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Filtering by Tag: C- S- Lewis

Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

Joy and Matthew Steem

It’s been said that Cheez Whiz is one molecule away from being plastic, and I actually don’t like it at all, but the song is catchy right?

Cheez Whiz has nothing to do with the Inklings because I am certain none of them would have deigned to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

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'But I Can Do It Afraid'

Jill Reid

ear-191625_1280I was 27 years old when my daughter, my only child, Ellie, was born. It took years to conceive her, and then suddenly, on a pre-dawn Saturday morning, my water broke like the rainstorm that always arrives on days a meteorologist has confidently assured you, “Enjoy, folks. Today will be a sunny 70 degrees.” There were no signs Ellie would be a full three weeks early.

There was no packed bag. There was no gas in the car. I was down to two public-presentable maternity outfits. And the cute one was dirty. I was stunned to be so irrevocably out of time. I thought there would be weeks yet to locate the inner courage to properly and calmly  and bravely bear a human life. Instead, I pulled wrinkled maternity jeans from the hamper and ran them through the dryer. My husband and I scraped toward the hospital on a quarter of a tank of gas and even less courage.

Labor contractions are big bullies. There is often no warning when they will hit you hardest, and once they begin in earnest, you are at their mercy. But that sort of unstoppable force can also be a kind of relief. There’s no thinking. There’s no planning. There’s just bearing. During birth,  life leaks then shatters its way into the world, and you are the conduit through which it will pass. And it’s beautiful and joyful and terrifyingly unstoppable.

The next day, groggy and elated, I remember my husband telling me how brave I was during labor. I also remember looking at him like he had turned purple. This was not bravery, I thought. This was a matter of going on. A child ready to be born must be born. Bravery was something noble and solid that filled up a person from head to toe, that gleamed within like a warm, steady light. I was not brave. I was scared and tired and an absolute shaky mess of hormones and relief. I had even opted for the epidural.

*                *                *

When Ellie turned three, I was rain-storm shocked again. This time, I found myself “single mom-ing” my life with her. Each day, I went to work, paid the bills, made the dinner, read the bed-time stories, drank too much coffee, and lay awake at night convinced at how royally I was screwing things up. Because I was always scared, I also believed that I was not really brave but simply acting, as I did in that delivery room, at the behest of life and doing my best to keep up and remember to breathe. Somehow, I had forgotten that bravery does not exist apart from the very fear that requires it to form, solidifying like a rock we sling against the darkness.

A few weeks ago and at eight years old, Ellie begged to have her ears pierced. At this, I caught my breath. I vividly remembered from my own childhood experience that ear piercing involves pain. My writer’s sense of imagery brought visions of needles. Sharp objects would make a space for themselves in her skin. I also knew she would be terrified once she sat in the chair, and the process began. So, I told her that maybe she should wait, that it was okay to take more time to gather up her courage if she wasn’t feeling brave enough right now.

But Ellie stepped into her own story like the heroine I want to be. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, Mommy, and I am really scared. But I can do it afraid.”

Already in the car from school pick-up, we rushed to the mall. I held Ellie’s hand, and quiet little tears fell down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her right hand shook in her lap while courage bloomed as two dainty studs in Ellie’s pink earlobes and caught slivers of the ceiling’s fluorescent light. Ellie smiled at her image in a mirror. I sucked in a gallon of air.

Ellie did it afraid.

What I have forgotten about courage, Ellie has reminded me. Courage is at its finest in the company of fear. Courage is at its most beautiful in the hands and heart of the underdog, of the grieving, of the single mom or dad, or in the brimming, tight-shut eyes and terrifically shaking hands of an eight year old kid. In his Narnia books, C.S. Lewis describes bravery in a passage I’ve often read and always forget to apply to my own life, “Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.” Thank God we don’t have to feel brave to be brave.

In a few weeks, Ellie can change out her first pair of earrings for another. I will take her to the shop where her ears were pierced. I will let her choose two shiny new pairs of earrings. I will help her slip them into the healed spaces opened up by both her fear and her courage, and I will watch her smile at the gleam she gives off in the mirror. Maybe, “doing it afraid” is the only kind of brave that matters.

Doubting at Christmas

Jean Hoefling

nativity-icon1. . . But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband— that is quite another matter.C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Christmas: God breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics to snatch the cosmos from its ultimate decay. In other words, a miracle of upward mobility. The Orthodox icon of the Nativity teems with the theology and symbolism of this upswirl, this “redemption of the universe:” the ascending pull of light over the landscape; the bright celestials straddling the razor edge between time and eternity; the ethnic diversity of the Magi, God’s redemptive scope encompassing all peoples and all creation. And in the postures of Mary and Joseph we see the full gamut of human response to this event that couldn’t happen, yet did.

