Today, I am reminded of an important book in my life. Though there have been many, this book in particular was an early guide in setting my theological/spiritual course. I first came across this book twenty-six years ago today. I was a freshman at Moody Bible Institute living in downtown Chicago. I’m happy to remember this book today – a resource that helped me so wisely in my early journey crossing the river of passing time. And I feel joyful that I came under this book’s influence – amidst all the other options I was exposed to at that formative time in life. I am grateful to have been shaped by its open-hearted-grace.
The book I came across that Autumn of 1991 was Leanne Payne’s, Real Presence: The Christian Worldview of C.S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality. At the time, it was one of the first encounters I had ever had with the kind of ideas that seem to express exactly what I thought and felt spiritual reality to be like, but had, in my young life, hitherto rarely come across. IT was like meeting a stranger for the first time and intuitively knowing you could become best friends. Her words and exploration of the writings of C.S. Lewis inspired me to keep searching and thinking and deepening my own spiritual life.
Here is a short sampling of what I mean. Notice the recovery of the imminence (closeness) of God through Christ by the Spirit. Later in life, I would come across the writings of contemplative Bernadette Roberts, who deepened my understanding of this same Truth. But, here, you can see how the mind of my boat began to be pointed in the direction of these contemplative shores:
“The reality of God, present in and through His creation, is what I shall call incarnational reality…For C.S . Lewis, to know God was to be invaded by His Spirit; as Christians we are both ‘in Christ‘ and ‘Christ in us.’ St. Paul’s statement, ‘not I but Christ in me,’ formed the center of Lewis’ theology and philosophy. It was in fact, the experience of the ‘living presence’ of God that eventually brought Lewis from a form of philosophical idealism (belief in Absolute Spirit) to a supernatural knowledge of a personal God – of a Real Presence, within and without….Lewis recovered the vision of an imminent God – a God who indwells and who is yet sovereign over, and beyond, the creature…Lewis was convinced that to know God was to be indwelt by God. The creature is linked to the Creator by the Spirit of the risen Christ.”*
Payne’s exploration of C.S. Lewis brought together at least two things I loved as a young man, and still do today at mid-life: the theological creativity of C.S. Lewis and the doctrine(s) of the Trinity.
The Mystery of Christ and the Truth of the Trinity are some of the most profound Realities we can explore and experience as human beings on this planet in this lifetime. What I have come to know is that, in part, the contemplative practices invite us beyond doctrines and ideas into the experience of Christ and the Trinity through practices such as solitude, stillness and silence. It also turns out that above all, the Eucharist embodies all three, and is itself the Real Presence of Christ to be partaken of.
For a deeper application of these ideas, I highly recommend exploring Bernadette Roberts’ unparalleled essay, “The Spiritual Journey Recapitulates the History of Religion” in her collection of essays entitled, Essays on the Contemplative Journey.
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*Leanne Payne, The Real Christ: The Christian Worldview of C.S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1988) 10, 14.
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