At Work & Theology 101

C.S. Lewis and the Importance of Imagination

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A new study suggests that participating in creative activities outside of work can boost performance on the job.

San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman, who led the study reports,

Creative pursuits away from work seem to have a direct effect on factors such as creative problem solving and helping others while on the job.

The results of this study illustrate the fact that as image-bearers of God, we are inherently creative. This creativity shows up in our work—even if we don’t think of ourselves as creative—through problem-solving, relationship building, and getting things done.

C.S. Lewis is one individual who used his delight in creativity, imagination, and storytelling to more effectively convey some very serious ideas.

Even after decades, his popularity as a writer and theologian is increasing due to his precision with words, the empathy to understand people’s deepest struggles, a rhetorical skill to order his ideas clearly and persuasively, a breadth of learning, an amazing memory, and an ability to tell stories.

But if I had to pick one ability to account for Lewis’s ongoing popularity it would be his ability to combine reason and imagination.

Reason and Imagination in Lewis’s Work

This combination was incredibly important to Lewis. At the end of his chapter, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in Selected Literary Essays, he enunciates the principle:

Reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.

In the context of that essay, he argued that we do not really grasp the meaning of any word or concept until we have a clear picture or image we can connect with it.

The practical effect of this belief in Lewis’s writing was that even in the midst of an apologetic argument, he provided just the right picture, image, or metaphor to help the reader grasp the meaning of an argument.

For instance, note the use of image or analogy in this quote from The Weight of Glory:

Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The “mud pies” and the “holiday at the sea” help us glimpse what it means to be “far too easily pleased.”

Most of Lewis’s major ideas are also developed in his fiction. Alan Jacobs, in his biography of Lewis, argues that every significant theme in Lewis’s philosophical or apologetic writing is also expressed in The Chronicles of Narnia.

This parallel could be illustrated in other writings. For instance, C.S. Lewis could give an argument against relativism in Abolition of Man or effectively counter it in his novel That Hideous Strength.

Why Creativity Was Important to Lewis

Imagination played a key role in Lewis’s conversion, and he thought it might also help others in their journey. The story and imagery in George MacDonald’s Christian fantasy Phantastes was the beginning of his journey to Christianity, leading him to see the world differently.

An important issue in Lewis’ conversion was the emerging contradiction between his reason and his imagination. Referring to his youthful retreat into fantasy and myth, he says in Surprised by Joy:

Such, then, was the state of my imaginative life; over against it stood the life of my intellect. The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast.

Later, of course, through a combination of many factors, the tension was resolved. Reason and imagination were united.

  • First Lewis’s imagination was baptized.
  • Next, his reason satisfied.
  • Finally, his will submitted.

Lewis thought that imagination and creativity in his own writing might be helpful to other people as well, and he incorporated metaphor and story into his theological writings to capture both the minds and imaginations of others.

Remember, reason is the organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of meaning. To effectively communicate any set of concepts – or even any word – requires vivid imagery in order to communicate meaning with clarity and power.

In your work everyday, you probably deal with a lot of abstract, complex concepts, ideas, and challenges. How can you incorporate this insight from Lewis into your work?

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