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Mystical Narnia

Further Up and Further In

Written by Emilie Griffin

C.S. Lewis would never have described himself as a mystic.

Even so he yearned for and may have experienced the vision of God.

Lewis was conversant with the writings of the Christian mystics. One in particular, Dame Julian of Norwich, was dear to him. This fourteenth-century anchoress was known for remarkable visions—called “showings” of divine love. In her visions she saw Jesus Christ holding the world, no bigger than a tiny nut, in his hand.

Lewis’s published writings and talks offer glimpses of the mystical life.

One of his most eloquent statements is the following, from “Agape,” the closing lecture of his recorded series Four Talks on Love.

But of what is beyond all these, what is neither love of God in man, nor love of obedience, nor love of the men in God, nor fruition in this life and foretaste of beatitude, I'm not the man to speak. Even if I'd heard rumors or made guesses, I couldn't put them in this form, I'd need myths and symbols.

Is Narnia one of Lewis’s myths and symbols, used to describe the mystical life, glimpses of heaven here and beyond?

“All that can be said here, “ Lewis continues,

is that even on those high levels, though something goes from man to God, yet all, including this something, comes from God to man. If he rises, he does so lifted on the wave of the incoming tide of God's love for him. He becomes nothing in that ascension. His love is perfected by becoming, in a sense, nothing. He is less than a mote in that sunbeam, vanishes, not from God's sight, but from ours and his own, into the nuptial solitude of the love that loves love, and in love, all things.

Certainly Lewis had a deep prayer life about which he was mostly very private. It’s useful to think he was a mystic, because it accounts for his depth of vision in exploring the mystery of the Trinity and offering rare glimpses of heaven. It is similarly useful to look at Narnia as one way Lewis describes the mystical life. Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Narnia is a kind of subcreation. Lewis used that term to describe imaginary places as secondary worlds, worlds in which the artist imitates the creative act of God.

Narnia is a place of adventure, but Narnia is also mystical terrain.
The four children, Edmund, Susan, Peter, and Lucy, are transported out of ordinary experience into a world where they have a direct encounter with Aslan, who makes God’s nature—and the forces opposing him—very real. This heightened experience is a mystical vision, rendered in a simple and childlike way.

So Narnia, with its battles between good and evil, offers us a higher consciousness of spiritual realities

In the closing pages of the seventh and final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Lewis reveals his greater intention. He links Narnia to the experience of heaven.

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.

Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

“I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. ... I within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”

Lifelong contemplative Paul Marechal uses this passage in his book Dancing Madly Backwards: A Journey into God. Marechal, now Brother Elias in the Cistercian monastery at Conyers, Georgia, says: “Trees and people have this much in common. Each is an ecstasy of depth within depth, world within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

Marechal also resorts to stories and pictures in order to convey what I have called transparency, the heightened vision or deeper grasp of reality that comes about from a sustained experience of prayer. To the person of prayer and spiritual dwelling with God, everything in the universe discloses a deeper and larger meaning. Marechal suggests that by a resort to silence and reflection, soundlessness and meditation, we can enter into the realm that science has yet to understand: the force that unifies everything.

If we could see, we would see what the philosophers call ‘being’: an intimate depth shared by every pocket of creation. We would experience the level where—according to Bell’s theorem—everything is connected. Today physicists are finding that some unknown force, traveling faster than the speed of light, ties everything together. But to see this force field we have to tiptoe quietly down long flights of stairs, to the level where music is flowing out of unseen strings. We have to settle down into the kernel of the tree, where Narnia transcends Narnia.

It is at this level of depth and insight, by descending mystical “long flights of stairs,” that Marechal says we will find truth. In this depth of consciousness we will see “apparently divergent worlds” intersecting to become the temple of the Great Round Dance.

And what about this phrase, “The Great Round Dance”? It comes from the Greek Fathers, Marechal explains. “The Greek Fathers describe the Trinity as a Great Round Dance in which Love flames forth from one Person to the Other in a flow that never ceases. Its deep melody carries on night and day.”

So in Marechal’s commentary, Narnia is linked with the vision of the early Christian fathers, the Great Round Dance whose deep melody continues on and on.

“Further up and further in!” as the children of Narnia would say. It is a phrase they repeat as the Narnia story comes, in the final book, to its climax.

And soon they found themselves all walking together—and a great, bright procession it was—up towards mountains higher than you would see in this world even if they were there to be seen.

The children are approaching what Lewis calls the real England. The England they have come from is only a shadowy copy of the heavenly reality soon to be revealed.

They see the light ahead of them growing stronger. Lucy notices a series of multi-colored cliffs ahead, leading up like a giant’s staircase. “And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.”

Soon Aslan reveals to them that they have made the final journey. They have left behind the Shadow-lands (of earthly existence) and entered into the blessed realms.

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

No biblical language here, but a new framing of the ancient promise. And it is a mystical vision—using myths and symbols—of what life with God is all about.

What can we do to experience Narnia ourselves? Prayer, reflection, worship, spiritual reading, and a deep appreciation of the power of story.

We need to trust the power of literary imagination; and to treasure it.

Copyright ©2005 Emilie Griffin

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

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