C.S. Lewis And The Value of the Imagination

C.S. Lewis And The Value of the Imagination April 10, 2017

I am guilty of an elaborate plot. And that is: to let me daughters (hereafter affectionately referred to as my “pixies”) actually use their imaginations.

My daughters believe in the Tooth Faerie, Jack Frost, and Santa Clause. I have the film Rise of the Guardians to thank for that. Years ago, after they watched the movie, when the girls asked me if they were real, I didn’t answer.

Instead, I asked them, “Well, what do you think?” They each proclaimed their answer: “Yes!”

I left it at that. And, I may or may not use strange handwriting to write notes to them from the Tooth Faerie when they lose their teeth. Those notes may or may not have said something like, “Oh, and Jack Frost says hello.”

Yes, yes, I know. I’m a bad father.

Robbing Children of their Imagination

But there’s a reason behind my madness. My wife and I want to be intentional about the cultivation of our children’s imaginations. We believe it’s an important element of their spiritual formation. And I believe there’s good information out there to back up this belief.

One book I highly recommend to parents with school-age children is C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. It’s a short read, and packed full of goodness.

In it Lewis suggests that society begins robbing children of their imaginations in the early years of their education. He says that we (society) love to reduce everything to “mere Nature” in order that we may conquer it. This act of reducing is known, according to Lewis, as “modern secular reductionism.”

Lewis suggests that this modern secular reductionism works to abolish objective values. It teaches children that values, such as beauty (or truth or goodness), are more about personal sentiment–they are subjective.

Thinkers like David Hume contributed to this kind of thinking by reducing values such as beauty to “nothing but a form, which produces pleasure.”

This kind of thinking has a way of slithering into our culture’s discourse, and even into the Church itself. If you don’t think modern Christianity has been affected by subjectivism, then do a little digging on blogs, read popular books, and listen to Christian pundits who relativize their theology. It’s their own, regardless of what a trusted theologian might say

Watchful Dragons: C.S. Lewis & The Value of the Imagination

Lewis viewed the imagination of a person as a gateway whereby a story could enter and not only entertain, but also sow seeds for future theological illumination.

He wanted to move the reader along a “What if?” scenario: suppose there really was something behind the stories that so resonate with your mind and stir your soul; suppose that “thing” behind the “thing” was the God of the universe. What then?

Lewis saw the imagination, especially a young person’s imagination, as fertile ground for implanting small theological seeds.

In his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,” Lewis ruminates on his own childhood and how his own inhibitions “paralysed much of my own religion in childhood.”

Lewis believed that religious obligation could impair true encounter with God. His idea was to wrap up all the things a young person was “supposed” to learn—the obligations of the faith—in an imaginary world, strip them of their “Sunday School associations,” and present them in all their real potency.

“Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?” Lewis asked. “I thought one could.” The imagination, for Lewis, acts as a portal by which we seize something of the breadth and depth of God.

Parenting and the Magical Door

I love to see my daughters light up when we make up stories together or take long walks outside and discuss the leaves and the sky. We try and give them untouched time, time by themselves so they can explore outside, or up in their rooms with their pretend worlds.

And yes, I love talking about the faerie world with them; we talk about Narnia, LoLo Star, and what Tom the Second Acre Badger is up to.

I find that these interactions seed their minds for future theological illumination (as Lewis puts it). When they ask about Aslan at The Stone Table, a magical door opens and on the inside we’re able to talk about true love, what it means to be a hero, what friends do for their friends, and, of course, what Jesus did for us.

The older they get, the more tender shoots I see popping out of those early imaginative seeds. And yes, I even get protective of those tender shoots; limiting their screen time, limiting my own screen time, spending time outside, exploring, having fires, playing music.

I feel more than ever we need to be intentional about the spiritual formation of our imaginations. For me, that begins with my pixies and translates into my own decision regarding media consumption and material consumption.

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