Visions, C.S. Lewis & Narnia

Sometimes a vision is nothing more than a visual thought. In other words, maybe you didn’t receive a “word from the Lord” via your thoughts, but instead you just got a “picture from the Lord” via your mind. This won’t feel anymore spectacular than any other image that pops into your head, for we have images assault our minds all day long. If we’re really paying attention to the way we think, we’ll have visual-thoughts pop into our heads just like we have word-thoughts pop into our head. It may sound mundane, but if the source of that image is God, then you just experienced a vision. Yes, it is that simple—God spoke to you visually and therefore, in a vision.

To some extent I think C.S. Lewis had this happen to him. Some may find this hard to believe, but as Lewis says himself,

All of my seven Narnian books, and my three science-fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: “Let’s try to make a story about it.”

At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart form that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him. (Inside Narnia)

Elsewhere Lewis explained that

In a certain sense, I have never exactly ‘made’ a story. With me the process is much more like bird-watching than like either talking or building. I see pictures. Some of these pictures have a common flavour, almost a common smell, which groups them together. Keep quiet and watch and they will begin joining themselves up. If you were very lucky (I have never been as lucky as all that) a whole set might join themselves so consistently that there you had a complete story, without doing anything yourself. But more often (in my experience always) there are gaps. Then at last you have to do some deliberate inventing, have to contrive reasons why these characters should be in these various places doing these various things. I have no idea whether this is the usual way of writing stories, still less whether it is the best. It is the only one I know: images will always come first. (Of Other Worlds)

The Narnia books are some of my favorite books of all time and so much of my enjoyment of them has to do with Aslan. When he speaks I feel revelation. His words can be likened to the words I sometimes hear Jesus say when I’m pursuing God in my imagination—they seem to go beyond me and are smarter than me. With Lewis’ explanation of all of this, it almost seems like his whole series starts in a place where an image sparks his mind and then takes him into a place where his imagination meets with God’s.

Also interesting to note, Lewis’ friend Roger Lancelyn Green said that after Lewis lost his wife, “Lewis found that he could no longer make up stories…. It was because of this drying up of the imaginative spring (perhaps the inability to ‘see pictures’ any longer)” (Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces) that Lewis planned on working with Green on one of his books.

This is an unedited excerpt from my upcoming book: The Rush & the Rest: Engaging the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

You can download my free experimental Narnia soundtrack here.

For more thoughts in pursuing God visionally via your imagination, check out my podcast episode or read Seeing is Believing by Greg Boyd.

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