August 6
August 6 E-mail

Wednesday

Sir John Polkinghorne gave the meditation this morning.  What a brilliant man:  a physicist and theologian; former president of Queens College, Cambridge and winner of the Templeton Prize.  Citing Romans 8:18, he said that the last word on suffering comes from God.  Although every chapter in science's story ends on futility, Christ redeems all things, not just people (Colossians 1:20). 

The first lecturer was Nancey Murphy on nonreductive physicalism.  A philosophy professor from Fuller Seminary, she contends that the soul is an idea we no longer need.  All the capacities once associated with the soul are now shown to be functions of the brain.  This new view allows for greater harmony between science and a religious view of human nature.  It avoids using the soul to fill in today's gaps in neuropsychological research.   

Her lecture generated more discussion (and disagreement) than any other.  Based on conversations I heard, folks weren't as troubled with her advocating a unified body/soul as they were with her brushing aside so much scripture.  She said she was agnostic about angels.  (To wit: Angels were a literary device in the Old Testament because it wasn't proper for God to deliver messages in person.)  She doesn't believe demons exist.  When asked to reconcile her theory with a particular scripture passage, she replied that she wasn't a Bible scholar.  I had the impression she formulated her theory first and then interpreted scripture around it.  Nevertheless, it made for lively discussions over dinner.

Malcolm Guite followed with an inspiring talk on "‘Be ye transformed ...': The way of Personal Transformation in the Writings of C. S. Lewis."  Launching from Romans 12:2, Guite walked us through several examples in which Lewis gives us a visible picture of the invisible transformation process.  Most everyone knows the story of Eustace becoming a dragon in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Guite cautioned that if we are called to fight dragons in today's society, we must remember that there could be a lost child inside.  Rather than hacking away at the scales, music or poetry might be a better way to reach the child.

Next Guite took us to the scene in The Great Divorce where the man wrestles with killing the lizard that rides on his shoulder.  The lizard symbolizes lust.  There is a figment of good even in the basest of our desires.  Both the man and the lizard were transformed.  Before the lizard rode the man; now the man rides the stallion.  Desire has found its proper place under man's mastery. 

His third example was "The Grand Miracle."  The transformation experience is one of death and resurrection.  Guite observed that some technological advances are parodies of the resurrection.  They prolong our conformity to the world, thus delaying our transformation.  In sum, we need to honor pain and be patient with the transforming process in ourselves and others.

This afternoon I went to Michael Ward's workshop on his book Planet Narnia, in which he argues that each of the Narnia chronicles corresponds to a planet in the medieval view of the solar system.   Lewis being a professor of medieval literature, would know about such things and secretly wove this theme through each book.  Ward said it took five years to write the book and now he is working on layman's version of Planet Narnia.  I read it before coming to the conference and was amazed at the level of scholarship, especially how he draws in, not just the Narnian chronicles, but the space trilogy, Lewis's poetry and academic writings as well.

Today, he covered Mercury/The Horse and his Boy, Venus/The Magician's Nephew, and Saturn/The Last Battle.  Along with the discussion of each planet, he played the corresponding section of Gustave Holst's "The Planets."  He said that Lewis loved the Saturn section of the suite best. 

Lewis thought his own generation was born under Saturn, the planet of melancholy and decay, as many of his peers were killed in WWI.  Ward mentioned that Psalm 22:1 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ...") appears twenty times in Lewis's writing.  How God could forsake God was the deepest mystery for Lewis.  In The Last Battle, Tirian feels forsaken when tied to a tree.  Yet, he also begins to feel stronger.  Forsakenness helps a person be a contemplative.  No such insight comes to the dwarfs.  They are so afraid of being taken in that they refuse to be taken out of their sorrow. 

When asked why the experts haven't figured out the planetary theme behind the Narnia books years ago, Ward replied that scholars thought the books were dashed off in a hurry and not written with care; consequently, they didn't spend much time analyzing them.  Or perhaps they were too busy looking for biblical allusions.  Some scholars saw the planetary theme within one book, but did not spot it across the entire series. 

At dinner, Angela, the music history professor and chocolate aficionado, handed me a bag containing five bars of her favorite dark chocolate (Ritter Sport).  I could not find it in the shops I visited.  But Angela has a nose for sniffing out such things.  I couldn't ask for a better personal chocolate shopper.

Dinner was followed by an evening of poetry and song.  Malcolm Guite recited some of his own work, as well as poems by others.  The Institute Chorale performed.  As beautiful as it all was, this was the second to last day of the conference.  I was exhausted and in need of sleep, so I slipped out early and returned to my room.