Positional Perspectives, Please
“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” –I John 1:7
C.S. Lewis amazes me. Never have I read material that makes me think harder, deeper, and wider than when I read his writings. Nor has any writer impressed upon me the ineptness of my vocabulary or increased the adeptness of my dictionary skills more than Mr. Lewis! Reading his works is like taking my mind to a literary playground; there are so many structures to climb…and fall from (like The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce), so many devices from which to swing…and become disoriented (like The Weight of Glory and The Screwtape Letters), yet also so many shady trees to crawl under and reflect from (like Readings for Meditation and Reflection and Mere Christianity). I have enjoyed visiting this playground of late and on a recent outing came across a tunnel within one of the apparatuses that has caused me to have, well, tunnel vision! But not tunnel vision in the sense that one sees in a confined, restrictive way but rather the kind that enables one to see in a broader, more comprehensive manner. In fact, it might be more appropriate to refer to it as funnel vision rather than tunnel vision. To explain, let me first take you to the tunnel…then, when your brain is rightly throbbing from the velocity of Mr. Lewis’ insights, I’ll expose you to the funnel where my ideas will be released, greatly reducing the rapidity of your thinking as my injected inanity collides with Mr. Lewis’ indisputable intellect. I’ll warn you now that moving from the realm of C.S. Lewis’ thinking to the reservoir of K.K. Smith’s ponderings will cause a jolt in your cerebral cortex comparative to that experienced by astronauts upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere. I’m just saying, be prepared for some turbulence…and for Heaven’s sake, put down that Dr. Pepper!
Now, on to the tunnel. I first came across the device that contained the yet to be revealed tunnel early on during one of my trips to Mr. Lewis’ literary playground. The apparatus was entitled, Readings for Meditation and Reflection, and the tunnel was located mid-way through the device. The tunnel too bore a title which read, “Looking Along and Looking At”. I stepped easily enough into this tunnel and, before the arrival of the first turn, knew I had entered a place that would require future visits…there was simply too much to explore! It’s not that the tunnel was all that long, I’d been in many that exceeded its length; it’s not that the tunnel was overly dark, I’d been far more blinded in other tunnels (also of Mr. Lewis’ design); it was that this tunnel had a reflective nature about it so that the more I looked, the more I saw. The return trips would be to continually gather relics that, once examined under the shade of the nearest tree, could be more clearly identified, more aptly classified and, then, more rightly understood and applied. The tunnel engulfed me for days! (It probably took C.S. Lewis 20 minutes to write this…maybe less. But for me, days of excavating still have me merely scratching at its surface.)
In his unpretentious way, Mr. Lewis created this tunnel by describing a visit he had taken to his tool shed. Once inside, he noticed how a single beam of light poked through a crack above the door and how, by looking at the beam, he could follow its path and look at the subject of the light. In his case, it was the floor of the shed. But, when he stepped into the beam of light, when he looked along the shaft, his focus changed as well as his perspective. Now, he saw the origin of the light and not just its object; now he noticed what the light revealed as it traveled from its source outside of the shed to its subject within the shed. He saw the sun, the leaves, the branches…and he saw not just a positional switch, but a philosophical one as well. His out-sight gave way to in-sight.
What C.S. Lewis noted from his observation was that there are two positions one can be in when looking upon someone or something; he can look at them (as from a distance or outside the situation, as he looked upon the beam coming through the crack in the wall) or he can look along them (as up-close and personal, as he did when he stepped into the beam of light). Lewis questioned which position was most important and concluded that both are necessary for full illumination.
My first visit to this tunnel left me unable to do anything more than leave a trail to ensure a future return to this place. I knew there were deep truths here that needed to be mined out, but I couldn’t even tell where I should start digging. I just knew I needed to return…and with the proper excavating equipment. So, the next time I returned with a pick, then with a shovel and bucket, and finally with a wheelbarrow. I had searched for and found hidden treasures within this tunnel. Just what were those artifacts? I am glad you asked! To show you these I will now need to take you to the funnel. (This is where the ride becomes turbulent as you descend from the lofty heights of C.S. Lewis to the “crop dusting” altitude of my musings.)
C.S. Lewis’ observation about the difference between looking at a beam of light and looking along a beam of light caused me to reflect upon the importance of perspective. How often do we only look at situations, circumstances, and even people instead of also looking along them? We stand outside the beam of light and look only at a particular area of illumination; our vision excludes the shaft and instead zeros exclusively on what the light exposes. We don’t think about the source, but look only at the subject. While this is not necessarily incongruous, it is insufficient if it is the only positional perspective taken. If our only view is not from a place that looks at the origin of the light, nor at anything else that the light divulges, then how can we say that we fully “see” that which lies before us? No, as C.S. Lewis observed in his tool shed, light must not only be looked at, but it must also be looked along. How does this apply to daily living? It is the difference between observing and experiencing; it is the shift from second-hand presumption to first-hand perception. Applied to our lives, it is the gorge between hearing a neighbor has cancer and finding out that you have cancer; it is the chasm between learning that 50% of marriages end in divorce to learning that your parents are getting a divorce; it is the gulf that separates shrinking job markets from , “Here is your severance package.” Experience causes a shift in our perspective; experience moves us from looking at the beam to looking into (along) the beam.
We know this. We’ve all been in situations where our outlook changed because our insight was adjusted. It’s one thing to assess another’s reaction or recalibration to a situation when we have not stood in their shoes, when we have not stepped into their beam of light; it’s another to find ourselves immersed by the light which now reveals its source. The “should of, could of, would ofs” fall to the wayside as with new clarity we see that which was previously hidden. Now we see the source, now we see that which is exposed within the beam, within the experience, and our new sight silences our tongue…or produces regret for former assumptions that grew in darkness. Yes, light exposes and diffuses darkness but it can also create shadows. As long as we look at the light, we stand in those shadows; once we step into the light, along the light, we escape those obscurities. C.S. Lewis thought about this and concluded that both positions are important; we need to see what the light reveals but we also need to see from where the light comes. It’s not an either/or preference but a both/and perspective. I agree with Mr. Lewis (did you think for a moment I wouldn’t?). In 1 John 1:7, God does not instruct us to walk by the light but in the light. Why? Because it is within the beam that we find Him, the source of all light. This verse goes on to state that, once within this beam of light, we will have fellowship with one another. How true. It is within the light that misconceptions and deceptions are cast into darkness as we no longer look at something (or someone) but along it (or him). Now we see with our eyes and our hearts because we look with the new perspective of experience; we see not just what the light exposed but also what the light illuminated; we see the Source, we see the course, and we see the destination.
And there it is. My excavations from a small tunnel located within C.S. Lewis’ literary playground. I hope I have not caused you to scrape a knee or knot your noggin. If so, I am quite certain it wasn’t that my reflections were too deep but rather too shallow. If you’re like me, it’s the little steps that cause me to stumble; those that make you wonder why they were ever put there in the first place. If that’s the case, I apologize. I do hope this little summation will create in you a desire to travel to, and climb upon, the incredible structures erected by C.S. Lewis. Just pack a lunch before you go…you’ll no doubt stay longer than you intended and you’ll need all the mental strength and dexterity to scale his formations!