This week I’ve been mulling over a certain phrase. I’ve just finished the famous and wonderful autobiography of C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, and I learned that one of the things he used to say over and over in his classes was, “The inside is bigger than the outside.”
The mythical wardrobe from the Narnia books is a good example. The 4 children are playing hide and seek in the house on a rainy day and are having fun enough. This is the outside of their experience. But when one of them enters the wardrobe, a whole new and more expansive world opens up, that of Narnia. The inside of a closet became bigger than the outside.
Apparently, Lewis was fond of saying this often to his students. I would say it helps me understand why writing this blog has served to bring me to a deeper experience and understanding of God.
The things we all experience are like the “outside”. We drive to work and listen to the radio – news and weather reports, sports, music. We park our cars. We enter the work day and experience the usual dramas, challenges and tasks, boring or fun. We prepare and eat food. We interact with people. We experience setbacks. We take part in our recreations.
Looked at from this perspective, life is hum-drum, repetitive and a certain wonder that we had in childhood can start to escape us as we become habituated to routine.
The journals I used to fill up every year are a good example of this. For some 40 years, since Grade 5 in fact, I filled the pages with handwritten accounts of my days. Perhaps I wanted to grasp on to life after our family experienced the death of my sister Hildi in 1968.
If you were to take a peek into my closet, you might be surprised at the stack of them. They were filled with the chronicling of the outside of life, for the most part. I tried going deeper, and I’m sure I sometimes did, especially in more recent years when I began to write out daily prayers and hopes that I had. But for the most part, I wrote about what I “did” or experienced each day. Fun or difficult, it was like the children running around in the house before their great adventures began.
The life-changing question that Paul Patterson gave me, “Where was God in my day?”, has been like going into the inside of things. This year, I have stepped way back from journalling as it dawned on me that it was only serving to keep me skittering on the surface of my life. I still pop in occasionally to write of important events, like my father-in-law’s death, milestones in Joel’s life, or important movies, concerts and celebrations we’ve taken in. I began to realize that the real journal of my deeper thoughts was in my blogposts. I have not missed it, and I have grown to love blog reflections more and more. They serve to ground me every week in my deeper values in a way my journals never did.
Take this week for example. In the old days of journalling, I would have written (once I’d felt better) about the 1½ sick days I had to take, and the agonizing feelings of having the flu and a bad headache at the same time . I’d had written about the frustrations of body limitations and wondered why.
Besides venting, I’m really not sure how useful this account would have been to me or anyone in the long run. We all experience illness and frustrations. As I lay recovering in bed, a far more useful reflection point was asking that question, “Where is God in all this?” I was feeling useless and pretty down, and when I looked at things from this perspective, I had every reason to keep feeling useless and down. Even asking the question, however, gave me cause for hope as I remembered that God is in every experience.
And I did experience God. First in the love of Joel and Lyle, who themselves didn’t just see me as the zombie walking in the house. In their acts of kindness, they reminded me that I was worthy of love and not just the scorn I was feeling from my body. I experienced the same from the kindnesses of co-workers and friends.
I also experienced God as I kept hanging on to the thought, “The inside is bigger than the outside,” and I said it like a mantra. The outside (feeling sick) was certainly not giving me hope, but remembering that God had an “inside” to this kept me going. Every experience can be transformed by God for the healing of the world. “Nothing is ever wasted,” said a wise person.
And so I took consolation in this mysterious truth. God can use this difficult experience to build compassion and empathy in me for others when they are sick. Sickness can turn our thoughts negative, and it helped me remember that there was more to life than my current overcast thoughts. God is here.
C.S. Lewis himself wrote about keeping a diary, and it illustrates well this distinction between the inside and the outside. In the last pages of Surprised by Joy, he wrote that when he turned from Atheism to believing in God, one of the benefits was that it cured him of the “time-wasting and foolish practice” of keeping a diary.
You put down each day what you think important; but of course you cannot each day see what will prove to have been important in the long run. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy)
This was confirmed in him when he began to write out his autobiography. He began to read over his old diaries and he said they did not prove to be nearly as helpful as he had hoped. I’m afraid this will prove true of all the stacks of journals I’ve still kept in my closet!
Asking the question, “Where is God in my day?” is just like wondering what is most important in the long run, like Lewis wrote. What is more important than writing out the events of my days, I’m finding, is lifting up layer upon layer, and finding God’s way of seeing the world.
In the closing pages of the seventh and final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Lewis writes perfectly about all this, so I’ll end with it.
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.
“I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. … I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”