Here the figure of the Virgin is appropriately spacious and central. Mary casts her eyes not toward the babe but away from this one whose swaddling clothes and cradle resemble grave wrappings and a sarcophagus. Her restraint is a reminder, for who can look upon the face of God and live? Yet any minute Mary will pick up that normal looking baby and stare into omnipotent holiness, her soul taut with paradox. Mary’s power of belief is organic to who she is, a chemical and spiritual grace.

Yet in the figure of Joseph the Betrothed in the lower left we witness the other effect of miracle, the Church’s concession to the difficulty of grappling with blissfully mangled universal laws. A study in body language, Joseph slumps in the throes of mental torment, questioning the baby’s alleged origins. He’s under direct assault from Satan, come to once again sow his tedious doubts, this time in the guise of an aging shepherd. The shepherd’s short tunic and rigid profile symbolize duplicity and gross inadequacy—this father of lies who would keep Joseph’s eyes in the dust with no reference to the divine. (See: “Becoming Two-Eyed”)  

In the battle to make peace with mystery, the human mind has a remarkable capacity to see blank sky where in fact shines a sight-giving star. The downward drag of psychic inertia is ever present here among the shambles of the Second Law. Yet though God may approach with “infinite speed,” his home is no longer a manger, but our embrace.

What is the imagination?

Justin Ryals


Is it important to have a good imagination? Or is it, as at first glance we might be inclined to think, perhaps a little trifling, maybe something important for children but not very necessary for adults? I guess that depends on what the imagination is. I fairly recently came across a very interesting definition of the imagination while listening to an interview of Stephen Prickett discussing George MacDonald, an influential Scottish writer of fantasy (and other genres) in the Victorian period, who had a particularly profound influence on C. S. Lewis. Lewis, in fact, described his initial encounter with MacDonald’s imaginative work as a conversion or baptism of his own imagination; “It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later… The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live” (George MacDonald: An Anthology, xxxviii). So here we already see the great, potentially even transformative, power of one imagination upon another. It altered the way Lewis saw the world and the realm of the possible. And it’s perhaps telling that his imaginative transformation was more basic for him than other aspects of his nature; it set the groundwork for the rest of him to follow. It was Lewis, I believe, who first made me step back and consider what imagination is, before which I, perhaps naively, conceived of it (based upon the root word) simply as the power of the mind to contain and produce images. But Lewis, in the weirdly titled essay “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” intriguingly referred to the imagination as “the organ of meaning,” whereas reason is the “organ of truth,” the former being the more basic. These points certainly present the imagination as something far beyond a trifling affair, and rather something that is at the very heart of the human person.

Similarly, I came across a description of the imagination in an essay by David Bentley Hart (for my money perhaps one of the most insightful minds currently writing) titled “The Pornography Culture,” in which he speaks of the central importance of the imagination, and by implication the need to guard it from depraving influences. There he writes (reminiscent of Pr 4:23), “the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character.” Here, again, we have the imagination described as of profound central importance to the human person, such that how one’s imagination is formed will determine the possible range of meaning that one can perceive, and the possible ways in which one may view the world.

On yet another note, also striking is Mary Midgley’s statement, “Facts will never appear to us as brute and meaningless; they will always organize themselves into some sort of story, some drama,” pointing to the inevitably “storied” nature of the way we see the world (Evolution as Religion, 4). The form which that story takes will naturally depend on the character of our imagination.

Similar to these perspectives, I think, is the one Prickett recounts of George MacDonald’s view (via Samuel Coleridge) of the imagination. As he explains,

It was [conceived of as] a great integrating faculty that brought all our sense impressions, all our thoughts, all our understanding, together into a single package. And of course each of us has a different imagination because each of us has been through different experiences. I once went for a walk in a very beautiful part of the country with a friend of mine who is an expert on birdsong, and he said, “How many birds can you hear?” And I listened and I very boldly said, “Five or six.” And he said, “I can hear forty.” He had a trained ear, and that was, if you like, the difference between our imaginations at that stage. He could form and integrate what was coming into him into a far more profound pattern of sound than I could.

Here imagination is the central, integrating faculty of the whole person, involved in a dynamic relationship with the world, ever expanding as it interacts with reality (that is, ultimately, God); or, no doubt, diminishing as it entertains false reality. These accounts approach the nature of the imagination from different angles--seemingly not irreconcilably so--but in every case the imagination is something connected to the deepest part of ourselves, forming the range of possibility of what we can and cannot see of reality. One is reminded of Goethe’s commonly quoted line, “Few people have the imagination for reality.” It perhaps informs the fabric or framework of our whole inner world, through which we interpret everything else, having to do with “the power that underlies thoughts,” as MacDonald said in The Fantastic Imagination. Do we give enough attendance to these truths? Do we seek ways in which to enrich or even “baptize” our imaginations, thereby renewing our minds and our vision of the “divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live”? Indeed, how might we do that? If Lewis is a guide, encountering those with rich and profound imaginations embodying deep (perhaps even pre-cognitive) truths is one way. In any case, these, I think, are questions worthy of reflection.

