We begin with C. S. Lewis for several reasons. His influence as a writer has been as great as anyone who wrote of a mystical experience in recent times. He bridges the ancient and modern worlds, and he bridges the wildest Romanticism with the most prosaic Church of England. Today he is still considered one of the greatest experts in medieval and Renaissance literature. He could be a rigid logician and he always bested his opponents (with perhaps one exception) during public debates at Oxford, but his life’s course was set by a childhood experience beyond all reason.
This example of a mystical experience is not unique in its occurrence during childhood, but it is nearly unique in how articulate the author is able to describe it some 45 years after the fact. But then, as he says later, “in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.”
…..The thing has been much better done by Traherne and Wordsworth, but every man must tell his own tale.
The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not fo years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought me his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss”of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. [“Oh, I desire too much.”] –and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.
–C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & C0., 1955. @ C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.