C.S. Lewis, Maps, Theology… and me

C.S. Lewis is one of my very favorite authors, partially because of his wonderful allegorical fiction and partially because of his thoughtful and thought provoking non-fiction. (Also he had cool friends..) His language can be a bit hard to get into but I find that once I get my brain thinking like the way he writes (in my head I just hear an old British guy.. that seems to help) I understand what he’s getting at.

His apology of Christianity, Mere Christianity, is a book I both love and sometimes find myself disagreeing with. There are points at which I’m like, yeah. You’re definitely an old white British guy in the mid twentieth century. But putting his work in that context helps me understand his perspective, and I think there are many things he has written that are timeless.

Today’s TfT from Mere Christianity is one of my favorite passages. I’ve met people like that old RAF officer and I myself have had some of those same feelings. Mountaintop experiences in nature that bring me to tears and to my knees, holy moments with God where I see Him, feel Him, even hear Him in the birdsong and babbling brooks. I admit to sometimes getting a bit bored in services, mind wandering to lunch plans and things that need to happen to get ready for the week ahead. Wishing I could be on that mountaintop, FEELING things and EXPERIENCING God.

In the book he goes on to say that Theology is like a map; doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map–but one that is based on the experiences of hundreds of people who were really in touch with God. If you want to get any further you  must use the map–you must use the Theology and Doctrines developed and argued about and debated and discussed for centuries. What happened on that mountaintop or in the desert or in that nature path may have been real but where does it lead? If you stop there then that’s all you have. And in his usual dry wit, “But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.”

And when I use Theology and Doctrine and Tradition, Scripture, and Reason to delve into that mountaintop experience, I find something more. I find a connection with other people, an understanding and a peace that I can carry with me. Saying the Nicene Creed aloud with my fellow Episcopalians every Sunday takes on a new light having been explored in a different way, from that mountaintop view.

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