In his book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis makes an interesting observation about the things we enjoy:
“I have tried ... to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different … We can’t – or I can’t – hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (‘That’s a bird’) comes with it inevitably—just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I ‘hear the wind.’ In the same way it is possible to ‘read’ as well as to ‘have’ a pleasure.”
This “reading” of things we enjoy, in addition to simply experiencing them at a neurological level, is what enables us to move beyond simply appreciating them, and even giving thanks for them, to actually seeing them as expressions of the kindness of the God who gave them as gifts to us. That, in turn, allows us to appreciate God all the more, and our appreciation becomes praise – or, as Lewis, puts it, adoration. The difference between gratitude and praise, between appreciation and adoration, is clear:
“Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”
Lewis’ poetic expression “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun” is an apt one. It certainly makes for a clear analogy. We do not simply see the sunbeam: our mind – if we encourage it to do so – runs back to the source of the beam, the sun itself. If that is our outlook, we see the sunbeam, but trace it back in our minds to the sun that makes it, and from there it is a short mental step, of course, to the One who made the sun and who is himself light (1 John 1:5). We might say that what begins in observation ends in adoration.
But, while running up sunbeams makes for a good word-picture of this concept, we must learn to widen the principle in our own minds in order to express it in other situations. The chances are good that after reading Lewis’ words you may think of them – and God – next time you see a sunbeam. But what about when you next taste a refreshing glass of clean water, when you next curl into a warm bed on a cold night, or when you experience any other pleasure – great or small?
The key to implementing what Lewis described so well is in learning to react to physical neurological stimuli with one’s mind and not just one’s nerve endings. And many pleasures, of course, are ones of the heart and mind, rather than simply feelings that we experience neurologically. But in every case, we need to learn the same response of “reading” the pleasure rather than just letting it flow past us.
Once we begin to make the transition from only experiencing to also thinking about the things that please us and how they were designed to do so, it soon becomes a habit. But we must guard the habit or other things will override it. We can lose the habit like any other by not practicing it for extended periods of time. We can also lose it, as Lewis himself observed, by thinking about the gifts we experience in a selfish and grasping manner. Instead of saying “amen” to the gift, we can become possessive of it, always wanting more with “the fatal word Encore.”
But if we are careful to avoid these and other possible pitfalls, we can make and maintain the habit of seeing God in his gifts. We simply need to begin the process (if we have not already done so). Did you experience something today – from the moment you woke until now – that was clearly a gift? Even if you appreciated the gift, did you follow the thought to its logical conclusion – from gift to Giver? If you did so, you probably realize that God desires us to do that for our own sake as much or more than for his own. You already doubtless know that the more we look to the Giver, the more we actually come to appreciate the gifts themselves. There is nothing like running up sunbeams to develop one’s joy in the light.