Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Memories of Eden

In his book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis relates an experience of beauty that he had as a child. His brother had constructed a miniature garden out of moss and twigs placed in the lid of a biscuit tin. For some inexplicable reason this piece of childhood art triggered an intense vision of paradise in the young Lewis.

Years later he relived the experience and described it in these words: "It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it."

In a moment the experience was gone. He says, "The world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison." Lewis called his experience "the memory of memory.... as if from a depth not of years but of centuries."

We all have moments like this. These moments of beauty and peace and joy are glimpses of eternity. They are memories of Eden. Lewis says of his experience, "As long as I live, my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother's toy garden."

I have had moments like. My life is marked by memories of Eden, my true home. They prompted my spiritual search as a teen, triggered my conversion to Christ in my twenties, and led me into fulltime ministry. When church and religion threatened to extinguish them altogether, I left ministry to recover them.

There are certain places in the natural world that I can go today where memories of such encounters trigger new encounters. These are my holy places. They are not shrines or historical sites, but wilderness places of quiet and peace.

You have had moments like these. Think of those times in your life of deep joy and peace. It may have been an experience of nature, music, art, family, worship or prayer - a time when time seemed to stop, space seemed to drop away, and you dwelled in profound peace.

Return to that time in your imagination, and you can relive the experience. This is when we touch the essence of who we truly are, what the world truly is, and who God really is. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. We know intuitively that this spiritual realm is always at hand but not always perceived.

I find such moments now in prayer regularly. I get to my knees, and the world often becomes translucent to the Word behind the world. But then the heaviness of physicality returns, leaving only the "memory of the memory," as Lewis says, "a longing for the longing that had just ceased."

To live in this real world that lies behind the concrete veil of the physical world is my heart's desire. It is the home from which I came, toward which I am headed, and in which I live. As the apostle Paul quoted the ancient poet as saying, "In Him we live and move and have our being."  In Him I know myself, and all is well. Outside Him, I am a stranger in a strange land.

1 comment:

  1. And that's why I love C.S. Lewis! He really captures that feeling better than any other author I've found.

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