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Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Glimpse of Joy

I'm writing this because I'm really strange. Of course, lot's of people notice that - most are polite enough not to gawk, but a few actually seem interested in understand ing what makes me tick.

For those who do, I've decided to do something utterly foolish (and probably completely boring for the rest of you) - I've decided to offer a glimpse of something that delights me deeply. I'm speaking of language, poetry, imagery, particularly as it's penned by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis is someone who gets it. I can see that simply by reading. Now, lots of people like Lewis these days (and soon he'll be all the rage, just like Tolkien has become of late). But I like Lewis for different reasons than most.

I like Lewis because I think we see the world from a similar perspective (presumptuous, I know).

As an example, here's a passage that I've been reading tonight as I started Lewis' autobiography, Surprised By Joy. Lewis, in describing how his sense of Imagination was awakened mentions 3 key events in his childhood: first, the sight of his brother's toy garden; second, the tale of Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin; and third, by the poetry of Longfellow:
The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual, shallow way for it's story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation ot Tegner's Drapa and read:

I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead -

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, sever, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
Many people will undoubtedly find this dull. I read these words and feel something click inside - wow! This moves me! I know what Lewis is speaking about; I can see the image and feel it's weight. This type of thing resonates deeply in my soul, because this is how I look at life. I read things like this and savor them all evening (now if only I could write about it like he does!)

Of course, Lewis seems to anticipate that many will find such a perspective strange.
The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy...

... Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them [Happiness and Pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.
- Surprised By Joy, p 17-18.
When Lewis speaks of desire and Joy, I know what he has in mind - or at least I think I do - because the imagery he uses stirs me deeply. I love the way he writes, the poetic turn of even simple phrases: "Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is."

Yes it's pithy, but it's also true, and the "logic" that drives him to this conclusion is not logical or rational; it's creational, imaginative, artistic. Lewis has learned to exegete general revelation - both God's creation (the natural) and man's (the arts).

Lewis scans these horizons, discovering signposts that point us to God: Beauty, Desire, Imagination. As a master painter, he works with words rather than oils. I love to read him because the vistas in his mind's eye look a lot like the countryside in my own.

I may be crazy, but at least I won't be alone. Lewis and I will go there together, peering deeply for a glimpse of Joy.


At 5:03 AM, October 14, 2005, Blogger rs said...

I appreciate your artistic side and wish I had that bent. But what captivated my attention was this quote..."The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further" because this is one less book for me to read in my life!

At 5:19 AM, October 14, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Heh, heh - there you go. I've helped you out. It's definitely funny how different we all are (and all still in the image of God).

What fascinates me about Lewis is that he looks to 3 very minor events in his childhood and sees them as the interpretive key to the rest of his life - I hear those things and think "Yes!!! I know exactly what you're talking about because I've felt those same things since I was a kid!" But other people will hear those and think "What on earth is this guy smoking..."

Very interesting to see the diversity of humanity. I'll bet there is far greater diversity in personality than there is in ethnicity. And I like that...

At 1:16 PM, October 15, 2005, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

As a side note, how do you feel about an author/someone/something becoming popular for the "wrong" reason?

At 1:36 PM, October 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

That's an interesting question - I was actually thinking about that very thing the other day.

On the one hand, it always kind of bugs me when people jump on a bandwagon (eg. I HATE it when people quote Tolkien, Lewis, etc, without ever having even bothered to read them).

On the other hand, one of the great things about folks like Lewis is they have an uncanny ability to see things that most of us would miss, and then write about them in ways that make it accessible/inviting for those of us who are mere mortals. For instance, it's easy for me to be snooty when I read Lewis because I "get it" and someone else doesn't - and in reality, I probably don't really "get it" anywhere close to the way Lewis did, and there are probably many others who "get it" much better than I do still.

So I guess I'm saying "getting it" is really a sort of continuum, and if that's the case then I should probably be happy when anyone gets on that continuum, regardless of where they are along the trajectory.

At the end of the day, there's usually more wrong w/ me than there is w/ others (or at least, that's how I should probably be looking at it).

That's my .02...


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