Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

No Simple Answers

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

There is a myth that is so pervasive and widespread that most of us believe its lies without thinking. What, you may ask, is this myth? It is the myth of common sense. Or, to use different words, it is the belief that people everywhere have the ability, wisdom, and understanding to come to the same conclusion as we would or do the same thing that we would do in a given situation. After all, some things are just plain common sense. Or so the argument goes.

The problem with this chain of thought is that everyone on the planet has a different way of seeing the world. We are all unique beings with our own experiences, abilities, thoughts, and actions. Taken together, it means that there is no such thing as “common sense” as we all have our own sense of the world around us.

True, as some might say, there are some shared cultural events, precepts and beliefs. After all, societies work specifically because of shared cultural norms (i.e. attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal with a culture, such as how one is to greet each other). However I would argue that just because we might agree on broad cultural norms, this doesn’t necessarily equate to having a common sense that is shared among humanity.  The world is too large and too multifaceted for such a phenomenon.

I highlight this myth because it shows how strongly the desire is within us for simple answers. We want a simple world with simple answers to simple questions.  We desperately desire a world that is easy to understand and easy to move around in with folks who see things the same way as we do. Reality, however, isn’t so simple or nice. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect…Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”[1]

So what should we do? If reality really is complex and strange, as it seems to be, then how do we approach things? How do we move forward through the darkness of the unknown while surrounded by paradoxes and oddities? To quote C.S. Lewis once again, the answer is to “leave behind all these boys’ philosophies – these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.”[2]

Accordingly let us stop trying to reduce the complexity of this world into simple answers. Let us be honest with ourselves and others and acknowledge the complexity of the world in which we live.  And in doing so, let us also recognize the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator. He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”[3]

God is God. He is beyond our thinking and understanding (e.g. Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 145:3, 1 Corinthians 2:11). Try as we might, our words and simple descriptions of him will always fall short of fully capturing the wonder of who he really is. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century church father, put it this way: “Anyone who tries to describe the ineffable Light in language is truly a liar – not because he hates the truth, but because of the inadequacy of this description.”[4]



[1]C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 48.

[2]C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity, 48.

[3] Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 14.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa. On Virginity, quoted in Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Way, 24.

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 thought about Christian mysticism, Downing explores the concept within Lewis’ writings. Chapter four shifts through the mystical underpinnings of Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength). Chapter five explores the idea of trying to find the words to describe the mind of God. To this end, Downing pulls from a wide range of Lewis’ writings including The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and Surprised by Joy. The next chapter is devoted to looking at the mystical elements within Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.

Though Lewis was a fan of Christian mysticism, he also knew that there could be abuses just like in everything else. As such, Downing records Lewis’ critique of mysticism in chapter seven before highlighting the benefits of the mystical way in chapter eight. I guess you could say that in addition to providing the world with a different way of seeing C.S. Lewis, he also wrote a good primer on Christian mysticism in general.

So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of David C. Downing’s Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis. It is a fairly thin volume packed with great stuff. Enjoy.

Why I call myself a Christian Mystic

I know it is risking as the term “mystic” is seen in a negative light by a lot of folks within the American Christian culture. Yet when I wrote the biography for my upcoming book, I called myself a “Christian mystic.”

Why did I do that?

I did it because I think we need more mystics with their embracement of the mystery of life in the American Christian culture. The last few hundred years have been spend trying to define everything. And why this desire to know gave us a lot of cool technology, it also cost us something (NT Wright touches on this in chapter three his book Surprised by Scripture).

The Oxford American College Dictionary defines “mystic” as “a person who…believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.” In a similar manner the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “mystical” as “having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence.”

So in a lot of ways, the term “Christian Mystic” is an oxymoron in that Christianity begin with an understanding that people would have a spiritual experience that is beyond our understanding. Yet in reality most of what passes as “Christianity” these days denies any spiritual experience as it is all about rules, logic, behavior, etc.  This is true even in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles where folks are taught how to get God to do something (i.e. having enough faith, pray long enough, fast long enough, etc.)

If one looks back towards history we see Christian mystics who promoted a deeper understanding of God and an embracement of the mystery of life. I’m thinking about Desert Fathers, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila among others. In more modern times, A.W. Tozer noted that “a mystic is a believer who practices the presence of God.” C.S. Lewis once defined Christian Mysticism as “the direct experience of God, immediate as a taste or color.”

