Further Up and Further In
commentary by Emilie Griffin
Lewis would never have described himself as a mystic.
Even so he yearned for and may have experienced the vision of God.
Lewis was conversant with the writings of the Christian mystics.
One in particular, Dame Julian of
Norwich, was dear to him. This fourteenth-century anchoress
was known for remarkable visions—called “showings”
of divine love. In her visions she saw Jesus Christ holding the
world, no bigger than a tiny nut, in his hand.
Lewis’s published writings and talks offer glimpses of the
One of his most eloquent statements is the following, from “Agape,”
the closing lecture of his recorded series Four Talks on Love.
of what is beyond all these, what is neither love of God in
man, nor love of obedience, nor love of the men in God, nor
fruition in this life and foretaste of beatitude, I'm not the
man to speak. Even if I'd heard rumors or made guesses, I couldn't
put them in this form, I'd need myths and symbols.
Narnia one of Lewis’s myths and symbols, used to describe
the mystical life, glimpses of heaven here and beyond?
“All that can be said here, “ Lewis continues,
that even on those high levels, though something goes from man
to God, yet all, including this something, comes from God to
man. If he rises, he does so lifted on the wave of the incoming
tide of God's love for him. He becomes nothing in that ascension.
His love is perfected by becoming, in a sense, nothing. He is
less than a mote in that sunbeam, vanishes, not from God's sight,
but from ours and his own, into the nuptial solitude of the
love that loves love, and in love, all things.
Lewis had a deep prayer life about which he was mostly very private.
It’s useful to think he was a mystic, because it accounts
for his depth of vision in exploring the mystery of the Trinity
and offering rare glimpses of heaven. It is similarly useful to
look at Narnia as one way Lewis describes the mystical life.
Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Narnia is a kind of subcreation.
Lewis used that term to describe imaginary places as secondary worlds,
worlds in which the artist imitates the creative act of God.
Narnia is a place of adventure, but Narnia is also mystical terrain. The four children, Edmund, Susan, Peter, and Lucy, are transported
out of ordinary experience into a world where they have a direct
encounter with Aslan, who makes God’s nature—and the
forces opposing him—very real. This heightened experience
is a mystical vision, rendered in a simple and childlike way.
Narnia, with its battles between good and evil, offers us a higher
consciousness of spiritual realities
the closing pages of the seventh and final Narnia book, The
Last Battle, Lewis reveals his greater intention. He links
Narnia to the experience of heaven.
further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets.
The inside is larger than the outside.
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really
a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods
and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them
“I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia,
and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below.
... I see...world within world, Narnia within Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except
that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger
than the last.”
Lifelong contemplative Paul Marechal uses this passage in his book
Dancing Madly Backwards: A Journey into God. Marechal, now
Brother Elias in the Cistercian monastery at Conyers, Georgia,
“Trees and people have this much in common. Each is an ecstasy
of depth within depth, world within world, Narnia within Narnia.”
Marechal also resorts to stories and pictures in order to convey
what I have called transparency, the heightened vision or deeper
grasp of reality that comes about from a sustained experience of
prayer. To the person of prayer and spiritual dwelling with God,
everything in the universe discloses a deeper and larger meaning.
Marechal suggests that by a resort to silence and reflection,
and meditation, we can enter into the realm that science has yet
to understand: the force that unifies everything.
we could see, we would see what the philosophers call ‘being’:
an intimate depth shared by every pocket of creation. We would
experience the level where—according to Bell’s theorem—everything
is connected. Today physicists are finding that some unknown
force, traveling faster than the speed of light, ties everything
together. But to see this force field we have to tiptoe quietly
down long flights of stairs, to the level where music is flowing
out of unseen strings. We have to settle down into the kernel
of the tree, where Narnia transcends Narnia.
is at this level of depth and insight, by descending mystical “long
flights of stairs,” that Marechal says we will find truth.
In this depth of consciousness we will see “apparently
divergent worlds” intersecting to become the temple
of the Great Round Dance.
what about this phrase, “The Great Round Dance”?
It comes from the Greek Fathers, Marechal explains. “The
Greek Fathers describe the Trinity as a Great Round Dance in
flames forth from one Person to the Other in a flow that never
ceases. Its deep melody carries on night and day.”
in Marechal’s commentary, Narnia is linked with the vision
of the early Christian fathers, the Great Round Dance whose deep
melody continues on and on.
up and further in!” as the children of Narnia would say. It
is a phrase they repeat as the Narnia story comes, in the final
book, to its climax.
soon they found themselves all walking together—and a
great, bright procession it was—up towards mountains higher
than you would see in this world even if they were there to
children are approaching what Lewis calls the real England. The
England they have come from is only a shadowy copy of the heavenly
reality soon to be revealed.
see the light ahead of them growing stronger. Lucy notices a series
of multi-colored cliffs ahead, leading up like a giant’s staircase.
“And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself
was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract
of power and beauty.”
Aslan reveals to them that they have made the final journey. They
have left behind the Shadow-lands (of earthly existence) and entered
into the blessed realms.
term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this
is the morning.”
biblical language here, but a new framing of the ancient promise.
And it is a mystical vision—using myths and symbols—of
what life with God is all about.
can we do to experience Narnia ourselves? Prayer, reflection, worship,
spiritual reading, and a deep appreciation of the power of story.
need to trust the power of literary imagination; and to treasure
©2005 Emilie Griffin
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