Friday, December 31, 2010

The Glorious Mish-Mash

I've just finished reading C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle, the final installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, and I'm thankful.

I'm thankful for the wonderful jumble of images and stories that Lewis strings together--the ones he combined in ways that offended his highly meticulous friend and co-writer, J. R. R. Tolkien. (What comes to mind first is the sudden emergence of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.) Ultimately--despite all appearances to the contrary, the Chronicles ends well with The Last Battle.

I'm reminded that Lewis was a Renaissance and Medieval scholar (although he had some misgivings about the very existence of a "renaissance" in western Europe as a discrete period), a time when images, symbols, and stories ran together in a crazy potpourri.

I'm remembering that life really is a mish-mash, just like the Middle Ages reminded us. Have you ever been to New York City's Cloisters museum? It's a wonderful reconstruction of three cloisters. In those transcendent medieval quadrangles,  each column is different. Their glorious mish-mash contrasts marked from the rational, homogenizing similarity of the Enlightenment.

I'm grateful because it draws me back to the reality of life--it's never too rational or too uniform, and yet somehow it's unified by the will of our good God. It's this God that promises us victory and meaning at the last.

That's why I love the glorious mish-mash narratives of C. S. Lewis especially on this final day of 2010, which is also my birthday, when I seek to make sense of the year that's passed. Too often things appear as a variegated jumble of experiences and moments, but I trust that God holds them together the glorious mish-mash of life.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

C. S. Lewis and the Future of Forestry

Just last night, I experienced an amazing concert at Chico's El Rey Theatre by the band, Future of Forestry (for more on them, go here). Since they derive their name from an obscure poem by that great Christian muse of the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis, it sparked my creative Lewisian juices and got me off my blogging butt. (This site has remained dormant for almost a month.) So here goes....

I start with the opening lines from Lewis

How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart....

These lines, penned in 1938, presciently peer into our day and into my mind. When I lament the fixation of children today on Wii, the teens on their smartphones, and the college students on their iPods, and me on my omnipresent and omniscient iPhone, I wonder how disconnected we all have become from nature. 

Lewis wonders if it's not only an alienation from nature but also from the certain stories. Has our mastery over nature through science and its scion, technology, not actually mastered us, by muting our essential connection with nature and thereby silencing the stories that nature inspires?

The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”

Because, as Lewis points out, there is something almost magical--and certainly something divine--imbedded as an act of ongoing creation in the forests and in the mountains. I know this as I go walking among the hills and the trees of Chico's Bidwell Park. 

And as the band Future of Forestry celebrated last night, in a glorious, wall-of-sound Christmas paean of praise, "Joy to the World," it is during this season, this time of celebrating God's coming and dwelling with us in human flesh, that "heaven and earth shall sing." 

Just this morning, in an unrelated context, I read Psalm 50, verse 2 that describes the God who "shone forth from Zion" as "the zenith of beauty" (50:2). It is in nature where often I see God's beauty, where I find myself in a return to that unmitigated glory of original creation. 

In the just-published Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis, Michael Guite finds a linking of Lewis's poetry and contemporary "deep ecology," where, Lewis presents that, through nature, and as we are redeemed in Christ, we become connected with nature's profound, primary truths. Lewis concludes his poem by wondering if, this industrial, technological age hasn't lost connection with the rest of creation and thus with something poignant and essential. 

Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.
In sum: Lewis poses just the right question for us, What will be the future of forestry?