Monday, January 27, 2014

Reason, Imagination and the Blue Flower

Product DetailsAlister McGrath’s fascinating biography, C.S. Lewis: A Life – Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, explores the forces that shaped Lewis’ life and work.  McGrath describes the timeline of events that led to his subject’s conversion.  One part of the story that captured my attention was how on the day he came to recognize the divinity of Christ, Lewis himself noted being especially captivated by a field of blue flowers.

“Lewis’s heightened attention to the bluebells may well reflect their symbolic association with this moment of insight – after all, Lewis tells us that he had long been a self-confessed ‘votary of the Blue Flower.’  The ‘Blue Flower’ motif in German Romanticism has complex historical roots.  It was first stated in Novalis’s posthumously published fragment of a novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), and came to symbolize a longing for the elusive reconciliation of reason and imagination, the observed world outside the mind and the subjective world within.  The bright blue European cornflower is often cited as an inspiration for this symbol.  It is easily extended to bluebells.” (p. 154)

Before his conversion to Christianity, Lewis had struggled to reconcile the two halves of his mind.  But in finding Christ, his “Blue Flower,” he finally found a way to hold both reason and imagination together.

In most Christian circles there is serious pressure to hold to a ‘blue ribbon’ faith – one that lines up sufficiently to accepted creeds and statements of faith.  Now while there is certainly a place for teaching orthodoxy, what if instead of focusing our energies on striving after that ‘blue ribbon’, confirming that the faith has the stamp of approval, we were focused on becoming ‘votaries of the Blue Flower?”  What if our way of discipling people was truly holistic as we helped others take up an ‘owned’ faith that was fully alive in both halves of the mind?  Could we begin to think of a truly ‘blue ribbon’ faith as the kind that points towards the one found in the Blue Flower – one that fully uses reason and imagination? 

Lewis was an avid walker and he spent many afternoons hiking around the English countryside.  Lewis’ faith had legs, too, and he models for us a way of believing that used both legs.  He used both the leg of reason and the leg of imagination to allow him to travel deep into the country of His King.  So many followers of Christ, though, are unable to venture that far from home.  They stumble and hop on their preferred leg of either reason or imagination.  

Lewis produced well-reasoned accounts of faith that have stood the test of time like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. He also gave us more imaginative works, like the Narnia series and The Great Divorce. Both kinds have shaped the minds of countless people.

So, to use another image, we could think of reason and imagination like the two blades that form a pair of scissors.  If only one side is sharp, the scissors are rendered powerless.  Lacking a healthy pair of blades the disciple is unable to cut through the cords that keep him or her in bondage.

When I think about the kind of faith that I want to pass on to the people around me, my hope is that they’ll find more than just the ‘blue ribbon’ of orthodoxy.  I want to give expression to a faith that engages both sides of the mind and develops capacities for reason and imagination.

May God help us make fully-formed disciples, fellow devotees of the ‘Blue Flower.’

Grace and Peace,

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