Monday, August 27, 2012

C.S. Lewis—A man who used his imagination

Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.
          C.S. Lewis

Lately I have been obsessed with the writings of C.S. Lewis. I feel like I have been woken up from a 20-year nap with a Rip Van Winkle beard and new eyes, eyes that see through the lens of imagination.

Recent personal examples:

Reading Lewis’ The Great Divorce, I can actually imagine the Deep Heaven and the grey town (Hell).

Reading The Magician’s Nephew, I imagine the horrific evil eyes and curved mouth of Queen Jadis and sit in fearful awe of the majesty Sovereignty of Aslan (Jesus Christ).

Reading Perelandra (the second of Lewis’ Space Trilogy), I felt my imagination overtake me…in a way I haven’t experience since I read A Wrinkle in Time at the innocent age of 8.

To paint the landscape, here is the scene in Perelandra that literally shook my inner soul:
“There he (Ransom) stopped dead and stared at Weston (a man likely possessed by Satan), still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched…..he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open. Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up. Their eyes met.
If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak. He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making of his fingers. He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features. In that sense he was quite recognizable. But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable. He did not look like a sick man: but he looked very like a dead one. The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it. The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: ‘I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’ It was this that kept Ransom speechless.”
Terrifying. Why? Because I used the muscles of my atrophied imagination. Weston is literally killing frogs—“just for the Hell of it”.

I am concerned that without the use of “sanctified imagination”, Christians today are too naturalistic, too humanistic and too materialistic.

Here is what I am challenged myself to do:

#1—Use my imagination more when I read scripture.

Imagine Jesus walking, talking, running and laughing….(I still am convince Jesus laughed, though scripture is silent about it)

Imagine Elisha cursing these arrogant, mouthy boys (who were making fun of his bald head), which led to mama bears ripping them to shreds (2 Kings 2:23-25).

Imagine Moses leaving the tent of meeting with his face lit up like a candle (Ex. 34:35).

Stop. Pray. Imagine. Meditate. Oh, the lost art of “sanctified imagination”!  

#2—Use my imagination to think Heaven and Hell.

Randy Alcorn (author of Heaven) is helpful here:

He believes that Christoplatonism (i.e. heaven is viewed primarily as a spiritual entity) has had “a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth.”

He continues,
 “Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it’s not going to work. Nor should it.”
In other words, Christians ought to use their imagination when Isaiah states:
Isaiah 65:20-21 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

It is hard to spiritualize this, isn’t it? Rather….imagine it.

What about Hell? You may say, “I don’t want to imagine it.” Part of me would agree. But why then did Jesus say (on multiple occasions)....
Matthew 24:51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Graphic, disturbing….and yet avoidable.

Dante, in his classic work, The Inferno, takes the concept of imagination to its frightening end.
“Sinners who, in life, promoted scandals, schism, and discord are punished here; particularly those who caused schism within the church or within politics. They are forced to walk around the circumference of the circle bearing horrible, disfiguring wounds inflicted on them by a great demon with a sword. The nature of the wound mirrors the sins of the particular soul; while some only have gashes, or fingers and toes cut off, others are decapitated, cut in half (as schismatics), or are completely disemboweled.”
Is Dante correct? Probably not. But I certainly don’t want to go there….and I don’t want anyone else to go there either.

#3—Use my imagination to broaden my view of God.

This point is similar to #1, but why else would God condescend to us through the use of anthropomorphisms?

God is our Rock.
God is our Shield.
God is our Fortress.
God is our Judge.
God is my Deliverer.
God is my Helper.
God is our Warrior.

Think. Imagine. Be still.

Thank you C.S. Lewis for reminding me (at the age of 36) to use my imagination.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

C.S. Lewis—A man who lost his mom at 9 years old

In his autobiography Lewis recalls his personal grief,

“I must now turn to a great loss that befell our family when my mother became ill. There were voices and comings and goings all over the house. Our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises.
... I remembered what I'd been taught — that prayers offered in faith would be granted. I set myself to produce by will power a firm belief that my prayers for her recovery would be successful.
It didn’t work.
He later adds,
“With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. And there has never been really any sense of security and snuggness since. I've not quite succeeded in growing up on that point. There is still too much of mommy's lost, little boy about me. My father's good qualities as well as his weaknesses incapacitated him for the task of bringing up two noisy and mischievous schoolboys”. (Lewis, Surprised by Joy)

Please understand the piercing heartbreak of death is not unique to the experience of C.S. Lewis. This great shadow falls upon every human being, often when we least expect it. But for Lewis, this event defined his whole life, as we read from his own testimony.

