When C.S. Lewis was just a child of seven or eight, he was already creating fictional worlds. Before there was Narnia, there was Boxen, replete with talking animals and realistic political drama. Lewis’s biographer James Como notes, however, that the two worlds, talking animals aside, could not be more different. By Lewis’s own admission, Boxen “excluded the least hint of wonder.”
If you’ve encountered the world of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, written in his mid-40s, you may be surprised to learn that Lewis’s profound sense of wonder was a later development. While Lewis always had a unique propensity to become imaginatively absorbed in the fictional worlds of other writers, his own gift of creating such worlds was a later development.
Indeed, Lewis embraced wonderless rationalism in his teenage years, writing to his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves that thinking people ought to be emancipated from superstitious religious beliefs and questioning whether anything existed outside the material world.
Today, the world recognizes C.S. Lewis as one of the most imaginative writers of his generation. Besides the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis also wrote three science fiction novels and invented a dialogue between demons. Even his nonfiction works reveal a man with a deep sense of wonder and beauty.
Lewis abandoned his rationalistic materialism when he embraced the Christian gospel. As a Christian Lewis came to believe that human beings were made for heaven, and he connected human experience with that future destiny. Our unfulfilled longings and small glimpses of joy and beauty in this life became proof for him that God had more in store for his people.
What we often experience as normal life in this world, Lewis interpreted as signposts pointing to another. The wind blowing against his face was, for him, “sweet air” that “whispers of the country from whence it blows.” The world, for Lewis, was enchanted. It wasn’t a different world than the one we embody now, but he experienced it differently. His reality wasn’t limited to the exclusivity of what his physical eyes could see.
I don’t know about you, but Lewis’s world is deeply appealing to me. I want the enchantment and the wonder because I believe it to be fundamentally biblical. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” the psalmist tells us. Paul taught us to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). One of Satan’s most effective strategies has been his masterful ability to shrink the size of the universe to the level of what the human eye is capable of seeing.
As I’m drawn to Lewis’s perspective, I’m also challenged by my own shortcomings. As hard as I try to be enchanted by God’s glory in the world, I’m also a product of my culture. Our race has worked diligently to eliminate mystery from the universe. We don’t walk around and see God’s glory; we look up and see marvels of human ingenuity. We aren’t mesmerized by God’s glory in the sunlit sky because we’re locked onto the glow of our iPhone’s screen. We aren’t even limited by the contingencies of weather and seasons for our food. If you want an apple, go to Kroger, and get one anytime you like. It’s hard to be in awe when you feel like a god.
We are called to be enchanted people, but we live in a disenchanted world. I’m encouraged by the fact that Lewis grew in his ability to see God’s glory in the world. It wasn’t some strange gift that only he possessed. He, too, lived during a time of rapid technological advancement, and yet, he was able to develop his sense of wonder as an aspect of his faith.
So, how did he do it and what can we appropriate for own lives? I must admit that I’m still looking for the answers to these questions. Lewis had several habits that I believe helped him cultivate wonder.
First, he made time for deep friendships. It is hard for me to separate the disenchantment of our age from the scarcity of meaningful adult friendship. Lewis’s friends kept him wide-eyed to wonder through their laughter and their conversations. He made time for embodied encounters with other human beings.
Second, Lewis embraced limits. He cultivated habits of prayer. He never learned to drive a car. He attempted to respond to every letter he received. He gave away most of his money. These components may seem to have little to do with each other, but, taken together, they reveal a man who refused to live as a god. His personal daily habits reminded him of his own finitude and turned him in dependence toward God.
Finally, Lewis walked. For the entirety of his life, he had a daily habit of entering nature on his own two feet, often accompanied by friends. He slowed his pace to the speed of his own stride and enjoyed the air that whispered of the country from whence it blows.