; evil turns the switch on the track and the train is directed downward into a hedonistic and materialistic abyss – and woe to the young one who dares an escape – there are many locks on the doors and guards at the station gates. 

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Bob, Thanks for pointing this out to me via our phone conversation last Saturday. I have also been pondering Lewis's Sept. 28, 1955 letter to Carl F.H. Henry in which he declines the opportunity to write articles for Christianity Today. The most important part of that letter, as far as I am concerned, is that he states specifically the method he had adopted to communicate truth, i.e., "through fiction and symbol." My quandry is whether Lewis, in the little episode in VDT where Lucy discovers the Spell for the Refreshment of the Spirit, was giving us his belief about Story consciously or unconsciously. Either way, I think we can take Lucy's experience of reading the Spell and Aslan's response to her desire to hear the story again as a powerful and accurate expression of what God does through stories.