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Creativity in C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra

Lynne Baab • Thursday August 20 2020

Creativity in C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra

Imagine that you are one of the first two humans created on a planet that is mostly ocean. God has given you floating islands made of mats of plants to live on. The islands are host to charming, companionable animals and a variety of trees with beautiful flowers and delicious fruit, and the surfaces of the islands shift and move with the waves of the ocean. God has shown you an island of fixed land and has invited you to visit that island during the day. The fixed island, God has told you, is forbidden at night.

The tempter comes to you. He suggests that God wants you to be brave enough to do something forbidden. He tells you story after story about bravery in other worlds. You reply that the floating islands have what you need, and that obeying God is like living on a floating island. At every moment God invites us to embrace the wave that comes to us from God’s hand. Increasingly, as you talk with the tempter, you can see that fixed land is beautiful in its way, but the floating islands are responsive to God’s beauty and God’s creativity in ways that the fix land cannot be.

For many decades I have loved C. S. Lewis’s metaphor of floating islands that respond to the action of the ocean’s waves, just as we are called to dive into each wave God brings into our lives. Re-reading Perelandra during the pandemic has been a giant invitation to embrace God’s waves afresh. I read a joke recently that the most useless thing a person could have bought was a 2020 day planner.

I have mentioned several times in blog posts that I am a planner. I much prefer the fixed island because I can more easily make plans. Living on a floating island requires a kind of flexibility and receptivity that I have to strain to achieve, and even with straining, I don’t do it well. The pandemic has stretched me over and over as things have changed so quickly so often, and I have had to flex.

A second metaphor in Perelandra speaks to me strongly in pandemic times as well. Toward the end of the book, the angels that rule the various planets gather with the first two humans and the main character of the book (Ransom, who I haven’t mentioned yet), and all of them give speeches about the Great Dance. Our lives are a dance of shifting connections and relationships, a small part of the Great Dance that we can see in the heavens in the stars and planets. On any given day, the Dance may bring us next to someone we haven’t seen for a while. Or the steps of the Dance, orchestrated by God, may take us away from someone we love.

The pain of separation from loved ones is real. Perhaps it can be softened just a little by understanding that the Great Dance will bring us back together again. At the end of Perelandra, when Ransom is leaving to return to earth, the first women talks about the “joy of our meeting when we meet again in the Great Dance” and compares it to the sweetness of a fruit, but admits that the fruit may have a “very thick shell.”

The pandemic has taken my Dance steps away from the people I used to have random conversations with at the gym and the indoor pool. One of the joys of going to church physically was encountering people I hadn’t seen for a while and having a five-minute catch up. I miss those connections with a variety of people, and right now the shell of that fruit feels very thick.

Zoom plays an intriguing role in the Great Dance these days. The pandemic portion of the Great Dance has taken my granddaughter physically further from me, but Zoom has given us some touching and intimate times together. The same is true of the women in my prayer group and numerous other friends. To switch back to the wave metaphor, part of the wave that God has called us to dive into right now involves embracing new/old forms of communication to stay connected: phone calls, text messages, email, Skype, zoom, and other forms of video chat.

C. S. Lewis has given us a gift in the his creative description of the receptivity and responsiveness to God encouraged by the wave and the Great Dance. As I write this, I have tears in my eyes for just how hard it is to live with the losses and challenges of embracing the wave and allowing the Great Dance to take us where God has planned for us. May God have mercy on all of us in these hard days.

(Next week: some final thoughts about creativity in These Strange Times. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive and email when I post on this blog.)

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