Reason versus Imagination

C. S. Lewis wrote:

“The humblest of us, in a state of Grace, can have some “knowledge-by-acquaintance”…, some tasting of Love Himself; but man even at his highest sanctity and intelligence has no direct “knowledge about”…the ultimate Being – only analogies. We cannot see light, though by light we can see things. Statements about God are extrapolations from the knowledge of other things which the divine illumination enables us to know” (The Four Loves).

He is saying that while Christianity respects reason and is consistent with it, reason and reductionist empirical views of “reality” are insufficient to appreciate transcendental truths. For this we need spiritual, emotional and imaginative abilities.

C. S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy” and mysticism

C. S. Lewis’s book Surprised by Joy (1955) refers to his mystical experiences. They are seen as transcendental experiences, possessing (in William James’s terms) luminosity and authority and giving access to an inner truth. During his childhood Lewis had felt an intense longing for something elusive, triggered by (say) the fragrance of a currant bush or a piece of poetry. As he said “It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me… It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?… And before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again…” Lewis’s biographer Alister McGrath sees these moments as epiphanies, sparked by Lewis’s intense commitment to literature in which he found great moments of illumination and truth (in Wordsworth, or the sagas), in which everyday human experience is engaged with and in which underlying significances are found.

(Source: Alister McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis, 2014, pp.109-111).

Letting go of self

I’ve been reading about a writer who had tried every meditation practice known to man and found them unsatisfactory. He finally gave up on them and “took no special attitude”. To his amazement this “letting go” freed him. As he said, in throwing away these expectation he seemed “to throw myself away as well”. He felt that ” I owned nothing, not even a self, and that nothing owned me. The whole world became as transparent as my own mind. The ‘problem of life’ simply ceased to exist, and for eighteen hours I and everything around me felt like the wind was blowing leaves across a field on an autumn day”.

(quoted in Deepak Chopra, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, 1993, pp.297-8).

C. S. Lewis and Myth

I’ve just been reading about C. S. Lewis, who is famous of course for his Narnia stories. He was also a leading writer on religion, an “apologist” for Christianity if you like, around the second word war period.

I found particularly interesting what scholars have said about his use of myth. His interest in this was spurred on by his fellow “Inkling” J. R. Tolkien (author as you all know of the Lord of the Rings series). Lewis came to see that the great Greek and Roman myths were compatible with Christianity. He had previously thought that they were incompatible. Now he argued that the old myths of the Norse and classical Graeco-Roman worlds were anticipations of the full truth, the grand narrative or “big picture” that was offered by Christian faith. As Lewis wrote in an essay, we should expect to find “in the imagination of the great Pagan teachers and myth-makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story – the theme of incarnation, death and rebirth”.