Letters to Malcolm
- Lewis says we are in danger of forgetting God’s presence in the world. How can we remember?
We must adopt the eyes of faith to see God’s presence everywhere around us. We must make a practice of perceiving when we see, listening when we hear, meditating when we think. We must recognize that there is a depth to reality that goes beyond our physical engagement with it, that God is Himself within us and all around, though distinct from His creation.
- What does Lewis mean when he says God is an iconoclast?
God destroys the images we create in our minds of Him and His world, not because we are necessarily idolizing the images we have but because the images are themselves imperfect. They do not properly represent Him and His world, so He breaks them in order to reform them.
- Lewis outlines some obstacles to perceiving our pleasures as worship. What other obstacles from a modern-day perspective might hinder us?
Some simply perceive pleasure to be a wrong motive in worshipping God. A common mantra is, “God’s purpose is to make you holy, not happy.” I think this is simply built on false premises, because it assumes that one can be holy without being happy. Rather, holiness is happiness in the right things; that’s not all it is, but it is that. Moreover, there are so many twisted pleasures within society that our salvation from such pleasures may cause us to minimize our worship of God through things He has given us.
Meditation in a Toolshed
- Describe why we need more than one way to look at reality
Lewis’s analogy is that of looking along the beam, not merely looking at it. He says elsewhere that he believes in the sun not only because he sees the sun but because by the sun he sees everything else. Another analogy that could be put forward is that of having two eyes to perceive depth and enable helpful movement. By having more than one way of looking at reality, we are able to perceive the depth of reality in various regards and to more easily navigate the world around us.
“Wake up, wake up, or all is lost!” is a line I remember from my childhood. It comes from The Tenth Kingdom series and takes place at a point when one of the main characters, Virginia, has been enchanted with a spell under which she is dreaming. Outside of her dream she has been surrounded with vines of a forest that are choking the life out of her, but she is unaware of what is happening, until–at last!–a friend comes to rescue her from the vines and awakens her. The immediacy of her experience in the dreamworld was what she perceived to be reality until she awoke. God has provided us with imagination so that we can go beyond our immediate experience and know Him in greater depth–in fact, to know Him at all. The highest ideal of imagination in our lives is that of belief, no longer observing a world from the outside and perceiving its value but entering into the world and becoming a participant; such entrance is especially important to the world around us, of which we remain alien until we believe in God rightly.
- How does imagination serve to move us toward reality and toward waking up?
Imagination is that which takes us beyond our present experience through the use of the mind. Reality, too, includes but goes beyond our present experience and is that which exists; God is ultimate reality because He is that which exists necessarily, while all other reality is contingent upon Him. Because the imagination is able to take us beyond our own perspective in order to engage others’ perspectives–most importantly, God’s–it allows us, if applied well, to think about things the way God thinks about things. Ignoring God is to sleep, while thinking along with God is to be awake, so imagination serves to help waken us from ignorance into understanding.
- How were the pagan myths related to the coming of Christ?
Pagan myths are related to the coming of Christ in that they contain at least some elements reminiscent of Christ Himself. It would, in fact, be quite unlikely that they should be wholly dissimilar to Christ’s coming. They include, for example, themes of gods taking on human nature, death, and some form of new life, perhaps resurrection or rebirth. Lewis comments that “it is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other” (83-84).
- Why can we only talk in metaphors about non-material things?
Talk of non-material reality apart from the use of metaphor is as impossible as a blind man seeing color. What we can do for the blind man is describe what color is like based on terms he does know–the colors are warm or cold, sharp or soft, confused or ordered. We can even say that certain objects with which he is familiar are a certain color: the sky is blue, clouds are white, and grass is green. We might then group those things with other similar things, saying, for example, that a pillow is soft and white like a cloud or that water is blue and pure like the sky. All of these metaphors will create certain categories of thinking in the man’s mind that will enable him to think about the realities of color and to converse with others about such colors, but an experiential understanding of color cannot be captured merely through talk of it.
Moreover, words themselves are only pictures or metaphors of the realities they are used to describe and aid communication only where there is mutual understanding. Words never convey the actual experience of a thing; they rather serve to engage our imaginations so that we experience internally what words can only point to. Therefore, we are removed at many stages from communicating non-material things, but metaphors allow us to engage our own and others’ imaginations in many different ways so that both the understanding and experience of something can be communicated, even if only partially.
We ought to think about God, use our imaginations to engage His creation, and go beyond our present experiences in order to know Him personally. This does not take place exclusively through the reading of Scripture and studying of divinely inspired words, though most certainly such revelation should be the foundation for our thinking. Our thoughts about God also come from observing the world around us, including the observation of works from outside the church, including poetry, fictional works, and so forth. Nonetheless, as Lewis concluded, what we think about God by participating in His creation must ultimately derive from what God thinks about us if we are to think about Him rightly.
