Meditation on a Poem by C. S. Lewis, part 2: Not Pursuer but Pursued
C. S. Lewis’ poem “No Beauty We Could Desire” begins by acknowledging that the task of finding God by exploring the natural world is beyond us. We pick up God’s scent, but we can never catch Him. Some people would then argue that even if we can’t find God in the surrounding world, we should be able to find God in other people, and maybe even in ourselves, since after all human beings are made in God’s image. In the last post, I quoted Dorothy Sayers on knowing the Trinity from her great book The Mind of the Maker, and much of her argument there is that we can find things out about God when we examine our own creative process. But – at least in this poem – Lewis is having none of it. He dismisses this option as well:
Therefore I turn my back on the unapproachable
Stars and horizons and all musical sounds,
Poetry itself, and the winding stair of thought.
He turns away not only from the stars, but also from the quintessentially human qualities of music, poetry, and thought. At this point, we might be forgiven for being a bit skeptical. C. S. Lewis is turning his back on poetry and thought? Really? The great writer of imaginative fiction and of Christian apologetics is rejecting both poetic imagination and reason? It seems unlikely. And then too, he’s telling us about his turning away from poetry in a poem. So is this Lewis looking back on his career and, like Thomas Aquinas, seeing it all as just so much straw? I don’t think so. He’s not denying that music, poetry and reason are all valuable. However, even though these are all good things, they are not a net in which we can capture God.
Lewis is saying no to one thing in order to say yes to something else. No, we can’t catch God. Yes, God is hunting for us. Which is much better news than any reassurance about being able to see God in the world or in ourselves.
Leaving the forest where you are pursued in vain
– Often a mere white gleam – I turn instead
To the appointed place where you pursue.
This is the real issue, isn’t it? We are not the pursuers. We are not the hunters. We are the prey. As a Calvinist, I believe that God always captures what he hunts, but here as elsewhere Lewis stops short of endorsing the irresistible nature of grace. He must allow himself to be caught. He must “turn … to the appointed place,” where God is ready to pursue him if only he will show up.