Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

We are coming off our national conference which was dedicated to the life and legacy of C.S. Lewis, who died fifty years ago this fall. It was a great time, with a lot of helpful messages shared, and all those messages are now online. One of the big themes at the conference centered on the imagination, and how faith and theology require the use of our imaginations. Pastor John, do you have any takeaways from the conference or things you’re thinking about post-conference on the imagination?

A lot was said in the conference on Lewis about the imagination: What is it? and so on.

Marveling at the Mundane

It seems to me that one feature of imagination is the ability to see the value or the wonder or the glory of things for what they are. In other words, you see ordinary things for the wonder that they are, which means that, in a sense, maybe that shouldn’t be called imagination. We usually think of imagination as thinking of ways to describe things that are different from what they are. And that is true. I made a case for that.

But Clyde Kilby, my college literature teacher, said one of the saddest effects of the fall is that we get tired of things. So we go to the Alps, see them for the first time, and we are stunned speechless. We rent a little chalet at the foot of the Alps, and for three mornings we get up amazed. And the fourth morning we are watching television. And he says that is an effect of the fall, and that will be taken away.

And won’t that be wonderful in the age to come where we never get tired of anything? Which means that now we need powers of imagination not just to think of things that are not, but to look at the things that are and see them for what they are. There is the fresh thought that I had: just looking at what is there and being amazed at what it actually is, not just thinking of other things that it is like.

Sensuous Expectancy

And this is what Lewis was so good at. He was described as having an omnivorous attentiveness, a phrase that I love so much. He was awake to the wonder of things. He saw more in ordinary things than I do. And therefore, when I listen to him or read him, I see more things. He lived with a kind of sensuous expectancy. I just thought of that phrase yesterday. I like it. By sensuous, I don’t mean sensual. I mean sensuous — having to do with the senses. His senses were expectant. Like if he saw a tree, he would see something fresh and new. If he saw a little slug inching its way along the sidewalk leaving a silver trail, he would see something new. I think Lewis would have thought that boredom with the world is a sin — it insults the glory of creation.

So here is one example, and this is what made all of this stuff pop in the last few hours. One great example is that Lewis stood in God-exalting awe of what it means to be human — just what it means to be human. And he helped me in many ways here to rise above my petty complaints. I tend to see a lot of people as frustrating and annoying, and that is just so lame. I mean, Lewis saw people as stunning. And here is the quote that blew me away and continues to blow me away. He said,

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one of those two destinations. . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours like the life of a gnat. But it is immortals with whom we joke, work, marry, snub, exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Joy: A Serious Business

Now that is just stunning. Who else sees things like that? Who in the world says, “Nations, cultures and arts and civilizations, these are like a gnat to a human being”? I just think that is incredible. I mean, when you read it, you say, “Well, yes, that is true. They do. They come and go.” And human beings never go. They live forever. And so he compares the two and says, “So which are you going to be amazed at? Political powers and cultures and arts and civilizations or your neighbor?” I mean, that kind of thing is so revolutionary to your soul when you read it and you start looking at your wife and your kids and your neighbors and everybody so differently.

So the effect this has had on me is to make me pretty serious about life and people. I mean, when I say serious, I don’t mean unhappy. Joy is the serious business of heaven, Lewis said. The opposite of serious is not sad, the opposite of serious is silly and frivolous and flippant and trivial. Lewis said, “We must play, but our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind),” he said, “which exists between people who have from the outset taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

So I came away from the conference with things like that: more amazed that I am alive, more amazed that I am a human being in God’s image, more amazed that I am a sinner saved by grace and that I am destined for eternal joys, many of which I have tasted, and some scarcely tasted at all.