Myth Became Fact
- Why does Lewis insist that we should see God as a myth?
Myth in Lewis’s mind does not here refer to fiction but to a certain quality of thinking; it is really an ironic adaptation of the term from Corineus. Corineus sees Christianity to be a myth and modern thought to be abiding, but Lewis points out that in fact the reverse is true. Therefore, Lewis’s continued usage of myth is somewhat satirical, to make plain to his readers the folly of Corineus’s “modernity” and the truth of the Christian “myth.”
He also insists that we should see God as a myth because the entire category of mythology–understood here to refer to works of ancient Greek writers and the like–does something for us; it helps us to partially experience the reality of truths that are otherwise largely abstract. Christianity, especially, does this by operating as a myth and fact, bringing us to experience the reality of truths about God through grand, supernatural story that is history.
The Weight of Glory
- Lewis writes that we are half-hearted creatures. How could we become more wholehearted?
A significant measure of our half-heartedness comes from the way we stop short of ultimate pleasure and joy; we stop short because there is much that we must sacrifice in order to know this joy. Just as Lewis’s schoolboy preferred to put off the hard work of studying Greek in order that he might read more of the English poets, all while preventing himself from enjoying the greater pleasure that would come through Greek poetry, we will put off the hard work of self-denial in the pursuit of God for the sake of entertaining ourselves with lesser delights. Therefore, wholehearted living requires the abandonment of satisfaction in lesser pleasures as ends in themselves; we must see all streams of delight flowing from one river, namely God, whom we must seek to follow without reservation.
- How does our experience suggest what Lewis calls the “inconsolable wound”?
The inconsolable wound or secret of our experience is that we cannot be fully satisfied on this earth; the earth cannot heal us with any of its most precious balms. This happens because we are too weak to enjoy the things around us, because the things around us are insufficient to satisfy our deep longings, because–no matter how much happiness we find in living–each of us must eventually face death, because we do not seek to satisfy our deepest longings but have corrupted desires for lesser things, because even our experience of God Himself is tainted and marred by imperfection and sin.
- What are the implications for our lives if the idea that how God thinks of us is more important than how we think of God?
There are varied implications, the extent of which is beyond numbering. Some implications are that we ought to be concerned more with how God thinks of us and Himself than how we think of God or ourselves; that how we think of God and ourselves should be informed by how He thinks of us and Himself; that God’s thoughts are more important than our thoughts. We should seek to conform our lives and thinking to what God thinks.
- Describe what is meant by “saving the appearances.”
Saving the appearances refers to describing things the way that they appear to the observer, which is done for several reasons. First, trying to talk about something in a strictly literal sense can take away from the experience of it. Second, it is possible that the knowledge we currently have of something is not actually correct, and therefore describing it the way it appears to us may be more accurate in the long run. Third, it allows us to engage in conversation and thought more quickly because we do not have to jump through the hurdles of ignorance or precision when communicating something that is a common experience or that does not otherwise require technical language. Fourth, it allows us to make as few assumptions as possible and to simply take something at face value.
- Why can we only think analogically about spiritual realities?
The opposite of analogy is definition, and definition requires that we can sum something up, that we can, in a sense, put it in a box. However, spiritual reality cannot be simply defined because it is beyond the measurement of our physical realm and exists in a mode we actually know very little of. Moreover, spiritual realities seem to be more closely connected with the essence of God’s being, since He is Himself spirit, and God cannot be defined. One definition of God by Anselm–God is a being over whom nothing greater can be imagined–is not really a definition but a superlative comparison, talking about God not as a definition of who He is in His essence but who He is in relation to everything else possible or actual. Spiritual realities, then, being closely connected with God in a particular way that physical realities are not, similarly is discussed in present experience by way of analogy, not definition.
- Why did Lewis value hiddenness and atmosphere in stories?
Without atmosphere, or what has been called donegality, readers are unable to actually inhabit the imaginative dwellings that an author writes about. If a reader does not know what it is that he is supposed to inhabit, he may certainly still inhabit somewhere in his imagination, but it may not be what the author intends. Lewis wants a place not merely to be a place but to be particular and distinct from other places so that it has a unique ability to communicate his thoughts to the reader.
Stories are intended to bring us into other worlds. However, an individual story is intended to bring the reader into a particular world distinct from others. There is an essence–a distinct theme, pleasure, experience–to a story that the author seeks to communicate through the use of sequence, of dialogue, of description, and other elements. However, we cannot remain in the essence of the story, because that state necessarily changes as we change in time. We find that stories, then, are very much like life itself, which is a perpetual happening or movement, a stream of ever-flowing time; we are necessarily in that stream of time, and therefore we are constantly changing with it. We and our experiences are not static but dynamic. So, while it is time and effort that bring us into another world, time likewise brings us out.