Enchanting the World

Michael Metzger

Some follow-up suggestions that might prevent another Josh Butler fiasco.

Last week I wrote about the pillorying of pastor Josh Butler for his essay on sex. It seems to me that Josh seeks to do what many of us hope to do: enchant the world. This includes Kelly Madden, an old friend who directs The Boston Fellows. In a recent email update he described the Fellows’ mission as “re-enchanting the world.” My friend Zach Elliott shares a similar aim in his work in Tampa: Uncover Enchanted Reality.

This is in fact what The Inklings hoped to do: reenchant the world.[1] But how did they do it? We get a clue from a dinner conversation C. S. Lewis had with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien in September 1931. Lewis, not yet a Christian, was calling mythological tales lies. “No,” said Tolkien, “They are not lies.” He went on to describe the cosmos as alive, bursting into flame in answer to eternal music, from which we get our word enchant.

Enchant comes from the Latin incantare, in (“in”) + cantare (“sing”). Enchantment is felt “in song,” in eternal music which The Inklings recognized is the music of the spheres. This celestial song is moved by God’s love. It’s revealed in the most sensuous song, The Song of Songs where nuptial union between husband and wife depicts the gospel of Christ our husband “marrying” us. This is why poetry was part of how the Inklings hoped to reenchant the world. Which leads to my suggestions for those of us hoping to enchant the world.

Immerse yourself in poetry.

It is a historical fact that poetry evolved before prose. Prose was first known as pezos logos, literally “pedestrian” or “walking” logos. This is opposed to the dancing logos of early poetry which was sung. The aim was to enchant listeners, not win an argument, which is why The Inklings enjoyed reading poetry. I suggest starting with Thomas Traherne. His poem “Felicity” (love) extols what is in, above, and beyond the spheres: divine love.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant.

That’s the opening line of Emily Dickinson’s Poem #1263, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” She wrote it because The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind. The Inklings dazzled readers by “sneaking up” on them with fantasy literature bearing implicit messages (biographer Colin Duriez called Lewis “Sneaky”[2]). Lewis acknowledged as much in a letter to a friend, “We must be content to feel the highest truths ‘in our bones’: if we try to make them explicit, we really make them untruths.”

An example of “sneaky” is in The Hideous Strength where Lewis “snuck” in the love poetry of John Donne (which internationally acclaimed poet and writer Dana Gioia calls “openly sexy”). In Jane Studdock, one of the novel’s protagonists, Lewis depicts sexiness “slant.” Jane comes to recognize her resistance to “conjugal invasion” by her husband Mark (she didn’t want to have a baby) is actually resistance to “conjugal invasion” by Jesus our husband.

Know your audience.

Lewis was initially drawn to the faith by reading G. K. Chesterton. He came to faith the day after his dinner conversation with Hugo Dyson and Tolkien. All three men held to a sacramental faith (sacramental means all matter is essentially a mystical bearer of God’s grace and love). In his essay Josh Butler uses sacramental language but it’s pretty obvious his audience is not sacramental. They sound more like what Lewis called “new Western” Christian traditions that discarded images, icons, metaphor and our bodies telling God’s story. If Josh is going to write using sacramental language, I suggest he aim more for sacramental audiences.

Which leads to my final suggestion: Enchanting others requires embodying it yourself.

In non-sacramental traditions, you go to a “text” in scripture and “figure it out.” Then you explain it to others. Embodiment before explanation is not on the radar screen. It is in sacramental traditions. They imagine we live in an enchanted world of images and icons serving as mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that our lives and world are revelations of grace. This sensibility comes to us via “received wisdom” which is handed down through the ages via confessions, creeds, councils, and so on. Embodying this wisdom takes time, which is why sacramental traditions believe that enchanting others requires embodying it yourself. First you embody, then you explain. This spiritual formation process requires a spiritual director. Lewis had one in Tolkien. It requires a sacramental community. Lewis had one in The Inklings. Josh Butler would do well to find both. As would I and anyone else hoping to do what The Inklings hoped to do: enchant the world.


[1] Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015), 5.

[2] “C. S. Lewis, the Sneaky Pagan,” interview of Colin Duriez by Rob Moll, Christianity Today, June 28, 2004.


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  1. “We must be content to feel the highest truths ‘in our bones’: if we try to make them explicit, we really make them untruths.”
    This quote is rather remarkable and I will need to sit with it all week. It could easily be misunderstood by the casual observer, but it is really describing the “leap into the light” that those of faith have experienced and find difficult to put words on. I took a course in Wheaton College with the professor Clyde Kilby who opened my imagination to the fantasy literature of Tolkein, Lewis, and others and gave me an appreciation for feeling the truth “in my bones.” For that experience, I am most grateful.

  2. This poem caught my attention recently…old lines but I think pertain to Josh Butler situation…
    “Much Madness is Divinest Sense” by Emily Dickinson

    Much Madness is divinest Sense –
    To a discerning Eye –
    Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
    ’Tis the Majority
    In this, as all, prevail –
    Assent – and you are sane –
    Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
    And handled with a Chain –

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