The Rabbit Room’s Romantic-Rationalist

Yesterday, a beautiful first day of autumn, I seized a day off from work for a field trip with the rector and some friends from our church. Our group visited the Marion E. Wade Center Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.

The Wade Center, as the brochure states, “houses a major research collection of writings by and about seven British authors: Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams…Together they produced more than four hundred books including novels, drama, poetry, fantasy, books for children and Christian works.”

You may be more familiar with two of these writers by the movie versions of  their works:  C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia stories and J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stories. (It is said that Peter Jackson is currently back working in New Zealand on his film production of Tolkein’s Hobbit story.)

“The Wade center has both a museum (where I saw Lewis’s desk, the handmade wardrobe built by his father (filled with fur coats, btw), Mr. Lewis’ pipe and his pewter ale tankard among many other pieces. There was also J.R.R. Tolkien’s tiny desk where he began writing the manuscript for Hobbit) and the Kilby Reading Room, an area for research and the study of the authors.”

I was very excited to be able to handle a small book offered to me by the Kilby Room archivist. The small book owned by Lewis, which title I cannot presently remember, was on the nature of the Italian civilization. The book bore Lewis’ signature and marginalia! The inscribed book and his desk are the closest I would ever come to C. S. Lewis. Touching the firm reality of those things I felt transcendent as well – a touchstone moment for me.

Information about the Rabbit Room, the Eagle and Child Pub and the Inklings can be found here: click here.

Here is a small excerpt from John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life. This passage relates Piper’s first encounter with C.S. Lewis’ writings. It perfectly describes Lewis as a “romantic-rationalist”: poet-novelist & intellectual apologist, both Upper Story and the Lower Story in one person. It is no wonder I seek to emulate the life of one C.S. (Jack) Lewis!

Here’s the Piper passage about Lewis:

“Someone introduced me to Lewis my freshman year with the book, Mere Christianity. For the next five or six years I was almost never without a Lewis book near at hand. I think that without his influence I would not have lived my life with as much joy or usefulness as I have. There are reasons for this.

He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valu¬able for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages. To this day I get most of my soul-food from centuries ago. I thank God for Lewis’s compelling demonstration of the obvious.

He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not opposed to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively—even playful—imagination. He was a “romantic rationalist.” He combined things that almost every¬body today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor.

Lewis gave me an intense sense of the “realness” of things. The preciousness of this is hard to communicate. To wake up in the morning and be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (“quiddity” as he calls it). He helped me become alive to life. He helped me see what is there in the world—things that, if we didn’t have, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He made me more alive to beauty. He put my soul on notice that there are daily wonders that will waken worship if I open my eyes. He shook my dozing soul and threw the cold water of reality in my face, so that life and God and heaven and hell broke into my world with glory and horror.

He exposed the sophisticated intellectual opposition to objective being and objective value for the naked folly that it was. The philosophical king of my generation had no clothes on, and the writer of children’s books from Oxford had the courage to say so.

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (CSL)

Oh, how much more could be said about the world as C. S. Lewis saw it and the way he spoke. He has his flaws, some of them serious. But I will never cease to thank God for this remarkable man who came onto my path at the perfect moment.”


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