Friday, September 17, 2010

growing upward (and out of oneself)

I've been reading Surprised By Joy the last few days, and yesterday morning I woke up and finished it, and a day and a half later I'm still reeling. I'd started this book twice before, and now, having read to the end I'll say that this is by far my favorite of C. S. Lewis' nonfiction. The joy he's talking about is probably best summarized by another quote (I've posted here before, a while ago) from The Weight of Glory:

"When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as the 'journey homeward to the habitual self.' You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We are mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been welcomed, accepted, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can. 'Nobody marks us.' ... The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longings to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret."

It's more like longing than what we typically think of when we hear the word joy. But what really struck me wasn't his description of his experience with joy, or even that he had experienced it--surely we've all felt it, that yearning, that feeling of being on the edge of something so tremendous, and in any case I couldn't do it justice by describing it. If you know it, you'll know my describing it won't do much unless it brings you to the place where you meet joy (which probably isn't reading my blog--here I want to quit writing and climb a mountain, maybe read Life of Pi on its peak).

What struck me was this: he found himself pursuing the feeling that brush with joy gave him--inevitably this led him to God, the ultimate source of this joy. But before he understood that, he was running after the feeling it left behind. If I remember, the illustration is the place where the water rushes back to the ocean, a picture of the something left in the wake versus the thing that leaves the wake. And I feel like C. S. Lewis has caught me square in the act, red-handed as I can be.

And it's exactly what I've been doing. Hoping it cools down so I can go outside and 'get that feeling' but the brighter, clear light of Fall, or walking down by the ocean at night, the coolness and the lights, and then I could write about it. Before, I'd suddenly be overwhelmed--not because I was looking to be--and now it isn't about the way those things are beautiful, it's about the way that beauty might make me feel. And it completely misses the point, cheapens it, and meanwhile everything gets spoiled by the introspection.

If this leads me to frustration over lack of so-called 'inspiration,' or whatever it might be called, and if I'm worried that I don't write things that I feel deeply, that stir something like it in other people, I think, what am I doing? And I've missed it completely, I've zoomed in too closely, and that on the wrong thing. It's like trying to conjure up the passion for evangelism without caring to really know God. So. Time to step back, scrap all the pieces I'm trying to fit together, all these bits like junk metal I'm trying to melt into gold. Don't I realize even if I make gold it's still only reflecting light? Can't I just see that the light is beautiful, that it's warm, that it grows us upward out of darkness? (Meanwhile spreading outward, not inward.)

I hope this makes sense. There's another part toward the end of the book where he talks about the conversion to Christianity bringing us out of ourselves, and it's like a whole other layer of salvation for the introverted among us. By the way, I realize that writing about all of this kind of defeats the purpose and this sort of thing is probably best done in a notebook no one else sees, but I hope it's helpful. Surprised By Joy has already been helpful for me--actually, you should just read that. It's wonderful.

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