Meeting Old Friends On The Way

cs-pipe

 

Lord of All Pots and Pans and Things . . . make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.        – Brother Lawrence {1614-1691}

Dear Friends,

I hope that you are well during these weeks of Epiphany leading toward Lent.  Occasionally I come across a good book that I find myself recommending to others; and so I will recommend it to you.  Into the Region of Awe – Christian Mysticism In C.S. Lewis, by David Downing.  The work of CS Lewis has touched the lives of so many of the folks with whom I visit at St Mark’s.  Perhaps someone has read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, perhaps seen the movies.  Perhaps someone has read Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters; so many have seen the movie Shadowlands, that chronicles the events of Lewis’ friendship and eventual marriage to Joy Davidman.  Lewis writes widely and with clarity about many of the questions and curiosities that we all face as followers of Jesus.

I am often “in my wheelhouse” when I am reading and visiting with others about the life and work of Christian Mystics.  Names like Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, and Hildegard of Bingham.  These are individuals who have experiences of God not unlike what is described by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

The mystics are those persons who have had some experience of the nearness of God that propels them in a new spiritual direction, searching for a new language to describe that experience.  In all the years that I have been reading and studying CS Lewis I never knew that he had spent many hours in the company of the great mystical voices of our tradition; and upon discovering that fact, many pieces of his literary work began to fall into place for me.  It was like finding out that someone you admire shares your favorite flavor of ice cream, shares your love of some obscure movie, or shares your own birthday; for those who know Lewis, I can say that I was “surprised by joy.”

One of the constant themes in these mystical writings on prayer and meditation is the advice and admonition that God is always near; perhaps far nearer to us than we might like to acknowledge.  It is the truth of the Incarnation – God is not somewhere else, God is very much here, and perhaps closer to us that our own breath.  “In its fullest sense, mysticism is not a method for discovering transcendental truths; it is a way of living.  Mysticism is less about seeing than about being . . .” {pg. 147}  Of course these encounters of God’s nearness and proximity to us are gifts from a loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is a belief in these writers that we can undertake some small ordering of our lives so that we are aware, not absent, when such gifts are given.  We can place ourselves in the proximity of an encounter with God by decisions of how we live and spend the moments of our lives.  Corners of time in which to pray, read the Bible, read the saints and great souls of our tradition, and works of mercy and compassion, all rest as a basis for cultivating this way of being.

Sometimes I visit with friends about our souls, and I find myself over and over repeating a phrase that was shared with me many years ago about the spiritual life; “Turning in the direction of God, and God turning in our direction, and recognizing this meeting of two beings, is somethings like planting Redwood trees.”  We are called upon to spend our moments in life in such a way that our small corners with God are really like planting the seed of a Redwood tree; we are handling what seems a small thing that will one day be transformed into a giant.

I believe this book, Into the Region of Awe – Christian Mysticism In C.S. Lewis, is something like a basket-full of Redwood seeds; even following the rabbit trail of small portions of it will lead our souls to greater things.  We simply have to give ourselves permission to become the never-ending beings that we are created to become.

In the words of a Christian Mystic, Saint John of the Cross {1542-1591}

To enjoy what you have not

You must go by a way you enjoy not;

To find the knowledge you have not

You must go by a way you know not;

To become what you are not

You must go by a way in which you are not.

 

Blessings and Godspeed,

Alston

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