Friday, September 30 | 1:10-3:00 pm

MEANINGS | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

‘The Packed Reality of Heaven’: C.S. Lewis’s Imaginative Re-education of the Modern Pilgrim
Monika Hilder

C.S. Lewis had great empathy for the modern pilgrim who cannot imagine any good, or believe in a reality, that does not begin and end in the natural world. As a one-time philosophical materialist himself, Lewis had a keen sense of how very difficult it is for all moderns to shed naturalist assumptions. How to imagine Heaven, which “is, by definition, outside our experience,” and how to do so with the senses when scriptural symbolism may alienate rather than attract the modern thinker? Yet in his fiction Lewis created the most compelling representations of heaven of any twentieth century writer (Jacobs, Smith). Is his focus on eternity escapist? How does his imaginative representation widen our understanding of the historical Christian view of heaven? And in what sense might his portrayal of eternity have practical application in the 21st century?                            

This paper explores how in his Space Trilogy and in The Great Divorce, Lewis, the persuasive artist, recovers a Christian worldview of eternity that challenges modernist and postmodernist skepticism. For a culture afflicted with moral malaise and meaninglessness, Lewis’s vision of eternity re-educates the modern thinker into considering human identity as having intrinsic value. Through his portrayal of the universe as populated by multitudes of celestial beings—“the packed reality of heaven”—and therefore of eternity not as some nebulous future existence but as a present reality which impacts this world, Lewis raises ethical consciousness. He does so on two levels: on the personal level, having moral integrity and courage; and on the social level, understanding and resisting the implications of the practice of eugenics, its relation to transhumanism and roots in scientism, as well as indifference to ecological destruction. Through his portrayal of heaven, Lewis invites the reader into an ethical vision that revives hope.


Monika Hilder, PhD, is Professor of English at Trinity Western University, and co-founder and co-director of Inklings Institute of Canada with Dr. Stephen Dunning. She has published a 3-volume study of C.S. Lewis and gender, including Surprised by the Feminine: A Rereading of C.S. Lewis and Gender (2013), which examines how gender metaphor in Lewis’s writings resists dominant cultural chauvinism with a vision of ethical humanity. She has also published on George MacDonald, L.M. Montgomery, and Madeleine L’Engle. She is fascinated by the role of imagination in ethical education and in spiritual formation. 

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Poetic Participation: Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction and the Rediscovery of Meaning
Justin A. Bailey

What is it about poetic language that rings so true, that moves the human spirit so profoundly? Few twentieth century figures have engaged this subject as deeply as the philosopher and philologist Owen Barfield. Barfield is best known as one of the Inklings; yet despite his profound influence on both Lewis and Tolkien, Barfield is arguably the least studied of the group. This essay aims to correct the oversight in small measure by exploring Barfield’s theory of how poetic language represents and reveals the world. Barfield’s argument in nuce is that poetic diction recovers the lost “ancient semantic unity” inherent in the world, thus restoring a view of the universe in which everything is meaningfully connected and where everything matters. Such a vision of the world invites what Barfield called participation, and his use of the term invites conversation with theories of participation found throughout Christian theology. My argument is that Barfield’s view of poetic diction is an enriching supplement to any theology of participation in God’s meaning-drenched world. After sketching his theory in greater detail, I will attempt to root it more robustly in biblical theology, surveying a few participatory frameworks that may be resonant with his project.


Justin A. Bailey is a PhD candidate and adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary. His doctoral work explores the intersection of the imagination and apologetics, with special reference to the work of George MacDonald and Marilynne Robinson. He also serves as pastoral assistant for teaching and discipleship at Grace Pasadena. Together with his wife and two children, he lives at Madison Square, an experiment in intentional Christian community.

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Portals to Another World: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Sacrament of Communion
Barbara Bjelland

When they walk through the wardrobe door, the Pevansie children go through a portal to another world. In many such ways, the Narnia stories function as sacramentals; things that point us to God, that His saving grace may be revealed. Sacramentals are ways that we may see Christ more clearly, and as we enter his glory, we enter another realm of reality; we pass through a portal door. 

God desires to reveal himself to us, that we may see him, know him and commune with him. As we see him with unveiled face, we are formed spiritually and changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17, 18). God powerfully transforms us through the celebration of sacraments in the Church. In the words of Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, 

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best described as a journey or procession, it is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom [italics mine]...our entrance into the risen life of Christ... (27)

In this paper I touch on writers from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant perspectives, to define what a sacrament is and how it functions, with particular attention to the Eucharist. I then consider several ways in which C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, mirror the sacraments. I find that many Protestants are seeking to recover a sense of imagination, mystery and ritual, which can be incorporated in the Eucharist.

We are formed spiritually, by passing through portals of sacrament and story. I will include visual artwork throughout my presentation, to illustrate this.I conclude by describing practical ways that churches can implement the vision gained though the Narnian Chronicles, to deepen and enrich the celebration of Communion.


Barbara Bjelland is a visual artist, author, chaplain and Director of Faith Formation, currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Barbara’s published works include an intergenerational book on communion, book reviews and academic journal articles. She has degrees in Graphic Design (AA), Ancient History (BA), Christian Education/Spiritual Formation (MA), and Christian Studies (Graduate Diploma from Regent College in Vancouver, BC). She has been awarded multiple grants, had solo art exhibitions, and is a minister in the Evangelical Covenant denomination. Barbara lives with her husband, her son and daughter, and her golden retriever.

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