C. S. Lewis wrote a science fiction book about new life coming to the planet Venus, sometime in our last century. God was making a new creation there, but the enemy had sent an emissary to attempt to corrupt it (even as the serpent had corrupted the early humans on earth). So a man named Ransom was sent to counter the enemy’s agent if he could.
Perelandra, this book, is theologically spot-on, even if its science is not. It has an early scene that makes vivid the character of a new and unspoiled creation. Ransom is newly arrived, laboring to adjust to this world. He encounters trees with “great globes of yellow fruit” hanging abundantly. Gingerly he picks one and, having accidentally punctured its rind, drinks from it. The sensation overwhelms him. “It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures.” It was so good that wars would be fought over it on earth.
He then reaches automatically to pluck another. It was just what he would have done on earth: finding something good, he would have seconds. “To repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do.” But something stops him from doing so: he realizes he is “now neither hungry nor thirsty.”
He realizes that the whole experience of eating that first fruit was all he wanted right then. He did not want a second experience; to eat another would be somehow to deny the experience of eating the first.
Let’s call the fruit an apple. The first apple was in no way forbidden; to the contrary, it was there to be enjoyed. But of the second apple, it would be wrong to eat—wrong, because it would not be enjoyed.
Indulge me, please, if you’ve heard this story before. Once with excruciating back pain I was taken to the emergency room. At some point in the proceedings, morphine entered my right forearm. I felt it move up to my shoulder then across my chest, down my other arm and down through my whole body. It was unspeakably wonderful. I had never experienced anything like it.
A week or so later I recounted the experience with a priest colleague. He surprised me by getting very serious. “Victor, be careful,” he said; “that’s how guys like you get addicted.”
The one shot of morphine did what it was meant to do. To seek another would be to try to repeat the unrepeatable. In this case, it would be a fall into the trap of addiction.
Early most mornings I have a cup of coffee. At the Green Giant coffee place, the standard cup is called “grande” and is, to be precise, a pint of coffee (thus literally two cups in one). Sometimes I’ll find myself stopping midway. I will acknowledge that the coffee is good and yet, I don’t feel a need to finish it. I can stop and take it home. Later in the afternoon it is there in my refrigerator and I can have iced coffee. Or it’s still there the next day and I can pour it out.
Attentiveness to creation means noticing what’s right there and not trying to grab more and more. God has made a world replete with good things. Some of that goodness is there for our use. The ancient story of the Fall turns into a present story in our very flesh when we consume more than we really enjoy.
For us, we participate in the Fall not by eating the first apple but by turning automatically to the second.
Out & About. I am to preach at the traditional services at Incarnation in Dallas on July 24, at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.