I think David Benner said it best in his book Spirituality and the Awakening Self:

“A mystic is simply a person who seeks, above all else, to know God in love. Mystics are, therefore, much more defined by their longing than by their experience. They long to know God’s love and thereby be filled with the very fullness of God…Christian mysticism is participation in this transformational journey toward union with God in love.” (emphasis added)

So when I call myself a Christian Mystic, I’m referring to the desire to pursue an intimate relationship God rather than knowing about God. It also speaks to the desire to live in the mystery of not knowing rather than seeking to know everything. This doesn’t mean you are anti-intellectual; rather it means that you recognize human intellectual pursuits will never explain God. As Peter Rollins said, “That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”

Rollins also repeats an old anecdote that captures the concept of a Christian Mystic in his book How (Not) to Speak of God. I’ve posted it below for your enjoyment.

“There is an old anecdote in which a mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamentalist preacher die on the same day and awake to find themselves by the pearly gates. Upon reaching the gates they are promptly greeted by Peter, who informs them that before entering heaven they must be interviewed by Jesus concerning the state of their doctrine. The first to be called forward is the mystic, who is quietly ushered into a room. Five hours later the mystic reappears with a smile, saying, ‘I thought I had got it all wrong.’ Then Peter signals to the evangelical pastor, who stands up and enters the room. After a full day has passed the pastor reappears with a frown and says to himself, ‘How could I have been so foolish!’ Finally Peter asks the fundamentalist to follow him. The fundamentalist picks up his well-worn Bible and walks into the room. A few days pass with no sign of the preacher, then finally the door swings open and Jesus himself appears, exclaiming, ‘How could I have got it all so wrong!”


(Source note: I’m grateful for Dr. Brad Strait who wrote a similar article on being a Christian Mystic. Some of the quotes above was pulled from his article hence my desire to source his site.)

“Go Ahead – Pray This Prayer. Your Life Will Never be Dull Again.”

[box]The following text was written by Steve & Cindy Nicholson, Evanston Vineyard pastors, for the recently released Come Holy Spirit” booklet  published by the Vineyard USA.[/box]

“’Come, Holy Spirit.’ We remember the first time those words were used by us as a conscious invitation to the Spirit to come, with an expectation that we might see evidences of the Spirit’s presence. It was at our young church’s annual dinner-come-slide-show-come worship celebration. Everyone was standing. There was a deep, unnerving, very long silence.

steve and cindy nicholsonThen in the cavernous acoustics of a church gym, the sound of a metal folding chair flipping over and the unmistakable wail of a man whose emotional pain had just gotten uncorked by God. More flipping chairs, more crying, laughing, shouting, people shaking, people ending up under folding chairs, and all through the room, such a sense of purposefulness to it all, of God doing things and saying things, as though we had finally opened the door and let Him in. Which we had!

‘Come, Holy Spirit’ did not originate with John Wimber. We are merely the latest generation to embrace it. It has its roots back in the earliest prayers of the first Church Fathers and Mothers, the first generation after the apostles to carry the flame of the gospel forward. This prayer is not just some oddity of 21st century Western Christianity. It is part and parcel of Trinitarian theology, a beloved prayer of every generation of believers before us. You are in very good company when you pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’

‘Come, Holy Spirit’ is a direct, bold request for the Spirit to do the work the Father wants to do in us, and to be the fire that propels us out to do the work the Father wants to do through us. The words are not magic (oh, how many times have we found that out the hard way!); we have to actually expect the Spirit to accept our invitation! Otherwise it’s a bit like standing inside our home saying ‘Come on in!’ to someone standing outside, but never actually opening the door.

‘Come, Holy Spirit’ is a prayer best prayed with willingness to welcome surprise and unpredictability. When we pray this prayer, we never know what will happen next! Most of us love the image of Aslan, in the C.S. Lewis Narnia books, as ‘good but not tame.’ It’s another thing entirely to be met by this not-tame Holy Spirit in real life! But nothing beats the joy of seeing the Spirit come and do what we are powerless to do in our own strength. Go ahead – pray this prayer. Your life will never be dull again.”