The Englishness of English and the Nature of Nature

I’m currently working my way through C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles for the second time. It’s tougher reading than most of his stuff, but I think I’m following it a little better this time around!

In one of my favorite sections in the book — which presents a philosophical argument for the existence of the Supernatural and the possibility of miracles — Lewis says that before he became a believer, one of his biggest hangups with belief in the Supernatural was “a deep repugnance to the view of Nature which, as I thought, Supernaturalism entailed”. In other words, he thought that to be a Christian he would have to think poorly of Nature.

Once he became convinced of the existence of God, he found that, on the contrary, he actually came to have a higher view of Nature than he’d had before. I love the way he explains why this is:

The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see… this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in character: not tames (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall be able to recognise our old eneny, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

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