Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joy: Sampling the Eternal

Hey everybody. It's me again, Kristi. I thought I would share with you all today something I wrote a little over a year ago, while I was in school. It was for a Senior Seminar class, and we had been working all semester on figuring out where we as "artist/scholars" were at that present time, and where we wanted to go in our artistic endeavors. The term "artist/scholar" was big in our Theatre and Performance Studies department. We were pushed to strive for both.

This theme, though, is one I have been thinking a lot about lately, as I plan to move West very soon. It helps me to remember why I am going, and what my goals will hopefully always be- what they should be, I believe.

I focus on C.S. Lewis in this piece, because through his writing and discoveries, more than any other author's, I have made amazing realizations about who I am as an artist, and what I believe art is. I plan to write a lot about this on our blog, because it really is what we are trying to relate through Dimensions. (I think Robin would agree- I hope so, anyway!) I believe God led me to Lewis' writings, and enabled me to make these incredibly important connections. Maybe you can make some connections as well. They have truly been life-changing for me. For now, though, I hope you enjoy this post!

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country… even now I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like nostalgia and romanticism and adolescence. The secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly longing for it. And we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of the name, “Heaven.”

C.S. Lewis

The students from Dead Poets Society who stood on the tops of their desks, quoting Walt Whitman in a show of support for their teacher, understood the concept of yearning, of the “inconsolable secret”- what the artist/scholar C.S. Lewis called “Joy” (with a capital J)- specifically brought about by encounters with art. Lewis had experienced this Joy in art, and his efforts to find its true source, to understand this Joy, eventually led to his conversion from Atheism to Theism, and finally to Christianity. These experiences of what he calls that “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” were the central story of Lewis’ life. In his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes:

I had become fond of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in

a casual, shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then,

and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far

more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the

pages of the book and found…

‘I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the Beautiful,
Is dead, is dead’

…instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described…and then…found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”

For Lewis, there was no doubt that Joy was a desire, but a desire for what? Did he really long to be inside of the poem, at the moment when Balder fell? Did he long for the things, people, and places he found there? Did he long for Joy itself? After many years of searching, he wrote that “the form of the desired is in the desire”, and that “it is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low’… Inexorably Joy proclaimed, ‘You want- I myself am your want of- something other, outside, not you nor any state of you.’”

My own run-ins with Joy after certain artistic events have led me on a similar search. I have lived through powerful, emotional days, sometimes weeks, of bittersweet agony after some of these moments. I wondered, “What is this I am feeling? What is it that I want?” Though I was already approaching the question as a Christian, I did not immediately make the connection. I began at basically the same place as Lewis. If I have one such experience while watching Out of Africa, it must be for Africa I long. But then when I remember that I do not even like camping that much, and that I greatly enjoy the comforts of an air-conditioned room, I must conclude that African safari is not the desired object. Then what is?

Certainly, we as humans relate to the beauty of love between dear old friends, and the great loss experienced when one dies. We long for the kinship that exists among unlikely comrades, and we ache at the mere existence of a so-called impossible bond. But there is more than simply relating. These instances of Joy go beyond empathy, beyond understanding. These moments are, as Lewis describes them, “something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something… ‘in another dimension.’” Though this “broken and exalted” Joy has come to me at moments in various art forms-animation, children’s literature, epic films, paintings, music- I list heavily toward the genre of science-fiction/ fantasy. The connection between this artistic realm and the heavenly realm is there. Considering Lewis’ search for the Source of Joy, it is natural that he would have made that connection. In his book Of Other Worlds, Lewis writes about the brilliance of the author David Lindsay and his book Voyage to Arcturus:

"His Tormance is a region of the spirit. He is the first writer to discover what ‘other planets’ are really good for in fiction. No merely physical strangeness or merely spatial distance will realize that idea of otherness which is what we are always trying to grasp in a story about voyaging through space: you must go into another dimension. To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit."

Here we find the call to destiny on a greater scale. Though we may relate to this call, the imagined world is larger than life- a world apart. And when the enemy must be faced there- and the enemy must always be faced there, the stakes of the battle take on epic importance. The hero comes to the edge of defeat, but here the risk of loss knows only the limits of the imagination. And finally, after an otherworldly quest has been undertaken and the heightened battle fought, victory is that much more rewarding- to have fought against all odds and returned from the edge victorious, he is able to share in camaraderie with those who have struggled by his side. We have participated in something known and relatable, yet somehow totally foreign. Lewis himself loved this genre so much that he created his own imaginary world, in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Then, there are those episodes of Joy sparked by that occasional piece which brings together all of the elements in one grand synthesis. Why am I an artist? So that perhaps one day I can create something as wonderful as Michael Mann’s film Last of the Mohicans- a piece in which all of the elements speak to the spirit, and all of the technical elements come together to create a whole which is greater than its parts- something which may spark in someone else that which has been sparked in me- something by which I could whisper a hint of that “inconsolable secret” into the ear of another.

The artistic realm is the only place I have ever experienced these moments, these “road signs” which point “to something other and outer.” The artist has been given a unique gift- the gift of creation, a sampling of the eternal. Perhaps as a creator, the artist represents one meaning in the Truth that man is created in God’s Image. My hope is to point others, through my creations, to Him Who is greater than me, Who is Other, Outside of, and Higher than me- the Master Artist, the Great Creator. To show others the Joy which has been shown to me- this is my goal as an artist.


  1. Kristi,
    Enjoyed your post. I've subscribed but evidently I double clicked something so I received 2 confirmation emails. I only confirmed one of them. Don't know what to do with the second one.

  2. Great post Kristi! I really enjoyed reading it and it made me think. I have been going through some of the same things. I am trying to learn who I am as a writer, what my goals are, and why I want to do it. I know nothing other than I have these glimmers of characters in my head and heart and have nothing to do with them if not for putting them in a story. And because the real world is not always a picnic and what better place to live than in a fantasy world where whatever is in your imagination is yours for the taking and life is defined by my fingers on the keyboard?

  3. Thought-provoking indeed.

  4. I really believe that the act of creating, in my case, creating a story and characters, brings me closer to God, who is the ultimate Creator.

    I also believe that romance brings me closer to God. To me, the romantic relationship between a man and a woman is a picture or representation of God's love for us. It's beautiful in its purest form. I love creating all the nuances of that romantic love, because it's always different because the people involved are always different. It's the same with God and us. Think about it.

    I enjoyed this post, Kristi. Really great.

  5. Wow! I've read this before, and I've read the Lewis quotes before, but it strikes me all over again. Yes, this is what I feel when I'm so stricken by a great book or movie, or my own stories. So this is what it means!