Doors in the Walls of the World
Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story
By Peter Kreeft
127 pages, $15.95
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, young Lucy opens the door to a wardrobe. Perhaps sensing something more than old clothes, she ventures further, only to realize it is altogether bigger than she thought.
“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” And so it is. It is rather the feeling you get reading Peter Kreeft’s new book. A slim, small book, it opens the reader to mysterious, mystical and mythical ways in which transcendence comes clothed in our world. It is marvelous.
Kreeft has delighted readers for years with his light touch on heavy topics. After a healthy dose of his eloquence, erudition and wit, I usually manage a mere monosyllable. “Whew.” “Whoa.” “Wow.” This book adds another blurt-worthy exclamation. “Ouch!”
In finishing it I felt as if Kreeft had whapped me in the head with The Stick of Transcendence. No matter how well we know the Christian story, or how firm our belief in it, Kreeft helps us see it and understand it in exhilarating ways. This is the story of The Story.
Life, for Kreeft, is understood as a story. It has the elements of plot, setting, characters, theme and style. After an excellent introduction on the three philosophies of life (the book is worth reading for this alone), he examines the human story through the lens of each element. God is the Author and tells the story straight, but in crooked lines. “The crooked lines,” Kreeft says, “make up the walls of the world; the straight writing seen through them is the divine fingerprint, the More, the door in the wall.”
Kreeft uses 10 tales to describe the plot. Each offers a different shade, glimpse or texture to get at what it’s all about. But it pretty much boils down to either everything is random or nothing is.
He makes a clear case for the latter and shows how everything in the universe — from the subatomically small to the astronomically large — is invested with meaning and points to the good, true and beautiful. To see all of life this way is to be cured of human blindness.
Our setting is time, that tricky thing everyone marks life with but no one really understands. The chapter is fittingly short and can easily lead to hours of contemplation.
As it is more than a measure or philosophical problem, time is best understood as a door to the More. It is also best understood in relation with whom we share it, that is, the characters of Our Story.
We are all characters. But Kreeft spends quite a few pages talking about invisible characters: angels, demons and the cloud of witnesses. He excels at making the invisible visible. We see them for what they truly are and for why they truly matter. The most intriguing part of this chapter is his description of a class of possible Invisibles: aliens. It could’ve been an episode of The Twilight Zone. Wholesome, moral — and way creepy.
Our theme is joy. Kreeft helpfully distinguishes between pleasure, happiness and joy. It all leads to a mystical understanding that joy and suffering are not distinguishable. Magic? Nope. More like spiritual physics. Kreeft’s application of Einstein’s e=mc2 to an understanding of Christian joy is simple and magnificent.
Lastly, the style of Our Story is art. Yes, even your 5-year-old kid’s blotchy attempt at impressionism. It is in myth, music and liturgy. It is in nature. Greatest of all, it is in Christ as man. All of these clothe transcendence in our humanity and, paradoxically, help us rise above it. As such, they point to the More. The doors are there. We have only to seek them out.
Timothy D. Lusch is an attorney and writer.
He work has appeared in The (Toronto) Star, Chronicles,
New Oxford Review, St. Austin Review, Crisis, Catholic World Report and other publications.