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C.S. Lewis enhanced my perspective
C.S. Lewis enhanced my perspective
Back when C.S. Lewis wrote the story of his conversion to Christianity in “Surprised by Joy,” a contemporary of his reviewed the book and basically called it boring and uninspiring.
To a casual reader that may be true. If I remember correctly, the moment of conversion was described in less than a page. However, in a free online Hillsdale College course, Professor Michael Ward explains the way Lewis’ approach to philosophy applied to his conversion story, which cracks open the words Lewis wrote with new clarity and exposes the beauty of faith.
Contemplation vs. Enjoyment
Professor Ward explained the difference between a life of contemplation and a life of enjoyment. Lewis adapted this idea from another philosopher (I didn’t write that person’s name down). Using the metaphor of a sunbeam, he described his conversion experience as moving from contemplation to enjoyment.
Contemplation is like looking at a sunbeam filtering through a crack in the door from across the room and noticing its light, its shape, and the way the dust motes dance within it. It is an outsider looking into the sunbeam, rationally analyzing and appreciating its beauty.
Enjoyment is stepping into the sunbeam and becoming part of it, experiencing its warmth from within, and looking along the sunbeam to the brightness outside. Stepping within the sunbeam, you can see the blue sky, the clouds, and perhaps the brilliance of nature just outside the door.
In terms of faith, contemplation describes people on the outside looking in. The kind of faith where people pursue knowledge about their faith without actual immersion.
Enjoyment, on the other hand, is the experiencing of the Holy Spirit to the point where knowledge comes from enjoying and immersing oneself in the presence of God. Enjoyment involves doing something as part of the thing and gaining knowledge because of that immersion.
In other words, Lewis’ perspective was that the Holy Spirit is the center of the Christian life, and the Christian life is meant to be experienced through Him.
Professor Ward said that the gentleman who reviewed Lewis’ book and called his conversion story boring was looking for a “big reveal” or something monumental. From Lewis’ perspective, moving from contemplation to enjoyment was monumental, but challenging to put into words. Therefore, he let the metaphor speak for itself.
As I think about my own journey to Jesus, I can recall when I went from information seeker to presence seeker. I wrote about it as one of my first stories on Medium in 2019.
I didn’t know about Lewis’ analogy then, but I described the moment when I finally felt the magnificent presence of Jesus as “…stepping into the spring sunshine and absorbing its warmth for the first time…”
Even in recalling that moment, it still feels monumental. Nothing printed, nothing learned, nothing contemplated can stir my heart like enjoying His Presence.
I believe that faith is a healthy combination of contemplation and enjoyment. Enjoyment fuels contemplation because experiencing God propels one forward to know more about God; to pursue the depth and breadth of His Word. But without enjoyment, faith is empty and reminds me of what James said.
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26, NIV)
I understand the physicality and enthrallment of genuine faith. One could describe it as a feeling, but it is so much more than that. It is a soul connection, an enjoyment found only within the light of the Son.
My prayer for Christians around the world is that they tap into the enjoyment, for that is the fuel for every good work and inspiration for others. Perhaps the enjoyment of faith has the power to spread the Good News faster than the contemplation of it.
Are you looking at the sunbeam, or immersing yourself in it?