Diversity and Unity: Further Up and Further In

Justin Ryals


C. S. Lewis says of human nature and destiny,

"[God] makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. … Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance." (Problem of Pain, 151-2)

Elsewhere he states life works “like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good” (Great Divorce, viii). The one statement describes human persons in all their variation and particularity. The other alludes to the ever-expanding complexity of that variety, like an ever-increasing richness of musical polyphony. And as Dorothy Sayers mentions in The Mind of the Maker, "the stronger the diversity, the more massive the unity" (53).

I was driven to reflect on this question of the nature, potential, and teleology of humanity when recently I was reading M. I. Finley's The Ancient Greeks and came across this statement:

"It is sometimes said that the anthropomorphism of the Homeric poems is the most complete, the most extreme, on record; that never before or since have gods been so much like men …; that this is a terribly naive view of the divinity. No doubt it is, but it is also something else, something perhaps far more interesting and significant. What a bold step it was, after all, to raise man so high that he could become the image of the gods." (27)

Finley adds that this perspective was “pregnant with limitless possibilities” (ibid.). He affirms how naive was the Greeks’ anthropomorphism of divinity, but suggests the other side of this coin shows how high was their view of man. This seems to be a common view among academics but the idea is rather problematic. It’s unclear how a low conception of divinity can imply a high conception of humanity when the latter is simply the image of the former. If the gods are small, then man, bearing their image, cannot be great.

It is rather the case that the greater one’s view of the divine, the greater must be that which bears its image. The lower one’s view is of the divine, the lesser is that which bears its image. Within the Christian vision of the Imago Dei, in which humanity encapsulates a kind of analogy of the infinite God, the meaning, worth, and potential of the image of God cannot, in a sense, be described as finite (limited) as it bears the image of the infinite. In other words, within this (meta-) narrative the image of God is a finite being but with genuinely limitless potential for ever-increasing love, joy, creative activity, and every other human capacity in an eternally dynamic dance with the Infinite.

This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ memorable phrase from The Last Battle, for humanity to ever move “further up and further in,” into the unceasing and inexhaustible outpouring of the life, love, joy, and creativity of God, thereby always expanding the human capacity to image God more fully to one another and back toward its source in love and bliss. Surely, this is a divine image worth bearing.


Those in Hell Can Come to Heaven


Bonnie ponders C. S. Lewis' question of what would happen if people sent to hell could visit heaven. C.S. Lewis’ controversial novella, The Great Divorce, offers a unique view of heaven and hell. In the opening of the story the narrator is standing in line for a bus in Gray Town. It is a dreary place that is perpetually twilight and raining. When the bus comes, it takes them to heaven, a bright and colorful place, totally opposite of Gray Town. The premise is that anyone who wants to stay in heaven can, but they have to speak to a person from their past that they knew on earth.

Three interactions between visitors from Gray Town and residents from heaven are examples Lewis’ social commentary of our culture.

The Apostate and the Spirit After they great each other, they begin to discuss their friendship on earth and their current locations. The Apostate asks, “Do you really think that people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken.” The Spirit asserts that they followed the academic fads of the times, stating that, “we were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes… Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, un-praying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires we reached a point where we no longer believed in the Faith…The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.” They continue to talk and the Spirit asks his friend to repent and believe in God, the eternal fact. The Apostate returns to Gray Town unable to repent.

The Man in Sexual Sin There is a man, like a ghost but dark and oily stumbling through Heaven. He carries on his shoulder a red lizard that whispers in his ear. An Angel approaches him and asks him if he would like him to quiet the lizard and the ghost replies that he would. The Angel states that to silence the lizard, he will have to kill him. The lizard’s voice becomes louder as the Angel continues to offer to kill it. He says, “I know there are no real pleasure now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams-all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…” The man agrees to let the Angel kill the lizard and out of it comes a beautiful man restored to his sexuality embodied in the form of a great stallion. He stays in heaven to live as a resident of heaven.

Sarah Smith and the Tragedian A woman from Heaven, whose name was Sarah Smith, comes to meet her husband, whose self pity has split his soul in two. The man is now a dwarf, leading a tragedian, which is the embodiment of his self-pity. Even as his wife meets him, his is upset that she didn’t miss him since their death and separation. His wife asks for his forgiveness for all that happened when they were on earth and asks him to let go of the chain connecting him to his self-pity. Unable to let go, eventually his soul disappears and ceases to exist at all.

