Sunday, June 18, 2017

072. CS Lewis: An Archetype of Coming to Know God

CS Lewis published his 1st book, a collection of poems entitled Spirits in Bondage, in 1919, when he was just 20 years old. He had recently returned home from fighting on the front lines in the trenches of the Somme Valley in France during World War I. He had been wounded and two of his close friends were killed by a British mortar shell that had fallen short of its target. Lewis had also made a pact with another friend that was killed in the war that if either of them died the survivor would take care of both families; a pact which Lewis fulfilled and treated the mother of his fallen friend as his own until the day she died. His first book was also published nearly a decade before his acceptance of and full conversion to Christianity. Therefore, the content of his writings in this book are different from his later works. Here, his views on religion seem more pessimistic, and there is a sense that he believed that God had instilled in mankind deep, yearning desires for something much greater that could not actually be attained; things that were always, disappointingly, out of one's reach. He also takes an attitude toward nature that is somewhat inconsistent with his later works, with nature being for the most part cruel, hard, deceptive, and unworthy of trust.

However, contrary to popular belief, there are elements of his writings in this book that suggest to me that he was not an atheist; perhaps agnostic, but he was searching to understand God. He writes of forces of good and evil, God and Satan, obedience and disobedience; cycles of eternal lives, seasons, and stars; of differences between people who seek for truth and those who do not seem to care; and seers, and prophets, and deceivers. These poems to me are actually a reflection of the inner-workings of a person who is deeply seeking to know God. There is some occasional skepticism at God's power or benevolence (or lack thereof), and anger at why God seems not to care about what befalls His children, and confusion at how He could allow such wickedness to occur in our world. But haven't we all had the same wonderings and questions and doubts? Haven't we all wondered aloud or within ourselves, whether God is really there, or if He really cares? Yet, despite all the inconsistencies and lack of evidence for a benevolent God in Lewis' world, there was something inside of him that made him seek. I see in these writings Lewis working through the conflicts he observed in his world; trying to reconcile the loss, sorrow, bitterness, and disappointment of life against what he wanted to believe God to be.

In his writings, one can observe the transformation in understanding, light, and truth that Lewis acquired as he came into contact with the Divine and dedicated himself to the truth he received. I do not claim to know or understand the extent of Lewis' interactions with the Divine, but there are elements in his writings that I have only found to independently exist in very few trusted sources, the scriptures of the restoration included. To me, Lewis follows the same archetypal pattern, or the same path, as others who have come to know God for themselves. And although I do not know if Lewis was a type of messenger (even to his own people) or if he was just someone who received God's word for himself and then proceeded to share it with others in his own style and creative manner of writing, his life, at least to me, is another testimony of someone who sought and truly found. A life that moved along a continuum of belief as he struggled with doubt and despair and questions, and came into contact with something greater than himself, which he came to recognize and believe in as God. You can see in his later writings his deep respect and love for Mother Earth, her vegetation and animal life, as well as his understanding of the efforts of the Powers of Heaven to intervene here in this fallen world to redeem its inhabitants from their eternally cyclic wanderings. Lewis develops insights into the operation of evil and the cunning ways in which the adversary and his devils tempt mankind, thwart them from rising up into their true potential, and lead them into continual hell. His writings often seem to be inspired by a higher source, filled with content that comes from beyond what he could come to know through study or learning by himself, as if he had been exposed to some wider aperture of the heavens and had had thousands of dots about the purposes of life and our roles with the heavens connected within a short amount of time. In some of his writings, you wonder if it was of himself he wrote when he described people who have traveled to other worlds and times and who returned transformed, and from then on seemed as if they belonged elsewhere.

Most remarkably, and almost out of nowhere in the early 1930s soon after his full conversion to Christianity, in an explosion of light, depth, insight, and profound understanding, Lewis writes, in his now almost entirely forgotten Space Trilogy, about cycles of creation, Powers of Heaven vs. Powers of Darkness, choice, temptation, knowledge, the nature of the Fall, angels (good and bad), other worlds where there was no Fall, why God chooses to work with imperfect human representatives on Earth, eternal laws, priesthood, faith, repentance, and also manages to throw in an array of topics including sacrifice, eternal lives, polygamy (not in favor), love, marriage, personal transformation and redemption, etc. It is almost impossible to write a summary of such books, and perhaps it would be a disservice to do so...almost like the deep teachings of the temple, really meant to be experienced oneself. So, I will briefly say that I cannot recommend highly enough Lewis' Space Trilogy and Narnia series, particularly The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Final Battle, among others. The archetypal teachings in these books can serve to better equip you for the onslaught of temptation and evil that lies ahead; or, if someone you know who has fallen victim to great evil and deception, these books can be extremely helpful in understanding the source of such things and recovering through continued faith in Christ.

I'll close with this, a poem that CS Lewis wrote nearly 100 years ago, published in 1919 in Spirits in Bondage, called Tu Ne Quaesieris, ("Do not ask"); his own version of Horace's famous ode of the same name (my comments in parentheses). It is a somber reflection of his own state and struggle at this time in Lewis' early life, and what he wonders might lie ahead for him in may have your own interpretations.

Tu Ne Quaesieris

For all the lore of Lodge and Myers      (late 1800s spiritualist researchers)
I cannot heal my torn desires,
Nor hope for all that man can speer       (speer = seek after)
To make the riddling earth grow clear.

Though it were sure and proven well
That I shall prosper, as they tell,
In fields beneath a different sun
By shores where other oceans run,

When this live body that was I
Lies hidden from the cheerful sky,
Yet what were endless lives to me
If still my narrow self I be

And hope and fail and struggle still,
And break my will against God’s will,
To play for stakes of pleasure and pain
And hope and fail and hope again,

Deluded, thwarted, striving elf
That through the window of my self
As through a dark glass scarce can see
A warped and masked reality?

But when this searching thought of mine
Is mingled in the large Divine,
And laughter that was in my mouth
Runs through the breezes of the South,

When glory I have built in dreams
Along some fiery sunset gleams,
And my dead sin and foolishness
Grow one with Nature’s whole distress,
To perfect being I shall win,
And where I end will Life begin.

1 comment:

  1. Great points, James, and it is so nice to find another fan of the Space Trilogy. I've never been in love with the Narnia series, but I like his other stuff, and love the Space Trilogy. As you said, so much there.



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