No Beauty We Could Desire: Thoughts on Beauty and Faith

The Reality of Distance (and the pervasive influence of C.S. Lewis on my thinking)

Some weeks ago, when I was walking a portion of the Thames path for a couple of days, I had many close encounters with cows and sheep. From a distance, on a sunny day in a green field, sheep are spectacularly beautiful. They look snowy and shining against the green. Close up, of course, they are less shiny. The white fleece is seen to be gray and dirty.

The thought came to me as I was walking that both visions are equally true. Why should we assume that only the close-up view is real? And of course, given that I was looking at sheep and given that I am a pastor, I naturally moved to the application: the Church too looks better from a distance than close up. Why assume that the close-up view is all truth and the view from afar is a lie?

Well, I was pretty pleased with this little idea, thought it might have legs.  I had no memory of ever having encountered it anywhere before. But today, reading Letters to Malcolm, I found this passage.

Why should what we see at the moment be more “real” than what we see from ten years’ distance? It is indeed an illusion to believe that the blue hills on the horizon would still look blue if you went to them. But the fact that they are blue five miles away, and the fact that they are green when you are on them, are equally good facts. [C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (ch. xxii, p. 122). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.]

Sometimes I wonder if I ever have a thought uninfluenced by Lewis.