Monday, October 20, 2008

How’s that again?

I recently discovered a book called A Year With C. S. Lewis that is now on my list of books to buy. It contains a year’s worth of daily readings from the non-fiction works of the aforementioned Mr. C[live] S[taples] Lewis. More about the book in a minute. But first, I want you to look at something:

Those, my friends, are limpets, or snails, if you prefer. The wikipedia article on limpets includes a sentence about them that says, “In the latest taxonomy the Patellogastropoda have become an unranked taxon as a separate clade.” I haven’t a clue what that might mean. But try to think of yourself as a limpet (or snail, if you prefer) for a moment.


Now we can proceed. Below are entries for two days from that book of C. S. Lewis’s writings I mentioned. The material is copyrighted, of course, but since this blog is not for anyone’s commercial use, least of all mine, let’s sneak a peek at something I found quite mind-boggling. In your reading, the limpet (or snail, if you prefer) represents Man, and Man represents God. Put on your limpet-sized thinking cap, everyone, and dive in.

January 2
Imagine a Mystical Limpet

Why are many people prepared in advance to maintain that, whatever else God may be, He is not the concrete, living, willing, and acting God of Christian theology? I think the reason is as follows. Let us suppose a mystical limpet, a sage among limpets, who (rapt in vision) catches a glimpse of what Man is like. In reporting it to his disciples, who have some vision themselves (though less than he) he will have to use many negatives. He will have to tell them that Man has no shell, is not attached to a rock, is not surrounded by water. And his disciples, having a little vision of their own to help them, do get some idea of Man. But then there come erudite limpets, limpets who write histories of philosophy and give lectures on comparative religion, and who have never had any vision of their own. What they get from out of the prophetic limpet’s words is simply and solely the negatives. From these, uncorrected by any positive insight, they build up a picture of Man as a sort of amorphous jelly (he has no shell) existing nowhere in particular (he is not attached to a rock) and never taking nourishment (there is no water to drift it towards him). And having a traditional reverence for Man they conclude that to be a famished jelly in a dimensionless void is the supreme mode of existence, and reject as crude, materialistic superstition any doctrine which would attribute to Man a definite shape, a structure, and organs. (--from Miracles)

January 3rd
Not Naked but Reclothed

Our own situation is much like that of the erudite limpets. Great prophets and saints have an intuition of God which is positive and concrete in the highest degree. Because, just touching the fringes of His being, they have seen that He is plenitude of life and energy and joy, therefore (and for no other reason) they have to pronounce that He transcends those limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality, and the like. The positive quality in Him which repels these limitations is their only ground for all the negatives. But when we come limping after and try to construct an intellectual or “enlightened” religion, we take over these negatives (infinite, immaterial, impassable, immutable, etc.) and use them unchecked by any positive intuition. At each step we have to strip off from our idea of God some human attribute. But the only real reason for stripping off the human attribute is to make room for putting in some positive divine attribute. In St. Paul’s language, the purpose of all this unclothing is not that our idea of God should reach nakedness but that it should be reclothed. When we have removed from our idea of God some puny human characteristic, we (as merely erudite or intelligent enquirers) have no resources from which to supply that blindingly real and concrete attribute of Deity which ought to replace it. Thus at each step in the process of refinement our idea of God contains less, and the fatal pictures come in (an endless, silent sea, an empty sky beyond all stars, a dome of white radiance) and we reach at last mere zero and worship a nonentity. (--from Miracles)

(end of quotation)

I can only guess that Lewis goes on in Miracles to reclothe the idea and suggest that God is, in fact, the concrete, living, willing, and acting God of Christian theology.

I think he is saying that God is as inconceivable to Man as Man would be to a limpet. And perhaps he is also saying that the erudite, whom we tend to admire, usually get it wrong and the true prophet or mystic, whom we tend to ignore when we are feeling tolerant and kill when we are not, has a better chance of getting it right.

I don’t always find C. S. Lewis easy to understand, but I love reading his words, even when I have to proceed at a snail’s pace.


  1. Thanks for sharing the C.S. Lewis snippets. I guess I'll have to acquire the book to see how he 'reclothes' The Almighty.

  2. Thanks, Bob. About this time of year, I usually starting to wonder what I'll use as the next year's devotional book, and I had not heard of this one.

  3. the experiance i have had with snails is in my mouth...but i hate the comparison of man to the jelly of a snail i guess it is just my ego that stunts the idea, and to picture the almighty has a peron or person who can't understand me like i can't understand a limpet is also unnaceptable...i did't create a limpet so lewis is right about me not understanding, but i do believe he[god] doesn't have trouble relating or UNDERSTANDING ME WHO HE CREATED

  4. Thank you, Pat, Ruth, and Putz, for your comments.

    Pat and Ruth, glad to be of service as your pseudo-librarian or pseudo-bookseller.

    Putz, the point is not that we don't understand the snail. The point is that the snail doesn't understand us. Of course the Almighty, our Creator, understands us, just as Henry Ford understood a Ford automobile.

  5. Deep thoughts for this limping limpet this morning. Lewis certainly had quite a mind. There's a movie that I like which has a line "You're more complicated than a cockroach, but have ever tried to explain yourself to one?"

    Thanks for telling your readers about this book. Someone had a good idea to put something like that together.

  6. Jeannelle,

    "You're more complicated than a cockroach, but have your ever tried to explain yourself to one?"

    That's a great line! Do you remember what movie it's from? I'd love to know.