This past Tuesday at the Christian Classics Reading Group, we read three of C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. This book is a series of imaginary letters to an imaginary interlocutor named “Malcolm” (naturally). They revolve around prayer primarily (naturally). The letters we read were 17, 18, and 19, if you wish to catch up with us.
Letter 17 is essentially about pathways to adoration. Lewis reminds Malcolm about a time they were walking in a wood and Malcolm recommended him to start where he was to move towards adoration — with splashing cool water from a spring on his warm face. From there, Lewis discusses the use of pleasure as a pathway to the worship of Almighty God, saying that he finds it easier to move to adoration from tangible pleasures than from thinking about the doctrines of God.
He makes a good point about “bad” pleasures, that it is not the pleasure itself that is bad, only the method of acquiring it:
It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness. The sweetness is still a beam from the glory. That does not palliate the stealing. It makes it worse. There is sacrilege in the theft. We have abused a holy thing.
This is important to consider, although Lewis later in Letter 18 does point out that there are pleasures that are actually bad, such as the pleasure derived from nursing a grievance. Yet by and large, the pleasures of this life are “patches of Godlight”. As a paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton says:
Life is like a waking up after a shipwreck and moments of pleasure are remnants washed ashore from the wreckage, pieces of paradise extended through time. We must hold these relics lightly and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.
I believe this is important advice to take hold of. The world is God’s creation — by nature, it is good, even having been pronounced so by the Almighty in Genesis 1. In Soliloquy of the Soul, St. Thomas a Kempis contends that the pleasures of this world, being transient, are not to be sought, but that we are, instead, to live lives of self-deprivation (a form of the Way of Negation).
Lewis and Chesterton would vehemently disagree. Yes, there is pain in this life. Yes, we are destined for the New Country, for the Kingdom of the Heavens, for the New Heaven and the New Earth, for the Resurrection, for the Recapitulation of All Things. Yet here we are on Earth. The present life is transitory, but the pleasures of it are not to be shunned.
And Lewis shows us a way forward, a way to enjoy transient pleasures without compromising the future life — these pleasures are from the God of Glory Himself. They are moments where the Kingdom of the Heavens breaks through into our transitory lives and shows us a bit of His glory. They are vehicles of grace and pathways to adoration.
We live in a world of pain and sorrow — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where the Church is having something of a crisis around public worship — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where materialists tell us that this material thing is all the reality there is — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where materialists of a different ilk tell us that the value of this material thing lies within the thing itself — pathways to adoration are necessary.
Seek to worship God daily through pleasure, beauty, theology, hymns, Psalms — follow the paths to the adoration of the Majestic One seated on the Sapphire Throne.