Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis

Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis

When I think about mystics I have to admit that C.S. Lewis isn’t the first person that comes to me. Rather I think about St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and, on some days, the Apostle John. C.S. Lewis, however, seems to have been a mystic even if he didn’t quite enjoy the term. In his book, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis, David C. Downing shifted through the books, essays, and letters of C.S. Lewis to reveal his mystical underpinnings. This, of course, begs the question of what is mysticism. The term “mystic” has fallen out of favor within American Christianity due to the rise of New Age religious beliefs and practices that swept across the USA in the 1970’s. Things were different in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with folks within the Christian faith having a strong interest in mysticism. Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) defined mysticism as “the direct intuition or experience of God” while William R. Inge (1860-1954) described it as “the experience of coming into immediate relation with higher Powers.” C.S. Lewis, who knew both Underhill and Inge, defined mysticism as a “direct experience of God, immediate as a taste or color.” Downing further unpacks the question of what is Christian mysticism in the first three chapters of his book. The first chapter looks at Christian mysticism in general before shifting to C.S. Lewis personal life in chapter two. The third chapter goes a bit deeper into defining mysticism by looking at the writings of the different Christian mystics Lewis read and loved. After laying the foundation about what Lewis...
Experiential Spirituality: Peter Rollins (Part 7 of 7)

Experiential Spirituality: Peter Rollins (Part 7 of 7)

The post-modern pastor and theologian Peter Rollins (1973-Present) is the eleventh and final travel guide along this journey. Growing up in Northern Ireland during the post-Christendom shift of the late-20th century, Rollins embraced the mystical writings of Meister Eckhart and others [2012, xiv]. This led Rollins to promote having a sense of doubt, unknowing and uncertainty within the Christian walk as intellectual theology will never fully capture the Living God. Faith, to Rollins, is “analogous to the experience of an infant feeling the embrace and tender kiss of its mother” [2012, 1]. This does not mean that Rollins is against theology; rather he sees theology as “reflecting upon” the God who “grasps us” [2012, 1]. This embracement of the mystical experience of God all comes down to love. God is personally in love with humanity just as his followers are to be passionately in love with him and their fellow humans. This is a love that “cannot be worked up but is gained only as we give up” and let ourselves become a “dwelling place in which God can reside and from which God can flow” [2015, 75]. Rollins and Williams are fitting ends to this journey along the experiential spirituality path of the last five-hundred years. Both of them are helping the 21st century church retain and explore the value of experiencing the Living God within an intimate ongoing relationship. As St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, Blaise Pascal, Brother Lawrence, St. Thérèse, Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Herbert, and William Seymour taught before them, God is a living God who seeks a personal on-going relationship with his people. Rather than...
Experiential Spirituality: William Seymour and Don Williams (Part 6 of 7)

Experiential Spirituality: William Seymour and Don Williams (Part 6 of 7)

The focus on experiential spirituality dramatically increased within Protestantism at the beginning of the 20th century with the start of Pentecostalism through William J. Seymour.  The son of former slaves freed at the end of the Civil War within the United States of America, Seymour (1870-1922) passionately pursued God at an early age and “found his identity in Jesus Christ” [Liardon 1996, 141] in such a way that he oozed the Spirit of God. John G. Lake, an early Pentecostal leader, said that Seymour had “more of God in his life than any man I had ever met up to that time” [Liardon 1996, 154]. This passion for experiencing the Living God captured the hearts of thousands of people as Seymour lead the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1915). Early Pentecostal historian Frank J. Ewart, who was also an eyewitness to the revival in its later years, later wrote that Seymour’s ministry was “not built on a new system of doctrine, but on an eminent scriptural experience” [1975, 69]. The inmate ongoing relationship promoted by St. Thérèse and other mystics within the Roman Catholic Church had finally found a home within Protestantism. The tenth travel guide along our experiential spirituality journey is Don Williams (1937-Present). Williams was a Presbyterian pastor who had a personal encounter with the Living God through the ministry of John Wimber, the leader of the Vineyard Movement, which challenged his Calvinist education that had taught him “not to expect any powerful work of the Holy Spirit after conversion” [Williams 2011, 5]. Building upon this experience, Williams went on to influence the direction of Christian worship and church...
Experiential Spirituality: John Calvin and George Herbert (Part 5 of 7)

Experiential Spirituality: John Calvin and George Herbert (Part 5 of 7)

John Calvin (1509-1564) was another Reformer who laid the foundation for people to experience the Living God in all areas of their lives. In the first chapter of his famous Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (a booklet containing a central part of his longer Institutes of the Christian Religion), Calvin expands on the danger of an external, purely rational faith. Rather than be content with an intellectual faith, Calvin encourages the followers of Jesus to allow God to transform every part of their lives: “The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart…our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.” [2008, 20-21] In writing these words, Calvin was trying to get beyond the tendency of humanity to profess one thing with their mouth and another with their lives. However in doing so, Calvin also laid the foundation for a personal encounter with Jesus that goes beyond anything he would have anticipated. The foundation laid by both Luther and Calvin for an experiential spirituality came together about a hundred years later within Anglicanism, which retained some of its Roman Catholic roots [Olson 1999,429-449]. The person most readily associated with this experiential mysticism is George Herbert, our eighth travel guide. Born into an aristocratic English family, Herbert (1593-1633) was an Anglican priest and poet who greatly influenced the soul of Anglicanism. His sense of...
Experiential Spirituality:  Martin Luther (Part 4 of 7)

Experiential Spirituality: Martin Luther (Part 4 of 7)

An acute reader might notice that all of the travel guides until now have been members of the Roman Catholic Church. The reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church had a head start on Protestantism when it came to seeking a personal experiential relationship with the Living God. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anyone promoting such a relationship; rather it means that the Protestant church had its hands full trying to survive rather than encouraging the mystics among them.  The reformers also tended to downplay the personal spiritual aspect of God as the Roman Catholic Church was using claims of “miracles and revelations as proof of their legitimacy” [Ruthven 2013, 10]. However if one were to look back through the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two giants of the Protestant Reformation, one can see the foundation for an experiential spirituality that would come to light later on in history. While Martin Luther (1483-1546), the sixth travel guide, didn’t embrace an experiential spirituality like his Roman Catholic contemporaries (St. Ignatius and St. Teresa), he did fight against a purely intellectual faith. Rather he recognized that “reason itself needs miraculous healing and renewal by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit in order to believe in God rightly” [Olson 1999, 354]. Once an individual’s mind, heart, spirit and soul were transformed by God’s grace, the person became a priest of the Almighty. This priesthood of all believers is a radical statement that opened up the throne room of God to the common people of the land. No longer were they cut off from a...