As I wrote my essay “Hidden Presence” and thought about what Christ’s emphasis on silence means for me as a writer, I found myself turning to C.S. Lewis for understanding, in particular his idea of the kappa element. His essay “On Stories” was originally a talk titled “The Kappa Element in Fiction,” kappa being the first letter in the Greek word for “hidden.”
In this essay, he argues for the importance of what he calls “the whole quality of the imaginative response” that is generated by a certain kind of story. Usually these stories involve danger—but it is not the danger per se that matters. It is danger from giants, say—or pirates.
And that’s an important distinction because the quality of our response to danger from giants is very different from the quality of our response to danger from pirates. The former involves “the intolerable pressure, the sense of something older, wilder, and more earthy than humanity.” The latter evokes “the whole image of the utterly lawless enemy, the men who have cut adrift from all human society and become, as it were, a species of their own.” These are different kinds of danger, and they are not interchangeable.
The kappa element is just exactly that atmosphere that clings to the giant or the pirate, the unstated essence that is very present and real in the world of the story—perhaps more present and real for being unstated, for being part of the background, hidden in plain sight. As Michael Ward has shown in Planet Narnia, Lewis used this kappa element to great effect in his Chronicles of Narnia, hiding the essence and ethos of one of the seven medieval planets in each of the books in that series. The influence of the planets works on the reader at a subconscious level, present and active, but hidden.
Similarly, when we are rooted and grounded in God, when our words draw from the deep well of the eternal Logos, they cannot help but be imbued with the kappa element of His presence.
Even when we do not name Him—perhaps especially when we do not name Him, when His presence remains unspoken—He is woven so finely into the fabric of our words that His presence slips straight into the imagination, bypassing consciousness altogether. His presence remains hidden, not because He is not there, but because He so fully is.
Books mentioned in this essay (all highly recommended!):
C.S. Lewis, “On Stories” in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories.
C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia.
Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis.
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!