Tuesday, October 12, 2010

C. S. Lewis, James Loder, and Transforming Moments

One of my favorite--and most enduring (and endearing)--seminary professors at Princeton was James Loder, whose teaching and writing left an indelible impression on how I teach and how I understand the narrative of our lives, particularly those key events he called "transforming moments." The latter concept is collected in the book of the same name and later in my particular favorite, an insightful and provocative study of science and religion, The Knight's Move. 

So here's the deal: Loder spoke about “transformational knowledge," in which we move through a five-stage process: 
  1. Incoherence or Conflict (we have a problem we can't quite figure out)
  2. Search for Resolution (we're looking for an answer)
  3. Constructive act of imagination (suddenly an answer emerges unexpectedly)
  4. Release of energy (we're pysched that we've solved the problem)
  5. Verification (we interpret or verify our insight, particularly integrating with past and projecting its implications into the future). (You can find this elaborated a bit more in The Knight’s Move, pages 230-2.)
If you need these five stages exemplified, think of Archimedes, who had to find the gold content of a king's crown without melting it down and who didn't know what to do. In the midst of pondering this conundrum, he took a bath, discovered the physics of the displacement of water and its implications for the gold content of the crown, and ran out into the street naked shouting "Eureka" (which means "I have found it!) Or for a slightly less scandalous example, think of Einstein, who puzzled over this question, "If I'm in an elevator that's moving at a constant speed and has no windows or doors, I won't know if I'm moving or not." And thus arrives the theory of general relativity.

This is powerful because it makes sense of those key moments in my life that transformed me, and--since I'm studying C. S. Lewis for an upcoming class and potentially a book--gives me an insight into those same transforming moments in Lewis's life. 

Here's a critical moment: November 1908, the nine year-old Lewis experienced the first major crisis of his life. His beloved mother, Florence or “Flora” was diagnosed with cancer. Her condition worsened precipitously. This moment both traumatized and transformed him.
With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis. 
Though the young Lewis (or “Jack” as he liked to be called) was conventionally religious and a member of a Church of Ireland family, this trauma would lead him gradually to atheism. As he described it, this path to unbelief began with prayer. He prayed for a very specific reason (as he later wrote), “When her case was pronounced hopeless I remembered what I had been taught; that prayers offered in faith would be granted.” Despite these prayers, on August 23, his mother died. “The thing hadn’t worked, but I was used to things not working….” God, especially the Magician God was irrelevant to the crisis of suffering. His life was gradually transformed from this moment into increasing atheism, and with it, attendant despair.

Later--through his own conversion first to Theism in 1929 and then to Christian faith in 1931--this crisis would be reinterpreted, and a deeper, more profound transformation would occur. Lewis's resolution of this crisis found its way into a beautiful paragraph from his 1939 book, The Problem of Pain. I find this passage so overwhelming it's sometimes hard for me to keep reading. I find myself putting the book down and reflecting on the stunning mixture of wisdom, poignant emotion, and piercing insight that Lewis evokes.
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world; but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasure inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
This has been a long post. So I'll leave it there. As they say in Latin, res ipsa loquitur, "the thing speaks for itself." (At least for me... I hope it does for you too.)


Anonymous said...

Or winding down after a tedious day by reading random comments on facebook, news articles and then happening on a friend's thoughts on Lewis. Happenstance that benefits the mind and soul are welcome gifts indeed. JD

Steven said...

Long posts are good.
My own story; at the age of 13 I came into my faith in powerful moment of tears, confession and joy as I surrendered my life to God. I joined the youth group at the church. I owned a Bible that I read. And then at 14 I came to love a 17 year old girl in the youth group. (as only a 14 year old can love...from afar) She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the youth group prayed diligently for her recovery. She died. And so did my faith. How could a loving God allow that to happen? It took me a long time (and some maturity) to discover the answer...

"The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God..." Good stuff!

My Reflections said...

Just ran across an article that brings together Lewis and the dalliances of Tiger Woods. The man continues to speak today... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-joseph/tiger-woods-cs-lewis-the_b_409258.html

Richard S. said...

Awesome update Greg! A testimony I can relate to. Little did I know of the seeds CS Lewis help plant in my heart as a child reading "The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe". This sparks my curiosity about his friend Tolkien! ...must google...