CS Lewis, transposition and my hope for heaven

In his essay, Transposition, CS Lewis writes of a “continuity problem” between the natural life and the spiritual life.  How much of the natural life forms our desire for the spiritual (what he calls reasoning from below, a reasoning which skeptics use to show the unreality of the spiritual and point to the Christian hope as “wishful thinking” or as a “crutch” to make it through this “natural” life) OR how much of a spiritual reality informs our natural life (what he calls reasoning from above, a reasoning which gives glimpses of a spiritual reality which create our legitimate hope for the beyond as we live natural lives).   This problem can be approached through the idea of transposition.  In transposition from below, Lewis states that “the brutal man never can by analysis find anything but lust in love” or “[the physiologist] can never find anything in thought but the twitchings of grey matter”.  In contrast to transposition from above, “everything is different…those who spoke with tongues as St. Paul did, can well understand how that holy phenomenon [at Pentecost] differed from the hysterical phenomenon…spiritual things are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual man judges all things and is judged of none.”  He emphasizes this point by constructing a fable: Lewis writes “Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon.  There she bears and rears a son.  He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon wall, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high up to show anything except sky.  This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils.  As she never loses the hope of deliverance, she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen.  She does it largely by drawing him pictures.  With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like.  He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon.  At times he succeeds.  On the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause.  For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes.  Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception.  “But”, she gasps, “you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?”  “What?” says the boy.  “No pencil marks there?”.  And instantly the whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank.  For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it.  He has no idea of that which the lines were merely a transposition-the wavering tree tops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve.”  The son, who has never known life outside the dungeon, even though “reasoning from below” can experience nascent hope through his mother who “reasons from above” and shares with him that hope through faint sketches which represent a memory of her experience of her life outside that same dungeon.

So it is with heaven.  As we experience its reality from above into our natural lives here below, or as we share that experience with others in the hope they can start to spiritually see,  based on “lead pencil” glimpses we can be encouraged that its (heaven’s) shape is defined “at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve”.  While we hold fast to our sketch, realizing that the sketch is only a sketch does not diminish but rather fuels the hope.   And having that sketch in and of itself is heaven’s stamp, mark and promise on our lives here below.  Lewis concludes by saying, “the heavenly bounties by Transposition are embodied during this life in our temporal experience.  It is the present life which is the dimunition, the symbol, the etiolated, the (as it were) “vegetarian” substitute.”

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