Light Beams and Musty Old Sheds: Meditations on Earlier Meditations

Imagine you are in a dark moldy shed and the only light coming into the shed is a singular beam from the roof. Being the only source of light, the beam is really the only visible thing in the shed and you are able to view it in its entirety. You see its width and length and the multitude of dust particles drifting in and along it. You are ‘looking at’ the beam.
Now imagine you step into the beam and look up along it towards the roof of the shed. You are able to see outside the shed and into view come trees and sunlight and a small sliver of the world outside of the shed. You no longer can view the beam of light itself because you are in it. You are ‘looking along’ the beam.

For C.S. Lewis, this illustration was important in describing the difference between Enjoyment and Contemplation (see his ‘Meditations in a Toolshed' essay for further clarification). Lewis thought knowledge could be divided into these two sub-categories, knowledge as Enjoyment and knowledge as Contemplation. The differences between the two are reflected in the beam illustration. To know something Contemplatively is to know it impersonally, scientifically, to identify its attributes but to be outside of it ‘looking at’ the beam. For example, I know my wife is physically beautiful (not my subjective opinion, this is just objective fact), she has brown hair, green eyes; she likes chocolate chip cookies and is a good athlete. To know something through Enjoyment is to know it deeply, personally, to be surrounded by it, to be ‘looking along’ the beam is to surrender to its influence and allow the beam to illuminate your line of sight. For example, sharing life with my wife, in the reality and influence of her presence, growing deeper with each other, being challenged by her and growing as a man/husband because of our love relationship.

I mention this, random though it is, because it got me thinking of how I ‘know’ Jesus. As someone who loves to read and learn about Jesus I often find myself growing in my Contemplative knowledge of Christ (which is a good thing) but neglecting my Enjoyment of him.
Think about when you came into a relationship with Jesus and surrendered your life to him. For many, there was a definite Contemplative reason(s) for wanting to commit their life to Christ but the actual act, the moment (or series of moments) of surrender was akin to moving from ‘looking at’ the beam (Jesus) to stepping inside of and ‘looking along’ the beam. In fact the very act of stepping into the beam is in a sense ‘surrendering’ to the beam and allowing it to transform your field of vision. No longer is Jesus something you look at but He becomes the light by which you see the rest of the world.

I do not think I am alone in this struggle for a deeper Enjoyment of Jesus. I’ve found that many people, especially younger people, struggle to find a healthy balance between Contemplating Jesus and Enjoying him. In today’s world everyone is an information junkie and input is nearly unavoidable so the Christian constantly has opportunities to learn more and more Contemplatively about Jesus without pausing to reflect on Him.
But ultimately the transformation Jesus brings is less through Contemplative knowledge of him (important though that is) and a whole lot more through Enjoyment of him, being in his presence, allowing him to illuminate everything else. There is only so much ‘looking at’ Jesus can teach us about him if we are not stepping into his Glory and light to Enjoy him. If we are content to ‘look at’ the beam instead of ‘looking along’ it, we are confining our knowledge of him and hindering the transformation Jesus constantly brings to a life. We are in effect, refusing to surrender and playing it safe, rather than risking the transformation and life changing awe a life lived in Jesus’ presence brings.

For many students in San Francisco, pondering Jesus Contemplatively is a necessary start, but it is hardly the end. We (Alex, myself, our ministry team) don’t simply want people to think about Jesus impersonally but to surrender their life to the Enjoyment of him, to be engulfed in his glory, forgiveness, love and strength and to live their life ‘looking along’ the truth of Jesus, rather than simply ‘looking at’ it.


jwaid said...

i love your point that to be transformed requires risk. i would love to hear your thoughts on what that risk might look like. jwwj