C.S. Lewis and the Rhetoric of Glory

Robert WoodsFeatured Author, Member Publications: Case Studies & Thinkpieces, Member Publications: Other, News: Other Leave a Comment

C.S. Lewis and the Rhetoric of Glory

Brandon Knight, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor of Communication
William Carey University

Have you ever felt disconnected? With the presidential election looming in the not-so-distant future, politics often places feelings of discontent on display; many Americans place their hopes in nominees who will possibly bring to fruition the expectations and dreams of many. Yet the cycle resets every four to eight years, often leaving more to be desired. Somehow these desires are only amplified through this process, thereby revealing a craving for more, possibly another place. Other forms of disconnect come to us in an array of experiences whether through failed relationships, the loss of loved ones, or conflicts.

What if such moments of disconnect point to a greater reality? A lost memory of unity with creation only hinted at through nostalgia. Often even as we experience nature and beauty, or a great fairy tale, we find ourselves at a type of distance—longing for more. Having felt a moment of fulfillment, we find that it is fleeting, only to be stripped away after the moment of insight occurs.

C.S. Lewis notes such experiences when stating, “We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure” (p. 43). Lewis himself reminisced in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, that the distant Castlereagh Hills seen from his nursery window were mythical and, in many senses, unattainable. As a result, they taught him longing, or sehnsucht, which became an essential theme not only throughout his life but in his famous sermon The Weight of Glory.

During World War II, C. S. Lewis delivered The Weight of Glory at Oxford, declaring that each person in the audience contained the “inconsolable secret” or that “shy, persistent, inner voice” pointing them to something beyond the chaos and tragedy of their own world to a distant place—a far off country (pp. 29-31). Yet, other voices were attempting to stifle that longing by denoting that this world and mankind’s progress is all that can be obtained, hence Lewis’ reasoning for implying that he was weaving a spell through his discourse to break the enchantment holding interlocutors under its sway.  “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell?  Perhaps I am…” (p. 31). In other words, through his discourse, Lewis sought to stoke the “inconsolable secret” toward its proper end.

The forms of alienation humans often deal with are quite diverse. If not alienation in the forms of relationships with others, in some moments, we even feel at a distance from our true selves, longing to be whole through nostalgic experiences.  How are we to find a “healing for that old ache?”

Lewis might tell us as he did his audience at Oxford to set our eyes elsewhere—the morning star—so that we might be given light to see the meaning and purpose of all our longings and desires. Scripture helps us to reframe our current perspective of existence and reconfigure the symbols around us to their proper place through the Christian mythos, adding meaning to our daily existence just as it did for Lewis’ original audience. Then as we look up and refocus our eyes on the morning star as scripture tells us to do, our hearts are illuminated through hope and the possibility of consummation with the Christian Other—God. “But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so.  Some day, God willing, we shall get in” (p. 43).

Therefore, as Lewis argues, it is through the light of this far-off place that we might be given sight to that which is around us, namely Nature, as well as those around us. However, we must step into the Christian story, or mythos, following the summons of nature as we hear messages from that far-off country. Scripture informs us that nature is just a symbol pointing to an even greater glory (Psalm 19:1). By stepping in, we are challenged to even see our neighbors anew, which humbles us by the weight of their possible glory:  “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal” (p. 46).

Lewis’ use of Christian communication and mythopoetry is nothing less than a “rhetoric of glory” seeking to teach our souls to hope for consummation elsewhere. The moments of joy experienced through natural delights are only a foreshadowing of the fulfillment that awaits us, namely consubstantiation. Therefore, our moments of disconnect and longings point us to the instant wherein we will become a part of His glory forevermore. Oh, that the “morning star [would] rise in [our] hearts” and our longings be refocused toward that proper place (2 Pet. 1:19b).

Leave a Reply