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Michael Ward

Lewis as Mystic

"I trust no one will call me a mystic—a name, in its strict theological sense, too high, and in its popular sense (I hope) too vague, to describe me; but it appears to me that all sorts of objects, animate and inanimate, natural and artificial … seem (I hardly know how to say it) to have been prepared from all eternity for their precise place in the symphony of things."

So wrote C.S. Lewis in The Personal Heresy (1939). His trust that no one would call him a mystic has turned out to be poorly founded. Two men who knew him well, Dom Bede Griffiths and George Sayer, have failed him on that score, the former observing that "there is no doubt that he had a profound kind of mystical intuition," the latter commenting that The Pilgrim's Regress scales "mystical heights." And several Lewis critics have come to similar conclusions: Michael Christensen remarks upon his "mystical tendencies"; Robert Houston Smith notes that Lewis found "a place for mysticism in his thought"; Leanne Payne goes so far as to claim that Lewis was "an outstanding Christian mystic."

A web-footed, feathered creature which waddles and quacks is ordinarily known as a duck. A writer whose friends and critics describe as a mystic and who himself confessed to having intuitions which fell somewhere between the strict and the popular uses of the term "mystical," would ordinarily be known as a mystic. Why, then, do we not immediately think of Lewis as such?

There are at least four reasons why Lewis has not generally been categorized as a mystic. The first is that his humility and privacy-loving reticence caused him to understate what was an important aspect of his spirituality. For instance, at the end of The Four Loves he touches upon that love which lies at "the true centre of all human and angelic life." He then adds, cryptically, "God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love. Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting." But it sounds as though, perhaps, he really had tasted, in mystical ecstasy, ...

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