At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reason, Imagination, and an Enduring Legacy

With all the attention paid to the anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy's death this past Friday, I was going to sit down a couple days later and weigh in on the significance of November 22nd. But to do so is to acknowledge two other deaths that occurred that day.

Aside from the end of Camelot that squelched the hopefulness of American life in the early 1960s, November 22, 1963 is also known for the passing of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, a tome that was sweeping and eerie in its foresight of the pyschological manipulation and genetic conditioning in the future. Huxley was an agnostic who dabbled in spirituality and mysticism; it is said that on his deathbed, he had his wife Laura read from the Tibetan Book of the Dead until he passed over to "the other side." He was also one of the most formidable intellectuals of all time and deserves his place in history.

But my thoughts still turn to the first member of the triumvirate whose time came on that day. Clive Staples Lewis, a.k.a. C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as Jack (which causes some initial confusion in Peter Kreeft's hypothetical debate-fest among the JFK-Lewis-Huxley triad in Between Heaven and Hell), died at his home in the Kilns, Oxford, England before Kennedy's assassination and Huxley's expiration. Many authors and thinkers have had impact upon my life and worldview. The overwhelming majority of them usually are in specialized areas. Philip Yancey, for example, has been indispensable for leading me in good territory on the questions of suffering, evil, and when God doesn't make sense. Peter Kreeft and James Sire do yeoman's work in helping me understand the consequences of belief and building a coherent view of life.

But Lewis splashed over so many reservoirs; he more than anyone showed me the Great Consensus, the hallway of Christian belief, as ably demonstrated in Mere Christianity. He led me through The Problem of Pain just before I would begin to fathom what difficulty was with what Joshua would endure. His The Abolition of Man showed the importance of moral education and the common grace evident in thinkers of other traditions. Miracles was  a useful guide through the reasonableness of divine intervention in a natural world.

But ultimately you do something with reason and crisp logic; they should lead onward to wonder and joy. Lewis' faith shone most brightly, it can be argued, in his Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia. These are not precise analogies of the Bible, and they were never meant to be, but the reality of Biblical themes and the Christian worldview come shining through in Lewis' fine balance of plot, character, and setting. In short, Lewis grabbed me early on with his gift of being able to argue for the faith in an imaginative fashion, reason flowed into wonder, and logic was carried along on torrents of joy.

It's only appropriate that the most concise presentation of faith can be rendered in colorful wonder (with thanks to Paul Ford's Companion to Narnia) as follows:

     I believe in the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, who has put within time the Deep Magic, and, before all time the Deeper Magic.
     I believe in his son, Aslan, who sang into being all the worlds and all that they contain, Talking Beasts and humans, dumb animals and shining spirits. And I believe that Aslan was a true beast, the king of beats, a Lion; that for Edmund, a traitor because of his desire for Turkish Delight, he gave himself into the power of the White Witch, who satisfied the requirements of the Deep Magic by killing him most horribly. At dawn following that darkest, coldest night, he was restored to full life by the Deeper Magic, cracking the Stone Table and, from that moment, setting death to work backwards. He exulted in his new life and went off to rescue all those who had been turned into stone by the Witch's wand and to deliver the whole land from everlasting winter. He will be behind all the stories of our lives and, when it is time, he will appear again in our world to wind it up, calling all of his creatures whose hearts' desire it is to live "farther in and farther up" in his Country which contains all real countries.
     I believe that upon us all falls the sweet breath of Aslan and that ours are the sweet waters of the Last Sea which enable us to look steadily at the sun. I believe that all who thrill or will thrill at the sound of Aslan's name are now our fellow voyagers and our fellow kings and queens; that all of us can be forever free of our dragonish thoughts and actions; and that one day we will pass through the door of death into "Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Many thanks to you, "Jack".

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