There is a door tucked quietly in a small corridor of Oxford University.
Within its wood frame, a lion’s head emerges. On either side, there are fauns – part human and part goat – playing the flute. Legend has it that C.S. Lewis often passed by this corridor on his way to and fro when he worked at the university.
The path to get there is called St. Mary’s passage and it’s squeezed between the University Church and Brasenose College.
If you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia – you know that these two animals played pivotal roles in the books. Aslan, the lion, is a key figure that is often seen as the Christ of Narnia. Mr. Tumnus, the faun, is one of the first characters we meet when Lucy passes through the magical wardrobe door that transports her to the world of Narnia where her adventure begins.
The more I learn about the paths that some of my favorite authors have walked, the more I am beginning to understand how much the world we exist within shapes us, especially our imaginations.
Step inside Edinburgh, Scotland where J.K. Rowling spent years of her life, and you’ll see a grand castle on a hill, eerily beautiful graveyards, a lively assortment of pubs and shops about “witchery” and owls on street corners.
All of these are key elements of Harry Potter, the magical boy wizard caught in a battle between good and evil.
It’s no different for C.S. Lewis. His lived experiences and the places he walked shaped the fictional narratives that he imagined. A world that C.S. Lewis created and invited us to be a part of – a world that he used as an allegory to share the good news.
And yet, not everyone wrote a book about a magical wardrobe door that transports people into an entirely new world. Only C.S. Lewis did.
That means that not only do our environments shape us, but also how we choose to interact with them. The questions we ask. The ideas we explore. The “what ifs” we wonder.
They are all part of our journey of transforming the concrete worlds we are given into ideas that may appear, at the surface, entirely imagined and original.
I believe the root of that originality lies in our ability to question what is and what could be. The process of imagination is the same in non-fiction as it is in fiction. We are the product of our environments, culture and the world we live in – but also how we choose to question and interact with that world.
The degree to which we are able to look at the world around us and ask “what if?” or “is this right?” or “why do I think that way?” shapes our thinking, who we become and ultimately how we decide to interact with others.
Millions of people passed by that same door that C.S. Lewis walked by in St. Mary’s Passage and barely noticed it. To them, it was just a door or a pretty piece of wood.
To C.S. Lewis, it became the passage to a whole new world.
I can’t help but believe we are knee deep in a cultural moment where voices around the world are asking us to notice the door that we’ve all walked by and few have walked through.
A door that will open our eyes to the fact that there is more behind the environments that have shaped us than meets the eye.
We are invited to engage, question and wonder why we’ve never noticed this door before - but now we can’t stop noticing it. The question is no longer whether or not the door exists. The question is now: will we walk through?
Will we question the world as it is and wonder what it could be? Will we examine our cultural systems and ways of thinking that have made groups of people feel excluded and have enabled racial bias and injustice instead of eradicating it?
Our environments shape our imaginations - that is inevitable.
What is not inevitable is choosing in what direction those imaginations are shaped and asking if there is more beyond what meets the eye.
The ability to question and wonder and change is uniquely human.
There are many things in this life that I believe are sacred – and the ability to imagine is one of them. What is art and music and storytelling other than our spirits and souls yearning to create something new?
I wonder what would happen if we leaned into this moment. If we listened to the pain. If we asked questions. If we imagined a whole new world. And together, we walked through the door.