Looking Along the Beam



Wadham College, Oxford University


“When it becomes clear that you cannot find out by reasoning whether the cat is in the linen-cupboard, it is Reason herself who whispers, ‘Go and look.’”[1]


In the early 1920’s, while enjoying the beauty of the garden at Wadham College, C. S. Lewis read Samuel Alexander’s Space Time and Deity and through it was introduced to an idea that would shed light on his past and set his path on a course towards the Light of the World.  Alexander put forth a theory that divided our conscious lives into two processes which he labeled Enjoyment and Contemplation.  Lewis would write in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy that upon reading this, he “accepted this distinction at once … as an indispensable tool of thought.”[2]  He would come to the conclusion that “we need a threefold division” of our thought lives:  “the Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated.”[3]  The thread of this conclusion can be seen running throughout the body of Lewis’s work, both academic and popular.[4]  Most importantly, this would be the tool by which he was able to fasten together particular experiences of intense longing he labeled Joy and the truth of Christianity.  This garden encounter would eventually compel him to take leave of the “dry desert” of popular Realism he had adopted as his life’s philosophy. He was humbled into accepting that this strong desire for Joy pointed to something real and beyond the finite world of his senses that he had hitherto accepted as rock-bottom reality.[5]  The role that the concepts of Enjoyment and Contemplation played in Lewis’s conversion can instruct us as apologists both in how we craft our approach and in how we understand our own lives “in Christ.”

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