A Hint of Wildness

October 29th, 2018

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C.S. Lewis felt the modern universe was a little too self-explanatory. Dull. He thought we’d benefit from “a hint of wildness.” Halloween is perfect for that.

Our modern world is the result of what Lewis called the discarded image. For ages, a sphere depicted God and the universe. Descartes discarded it, replacing it with a linear model. Big difference. A sphere is centered in love. Law is at the center of Descartes’ universe.

This takes all the wildness out of the universe. A linear model is math and science. No ambiguity. No mysterious beings appearing as if out of thin air. No ghosts or goblins.

The ancient sphere had ghosts. Lewis writes that medieval thought has supernatural beings enjoying a “place of residence” in the “ambiguous” realm “between air and Earth.” Ambiguity is in the air. Spooky? Yes. These beings evoke a “welcome hint of wildness and uncertainty into a universe that is in danger of being a little too self-explanatory.”[1]

These beings include angels. Most are good, but 1/3 are bad. The bad eggs fell in eternity past. They’re fallen angels, demons, cast to Earth, which is originally “formless and void,” an ominous phrase denoting judgment. Something evil is lurking in the bushes. That’s why the air bristles with angels and demons, what Lewis calls Fairies and witches.

The Enlightenment treats Fairies and witches as fiction. These days, demons evince “no horror or aversion on the human side.” They’re not really real, you know.

Nor are angels. Post-Enlightenment, Lewis writes that we’ve forgotten “what the word ‘fairy’ meant to our ancestors.” These are beings we meet perhaps “in forest wide” and their encounter with mortals “is not accidental.” They “have come to find us, and their intentions are usually (not always) amorous.” Did you catch that—amorous?

Amorous is love. Love is the driving force in the spherical model. We forget angels’ intentions are usually loving, but sometimes judging. They’re protective of God’s glory. They’re not to be trifled with. They’re real. This is the “hint of wildness” Lewis refers to.

It’s been erased over the last 500 years. Shakespeare made a literary use of angels, but Lewis felt his “creatures flee from man, not man from them.” He also thought the word and idea of “Fairies” was “tarnished by bad children’s books with worse illustrations” of the 19th and 20th centuries. Disney’s Tinkerbell comes to mind. Harmless.

Lewis felt we must “learn what the word ‘fairy’ meant to our ancestors.” This means returning to “the discarded image.” In the sphere, we see some pretty wild things. Start with creation. In Proverbs 8, a mysterious being, described as a woman, works alongside the Triune God—the Father, Son, and Spirit. Four beings are present in creation? Yes. Is she a forerunner of the Bride of Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God? Maybe.

And notice how the number four keeps popping up. In Judaism (as well as the ancient church and the medieval universe), the gospel is four great themes—creation, fall, redemption, and the final restoration. These four appear in all the church’s creeds.

And notice there are four offices of Jesus. Prophet, priest, redeemer, king. Wild.

We navigate by four directions—north, south, east, and west. We arrange the year by four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall. There are four basic elements—earth, wind, fire, and water. We define life by four stages—infancy, childhood, adulthood, and elder years. Lakota Native Americans arrange their lives around four ideals.[2]

Look at business. In-N-Out Burger’s success has to been attributed to the number four. Four colors: red, white, yellow, and gray; four cash registers; and just four items on the menu: burgers, shakes, fries, and sodas.[3] Look at the brain. It can only consciously process about four bits of information at any given moment.[4]

Something spooky is going on here. Lewis was Irish. The ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain enjoyed Halloween. It goes back to Pope Gregory III moving the Feast of All Saints to November 1 to coincide with the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV made All Saints a holy day. As it spread to Ireland, the feast’s evening vigil was called “All Hallows Even,” or “Hallowe’en.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I find many religious “nones” seek transcendence, a hint of wildness in the universe. Few find it in church. Eugene Peterson knew why. In Playing the Angles, he writes how pastors can’t change the world “if we don’t know the basic terms with which we are working.” Here are a few basic terms. God is not vertically “up there.” “The culture” is not horizontally “out there.” If we keep operating in this Cartesian world, “we are going to end up living futile fantasy lives,” writes Peterson. The problem is not fantasy. It’s the futility of the wrong frame. When we return to the ancient sphere, we find good angels outnumber bad ones two-to-one, reminding us the world is a perfectly safe place. Halloween is safe but spooky, good fun.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964), 122.

[2] Joseph M. Marshall, The Power of Four: Leadership lessons of Crazy Horse (Sterling, 2009), 18.

[3] Mark Gottfredsom, “Innovation vs. Complexity: What is Too Much of a Good Thing?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005.

[4] Jonah Lehrer, “Attention, Shoppers: Go With Your Gut,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2011.

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3 Responses to “A Hint of Wildness”

  1. Tom Nesler says:

    Perhaps the reason we avoid dealing with the concept of Angels (and Demons) is because we can’t control them. They serve no purpose in our theology and we can’t depend on them.

    There is much to our world that contains mystery and “magic”. Thanks for pointing this out.

    I wish Halloween had not been hijacked by the horror genre. It used to be a fun and imaginative holiday for children. Not a scary/evil one.

  2. Mike Metzger says:

    I’m of the opinion it was also hijacked by innocuous “Harvest Festivals”

  3. Biz says:

    Great piece, Mike.

    Just last weekend my son offered a “haunted trail” in our little community. It was spooky but fun and quite creative.

    He and a friend developed the themes and then wrapped the trail just inside of a wood-line surrounding my inlaws property. He then managed to wrangle about 20 of his friends into helping them pull it off.

    Folks are hungry. Word got out. Nothing else in town was happening (other than the proverbial Harvest festivals). Over 1,000 people came through in under 3 hours. We were worn out.

    It was spooky, but great fun and hinted at a world we don’t often acknowledge. I helped all night then got up early the next morning to lead a contemplative prayer/scripture reading and facilitate worship.

    Very few folks from our church came to the haunted trail but the community responded en masse. Not sure what that means (if anything) but we’ve (the church) certainly “disneyed” (only one of many reasons, of course)our way out of relevance in the modern church and then we attack anything that doesn’t fit within that neat little box.

    Great post. I will send it on to Luke.

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