Robert Black: Looking for beauty
Ever since our first child was born, one of the things that I had been looking forward to was reading the Chronicles of Narnia series by CS Lewis with her. I was excited about introducing her to the world of Narnia and feeding her imagination with these wonderful books. As a child, I read a few of the novels but not the entire series, so I was also looking forward to reading these books in course. Well, this past spring, it seemed like she was ready for the adventure and so we began with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the “correct” order in which to read the books is fiercely debated among Lewis scholars). The experience did not disappoint – we bonded over the course of about two months as we read a few chapters each night and in the drop-off line at elementary school.
Lewis was a literary genius, and so the books certainly entertained. And he was an adept theologian who used children’s stories to teach about faith through adventures in magical lands. What caught me off guard in reading the series was the sense of beauty with which Lewis wove throughout the Narnian adventures. In particular, in the narrative bookends of Narnia, there is an overwhelming sense of beauty – a beauty rooted in the intentionality and harmony of Creation with its Creator.
In The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis writes about the Creation of Narnia by the God figure in the series, the lion Aslan. Aslan creates through the beauty of a song: “The song was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.” Lewis’ writing along with the joy of reading with my daughter moved me to tears as I read about the beauty that is the foundation of Creation.
At the other end of the series, in The Last Battle, Lewis concludes with beauty. As the world of Narnia is passing away, the characters find themselves in Aslan’s country (a metaphor for Heaven) and it is described in terms of beauty: “This is still Narnia, and, more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below.” The culmination of Creation is that same beauty out of which everything sprang.
Lewis certainly wrote these novels to not only entertain, but to inspire faith and hope in his readers. As an analogy for the Christian faith, the Chronicles point to the deepest truths of faith and one of these truths is beauty. The way that Lewis uses beauty as a central theme at both ends of the series mirrors how Scripture begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation with beauty. And what is true at both the beginning and the end is true throughout.
When is the last time that you encountered beauty? When was the last time you were surprised by joy and moved to tears? When was the last time that you felt peace and were able to trust that all shall be well? While Lewis’ writing has much to teach us about faith, perhaps the lesson that we need the most right now is to pay attention to the gift of beauty which surrounds us. There is so much in the news and in our lives that are ugly and harsh, so having an eye towards beauty would do us some good. The notes of music, the strokes of a paintbrush, the words of a poet, the colors of a flower all are pointing us towards the beauty and purpose out of which we were created and they remind us of the destination of all things into that beauty. Know that you are beautifully and wonderfully made. Notice the beauty that surrounds us. And know that, in the end, beauty will embrace all.
The Rev. Robert Black, Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury.