Education and Character: Learning to See Clearly (part 1)

IBR-1113189“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen.

Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

–C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?”(1945)


My years are beginning to show. I am facing the fact that I can no longer read most print without a pair of reading glasses. A cloudiness in my right eye suggests something more ominous, but I’m ignoring that for the moment.

Unlike the floaters I see in the air, which only appear when I stare at a blank surface, I am seeing connecting threads between many different things I’ve been reading in a variety of rich sources lately. Most of these ideas boil down to truths about learning, about character and about perspective, how we look at the world and how that looking affects us.

lewis writingI’m still reading John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (which, by the way, is having its intended effect of making me desire God–for which, God be praised). In the chapter I’ve studied this week, he quotes several times from C.S. Lewis. This being the 50th anniversary month of Lewis’ death (he died on the same day as J.F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley, just in case you didn’t know that), I’ve been seeing more references to Lewis’ writing on various blogs, as well.

Piper included a long quote from Lewis’ essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed”, published in God in the Dock (1948), which I know I read years ago. Its truth struck me afresh this week:

SONY DSC“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch black…

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are  very different experiences.

Lewis goes on to remark on the study of scholars in various disciplines who look at something from the outside–religious experiences, for example. Looking at something gives one the illusion of objectivity, and breeds an arrogant smugness towards those one is observing.

But say I’m studying pain, and people’s response to it. If I’ve never experienced terrific pain, I may be as detached as I like, even find certain kinds of noises or grimaces distasteful or comic. However, once I’ve felt the same degree of pain, I may find that I look on my clinical observations somewhat differently, with a new humility and compassion which is just as valuable as my objectivity was before. Is one better than the other?

Not necessarily, says Lewis:

“We must…deny from the very outset the idea that looking at is, by its own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along. One must look both along and at everything. In particular cases we shall find reason for regarding the one or the other vision as inferior.”

forestI like that picture of looking along the beam to its source. It makes me think of the saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees–looking at details and missing the big picture. In this case, it would be looking at a single dusty sun beam, and not recognizing that it is emitted by a vastly powerful, distant star.

This is the essence of being “short-sighted”…not striving to take a long view of things as well as the immediate and obvious one. In some cases, it seems as if the long view is waved aside as immaterial, unimportant or irrelevant. (All those specific objections to Obamacare, which were raised in Congress before the bill ever passed, were scorned by its proponents. And now those problems, seen before at long range, are getting to be quite up close and personal, aren’t they?)

Perhaps arrogance is just another word for such short-sightedness. Hubris says, ‘What is right in front of my nose is all that matters.” Pride assumes that whatever appears logical and self-evident from one’s own perspective must be the objective and only right way of viewing the subject. How many problems could be solved by looking along the beam, rather than merely looking at it?

A blessed Sunday to you. When you gaze at the world today–mine is dusted with snow–don’t forget to gaze along it to its Source.

(to be continued…)

18 responses to “Education and Character: Learning to See Clearly (part 1)

  1. Great post. I have noticed that Lewis is quoted more often lately too, I have quoted him a few times myself.

    As busy and distracted as many of us are lately, it’s easy to ignore the true source of everything.

    God is the world’s only hope.

    • I’m glad of the recent spate of quotes. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, but it’s been some time since I’d picked up any of his writings. I was glad to crack open “God in the Dock” again. A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  2. A fitting tribute to the anniversary of Lewis’ death this past week, and beautifully evocative imagery as well. Age does seem to bring unexpected peeks at the depth of the beauty around us, casting even things we thought we knew fully into a different light. I can’t wait to see what your future posts bring…

  3. I find this particularly true as I strive to love others as Christ loved, and LOVES, me. It occurs to me that there is a real danger for all Christians wherein a sense of pride or hubris can taint our humility should we ever see ourselves as “better”, or above others. We need to remember from where WE have come, and in the words of the song:

    “Oh, Jesus, Friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.”

    • Yes, we can see the “less fortunate” as needy, or as having made bad choices. But we need to see them, too, as those God created and those for whom Christ died. Thanks, PGH!

  4. Planting Potatoes

    Great quotes from C.S. Lewis! I agree with you 100% that we must not be so conformed to this world that we are willing to accept anything that comes along, rather than asking God for the patience that we need so be “long sighted.” Good read! Our first snow of the season has melted…but we are being reminded of what zero on the thermometer feels like though! 🙂

    • Thanks, PP, and welcome to the site. In fact we are no longer to be conformed to this world at all, are we? The process of having one’s mind renewed, however, is more arduous and long-term than it sounds in Paul’s letter!! A blessed thanksgiving to you!

      • Planting Potatoes

        yes…I think that is why Paul advised that we live a “tranquil” life… wife and I have been learning that living a tranquil life means that we are more able to keep our minds renewed! I will be back to learn more! Many blessings to you!

  5. I enjoy your insights.
    And I love CS Lewis. I am very slowing reading ‘Mere Christianity’. It takes so much stopping and thinking about what he’s saying. But it’s definitely worthwhile.

  6. If you haven’t already, you might want to read THE GIFT OF PAIN by Philip Yancey along with Dr. Paul Brand. I have not read it, but did read about his interaction with Brand (and co-authorship) in SOUL SURVIVOR: HOW THIRTEEN UNLIKELY MENTORS HELPED MY FAITH SURVIVE THE CHURCH (about a different kind of pain), where Brand is 1 of the 13. I’m now reading his REACHING FOR THE INVISIBLE GOD (about a still different kind of pain).

    Graham Cooke has a teaching on “Hiddenness and Manifestation” which makes a similar dichotomy (objective vs. subjective). He says that when God is clearly manifesting and you are enjoying “the Glory,” don’t try to analyze. When He is hiding Himself (as in Hide-and-Seek), journal and keep track of insights, feelings, pain, etc. Some of the deepest connection with God, he postulates, come out of those times, and those who don’t “feel” the Presence should not at all feel shamed by those who do (or claim to).

    • “The Gift of Pain” IS excellent–as is everything by Dr. Paul Brand. (C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” is also useful in this regard.) I am just beginning Piper’s final chapter in the book I cited in this blog. It is entitled, “When the Darkness Doesn’t Lift”…and will no doubt address the subject you’ve introduced. Thanks for reading and commenting! A blessed Thanksgiving to you.

  7. JTR and GBL: Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Blessings to you and your families.

  8. Reblogged this on Winnowing…sorting the wheat and chaff of my thoughts and commented:

    Part 2 is coming on Sunday…

  9. Pingback: Education and Character: Learning to See Clearly, part 2 | Two Heads are Better Than One

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