Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Joy is the serious business of Heaven"

Douglas Gilbert was co-author, with Clyde Kilby, of C.S. Lewis: Images of His World, published in 1973 [the picture is of my copy, bought at about that time]. At C.S. Lewis Blog he writes about "How Landscapes Influenced Lewis." One of the most significant concepts in Lewis's life and thought he called "Joy." Gilbert:
Understanding what Lewis meant by “joy” is very important to understanding Lewis himself. In Surprised by Joy he describes what it was for him by describing the experience: “…it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. …I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”
This "unsatisfied desire" cannot be satisfied on earth. As Colin Duriez explained:
The longing or unsatisfied desire was a sure sign that no part of the created world, and thus no aspect of human experience, is capable of fulfilling fallen humankind. We are dominated by a homelessness, and yet by a keen sense of what home means. "The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers," he writes, "the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret." Joy, in fact, is a foretaste of ultimate reality, heaven itself, or, the same thing, our world as it was meant to be, unspoilt by the fall of humankind, and one day to be remade and restored to us. "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."
Gilbert explains the role of the British landscape on Lewis's imagination:
The raw material on which Lewis’s imagination often worked was the land, mostly the British Isles, where he spent his entire life except for a tour of duty in France during World War I and a visit to Greece with his wife Joy late in his life. The way to acquaint oneself with the land is on foot: “I number it among my blessings,” he said, “that my father had no car…. The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me…. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance.” ....

The photographs in the land section of our book are of places that Lewis visited, and most of the accompanying text is Lewis’s own. The relationship between text and photograph is one of suggestion and interpretation, not of correlation or representation.

One photograph made in Scotland brings to mind the passage in The Magician’s Nephew where Digory finds himself standing in the Wood Between the Worlds. “He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves; but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals and no wind… You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots.”

Walking the land, without hurrying, and being keenly aware of his surroundings, allowed Lewis is experience with all his senses the land, the light, and the weather. ....

No doubt those who are acquainted with Lewis’s fiction works are recalling many scenes from those works as we listen to his observations and experiences. “Of landscapes,” he wrote to Arthur in another letter,
as of people, one becomes more tolerant after one’s twentieth year…. We learn to look at them not in the flat but in depth, as things to be burrowed into. It is not merely a question of lines and colours, but of smells, sounds, and tastes as well; I often wonder if professional artists don’t lose something of the real love of earth by seeing it in eye-sensations only?
Recall the account of the founding of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. Digory and Polly and Uncle Andrew find themselves suddenly in another world and hear an almost unbearably beautiful singing. The singer is the great lion Aslan and as they listen and watch, the world of Narnia is brought into being. The description of birds and animals emerging to life out of the earth is an example of Lewis bringing his experience and honed powers of observation and imagination to us in print. Children, and many of us adults, are there. We see it, feel it, experience it. We don’t want to return to our own world. .... (more)
The Gilbert/Kilby, C.S. Lewis: Images of His World was re-published—according to Gilbert—"with greatly improved reproductions." I've ordered it.

C. S. Lewis Blog: How Landscapes Influenced Lewis, Colin Duriez: The Far Country

1 comment:

  1. Another good book on this subject is Ted Dekker's non-fiction "The Slumber of Christianity", where he describes the church becoming complacent because they've looked for joy here on earth and not found it, so assumed that this is the best there is, rather than looking forward with exuberance to the life after this one.


Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.