Now at this point, this blog post will go down an unusual path.

Under the circumstances, should Lewis’ father have quickly remarried? Taking into account the age and temperament of his sons (Clive, 9; Warren, 12) and also his own inadequacies as a father (he is described as gloomy and detached), it would seem to be a necessary step.

Personally, I have often wondered if my wife was to die tomorrow and I am left with a 12, 9 and 2 year-old, should I be proactive in pursuing my next spouse?

Here are some thoughts about this issue:

Getting remarried primarily for the care of children is a misguided idea.

Why not? It sounds noble, doesn’t it? Here is the problem: Marriage was created as a covenant and a commitment between two people of the opposite sex.

God ’s instruction about remarriage are as follows:
1 Corinthians 7:8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
1 Timothy 5:14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.

Anything about children in these verses? Nope. Anything about the mental and emotional condition of fatherless children? Apparently not.

The biblical data seems to suggest that the raising of children were intended to be a byproduct of a marriage union, not the reason for it.

Does this mean God is indifferent to the plight of devastated children? On the contrary, His character demands perfect affection and protection for those who are helpless.
Psalm 68:5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
Again, this verse makes it plain that God cares and protects those children who are without a father. In my opinion, these children are providentially loved (primarily) through the means of the local church. It is here that spiritual fathers and mothers reside. It is here that children can observe how to deal with loss from spiritually mature individuals who have lived and became “overcomers”. It is here that true family exists. Is this not the point of Jesus in Mark 3?
Mark 3:33 And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."
Sadly, this is what the young Lewis needed and yet because he grew up in a nominally Christian home, he did not enjoy such blessings.

Getting remarried is possibly more important for younger (or more delicate) children.

To think of my 2 year-old, growing up without the nurturing influence of his mother is a frightening thought. To be sure, time with Dad is necessary for proper masculine growth, but extended time without maternity usually leads to poor eating habits, lack of proper hygiene or unhealthy digestion of The Incredible Hulk reruns on Netflix.

Seriously….though I am not a child psychologist, but I would think that having a consistent maternal influence during the formative years is vital and therefore, it would probably cause me to seriously consider remarrying within a year or two of the death of my wife.

Could my motives be misguided? Sure, but the Christian should always check his/her motives, especially since the principle of sin still resides in us and therefore, spiritual disciplines such as scriptural meditation, prayer and spiritual accountability are necessary to glean wisdom regarding such human realities.

Oh, and by the way…I would assert that any woman who is “in the Lord” (I Cor. 7:39) will suffice. Too often Christians have bought into the ideal that eros (romantic love) is just as important as agape (sacrificial love). I believe there are many examples in history that dissolve this superficial notion.

For more on this, click on a previous blog post.

Getting remarried does not guarantee anything.

Again, I hope no one reads this post and concludes that any woman could have replaced Lewis’ mother. Obviously, that would be na├»ve and unrealistic. But as time heals the wound of tragic loss, the security and stability of a maternal influence would undoubtedly been preferable.

Getting remarried depends on what God wants to do with each person or each family.

The apostle Paul says it is “good for the widow to stay alone”. For Paul, singleness meant less distractions, more focus on Christ.

And yet this is only true if the person is “hard-wired” this way. For most people, this does not mean freedom, but slavery to the storm of loneliness and/or sexual sin.

Jesus himself says that a perpetual state of singleness is rare.
Matthew 19:11-12 But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it."
The bottom line is that every person has his own story. 

C.S. Lewis’ story made him into one of the greatest Christian storytellers ever to walk the face of the earth.

I guess if my story includes the early death of my beloved, may God grant me the joy to accept this verse.

Isaiah 55:8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.