Below is an excerpt from chapter 9 of C.S. Lewis’ powerful book “The Great Divorce”…brimming with insights for anyone involved in the arts or communication.
A little context….”The Great Divorce” is a story about a group of “ghosts” from purgatory or hell who take a bus trip to the foothills of heaven where they meet “spirits” who urge them to journey upward. Lewis brilliantly paints here, as he does in so many of his works, the hollowness of selfishness and the “thickness” or reality of love, beauty, and selflessness.
I was recently reminded of this section and wanted to post it, (especially) as a way to help to those who help us see…to my songwriting, preaching, painting, book-writing, instrument-strumming friends out there….who constantly strain…who continually squint…trying to further comprehend the Glory. But why comprehend it? Why communicate it?
That is Lewis’ question to us…..
“God!” said the Ghost, glancing round the landscape.
“God what?” asked the Spirit.
“What do you mean, ‘God what’?” asked the Ghost.
“In our grammer God is a noun.”
“Oh-I see. I only meant ‘By Gum’ or something of the sort. I meant . . . well, all this. It’s . . . it’s … I should like to paint this.”
“I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you.”
“Look here; isn’t one going to be allowed to go on painting?”
“Looking comes first.” “But I’ve had my look. I’ve seen just what I want to do. God!-I wish I’d thought of bringing my things with me!”
The Spirit shook his head, scattering light from his hair as he did so. “That sort of thing’s no good here,” he said.
“What do you mean?” said the Ghost.
“When you painted on earth-at least in your earlier days-it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.”
“Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?”
“I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.”
There was a little pause. “That will be delightful,” said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.
“Come, then,” said the Spirit, offering it his arm.
“How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.
“Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”
“No. You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”
“Oh, that’s ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”
“One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”
That you may not be drawn away from love of the Thing you tell,