These three encounters lead us to ponder some interesting questions about our culture today. In the first one, the Apostate is in Hell because though he had sincere beliefs and opinions they were wrong and he was sent to Hell. Would a loving God send us to Hell just because our opinions are wrong?

In the second case, a man who struggles with sexual sin – be it homosexuality, adultery, pornography etc. be redeemed and stay in heaven?

In the third case the man’s self-pity consumes his soul so that he ceases to exist. Does self pity keep us from living?

Bonnie Ponce is the Director of Support Raising for Relief and lives in Huntsville, Texas with her husband and betta fish. She has a BA in English from Sam Houston State University. After work she enjoys relaxing with a good book or working on her novel.

The Ideal Writing Spot

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith It seems that most famous writers create a certain habitat for their genius, a custom-made space where their creativity can flow forth uninhibited. Virginia Woolf had A Room of One’s Own, J. K. Rowling has her European café, and Kurt Vonnegut has his hardwood floor where he worked out of his lap. So what are the basic requirements for a writing spot?

A desk, of course, is essential (except, apparently, if you’re Vonnegut). Preferably, a mahogany, stylishly-distressed desk that just looks like classics have been written all over it. A desk in the tradition of Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’, which you can actually see on display (including the wardrobe that inspired Narnia) at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Extra points if your desk has a secret compartment.

Next, coffee. Every writer needs an energy boost now and then. And if you’re self-employed, your caffeine addiction might even count as a tax deduction (don’t quote me on that…)! But don’t try to outdo French novelist Balzac, who was known to drink 50-300 cups of coffee per day.

Your writing space should also host somewhat of a cozy mess. Creative minds aren’t known for their organizational skills, you know.

Surround yourself with inspirational literary quotes. These will remind you not only how much you love, live, and breath writing, but how fun it is! Motivational catchphrases such as, “My stories run up and bite me on the leg” –Ray Bradbury, and, “Writing is…like a long bout of some painful illness." -George Orwell, should get you off to a good start!

You should also have something to fidget with as you wrestle your brilliant ideas down onto paper. Stress balls, those cool moldable erasers, etc. Now is the perfect time to develop a bad habit such as cracking your knuckles or chewing your hair. All for the sake of art, of course.

A muse: whether it’s a picture of your sweetheart, your cat, or your Edgar Allan Poe bobble-head, you should have something to attribute your strokes of genius to. And someone to take your frustration out on when writer’s block hits.

What’s your writing environment? Where do you hammer out your thoughts, poems, and stories?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at

It All Began with a Picture

Stephanie Smith

I have a question for all you writers out there: how do your stories begin?

Do they begin inside you, with a striking thought, image, or scene? Do you observe something in the world that makes you want to put in onto paper? Do you imagine your characters to life, or do you see them on the street, at the Farmer's Market, the corner coffee shop?

Many of my favorite authors, it seems, birth their stories like this: a curious image arises in their mind, an image they see and cannot forget, and they write to discover the story behind the image.

Beloved author C.S. Lewis says that his enchanted world of Narnia began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella in a snowy wood.  "This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.'”

Kate DiCamillo was lying in bed one morning, her life in a state of depression, when she suddenly saw a magician, joined by an elephant.  They looked as real to her as anyone, and this curious introduction gave her the motivation to get out of bed and start writing again. The tale of these two characters entwine in what became The Magician's Elephant, a whimsical story about magic, homecoming, and belonging.

Sue Monk Kidd's award-winning novel, The Secret Life of Bees, began with an image of a girl going to sleep in her room amidst a swarm of hovering bees.  Right now I'm reading Traveling with Pomegranates, the author's memoir which gives the reader the backstory behind the creation of her bee novel. I find myself fascinated with the way Sue Monk Kidd collects the smallest of details and finds a home for them in her book.  Simple things like a pink house she saw in a magazine, a childhood memory of bees that hummed through the walls of her old house, and a story about a black Madonna struck something in her and she wove them into her novel.

As much as I love reading fiction, this genre has always been the hardest thing for me to write.  Characters do not appear to me in dreams, or start talking to me in the shower, or hover over my bed in the form of circus animals.  But I do often see images in real life that I pause over and tuck away for later, for a story that will be woven with bits and pieces of things in the world that catch my curiosity.

Here are some of them:

A man sitting on a porch that is covered with wind chimes.

The way a book in my hand vibrates with the live music of a cello playing in a bookstore.

A snippet of overheard conversation, “Once when I was seventeen and wild, I cut off all my hair.”

What sparks your stories into life?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at