There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.
I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.
I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!
Growing up I had those glow-in-the-dark planet decals attached to the ceiling of my bedroom. Space exploration and the study of astronomy always fascinated me and still grips my attention. As a kid, I even made sure my planet decals were proportionately spaced from the sun [the light in the center of my bedroom ceiling] as the real planets’ orbit around the sun!
I have maintained a love of space through my reading of both scientifically based works like Stephen Hawkings’ A History of Time and Space to sci-fi works like Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. About five years ago, my cousin introduced me to another sci-fi series related to space—one by Clives Staples Lewis! You heard me right, the same C.S. Lewis who wrote great Christian apologetic works of The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity along with his endearing children’s series Chronicles of Narnia. Penned by the motivation of a literary challenge to delve into the genre of science fiction posed by his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis branched out and wrote three tales in The Space Trilogy. Because I want to share this amazing work, here is a brief review of the first book— Out of the Silent Planet.
The basic theme of the book centers around the idea of what life would look like in an unfallen [without Original Sin] world. Out of the Silent Planet opens with the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom, being kidnapped by the antagonists—Devine and Weston. The kidnappers’ aim is to find another planet to colonize in hopes to perpetuate the human race. Ransom, Devine, and Weston end up on a mysterious planet known as Malacandra [more commonly known as Mars!].
Most of the book focuses on Dr. Ransom’s interactions with the planet’s hnau [a word used to describe rationale beings]. Ransom learns that the inhabiants of Malacandra do not suffer from the effects of Original Sin like humans from Earth do. A mutual respect between the species and self-less obedience to Maeldil [Jesus Christ] exist. Furthermore, he finds out that each planet in the solar system is guided by an angelic being known as an Oyarsa. What is different about Earth’s [called the Silent Planet] guardian is that our Oyarsa became Bent and led humanity toward a path of selfishness and destruction.
The remainder of Out of the Silent Planet explores the relationship between the various Malacandrian species and juxtaposes this harmony against the strife daily seen on Earth. What I really enjoy about this book is Lewis’ ability to imagine an unfallen world and ponder how that would concretely exist. His portrayal of the various species on Malacandra assumes that being a hnau [person] is not limited to a particular species. The best analogy I can think of is to image a world where humans, dolphins, dogs, and chimps all are viewed as rationale beings who mutually respect each other and worship the same God!
Reading Lewis’ tale is both a fantastical and metaphysical experience. The language of the hrossa, the first species Ransom encounters, is fun to learn and the idea of an unfallen world definitely puts a new spin on space travel for me. While the end of the book gets somewhat ethereal and philosophical there is a certain wit about it that is quintessentially Lewis. Without giving too much of the ending away I want to share a small quote from Out of the Silent Planet. The chief Oyarsa [angel] in charge of Malacandra tells Weston, “The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace” (p. 138-1389).
Overall, I would give Out of the Silent Planet four out of five stars. My only real concern was initially the style of writing at the beginning of the book took a little getting used to. Nevertheless, I loved the theme and the relationship between Ransom and the three alien species. Having re-read this book multiple times I encourage you to check out your local library or search for this book online. This is a must have work for any ardent C.S. Lewis fan!
Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.
After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God? Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.
Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified. I mean God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. To briefly quote the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.
My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].
To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.