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Archive for the ‘Meditations’ Category

We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.

–C. S. Lewis Letters to an American Lady

Ouch.  Many times we forget to actually consider how theology actually impacts our lives.  That may be partially blamed on a modern church full of pastors who don’t really know much good theology let alone how to relate what it means to those of us sitting in the pews (or stackable padded chairs, if you prefer), but over all I think it is a problem of humanity in general.  We like to keep things compartmentalized, and we’re often quite good at it.  Lewis is referencing something that happened in Eden itself that has direct, uncomfortable consequences for understanding ourselves and the world around us.

The Bible teaches us that in the Garden of Eden, the first man, Adam, sinned and he took the first woman, Eve, with him.  As a direct result of that humanity has inherited a tendency towards choosing evil–called “the Fall” in theological terms.  Now, this idea has often fallen out of favor even among Christians these days (usually first among those who would prefer not to think it true of themselves), but I would argue that, whether or not you believe in Christianity, its reality is undeniable.  As I tell history classes, if you don’t understand this basic fact about humanity, you won’t be able to comprehend 90% of what has happened in world history.

Lewis’s quote brings this down to a very practical level.  As a fallen creature, I am hard to live with.  I have a tendency in my nature to choose things that can be called “selfish” with charity and “evil” in all honesty.  I would not like to live with myself–and yet I expect others to do so and be happy about it.

This, I think, reminds us of two very important things:  First, I see the need to understand myself and do everything I can, through Christ, to head off the tendencies I know for a fact are there.  I owe that as much to myself as I do others.  Second, when others offend and anger me, I am reminded, “there, but for the grace of God [and often even with it], go I.”  They are, in a very real way, mirrors of myself.  I should grant them as much reasonable leeway as I do myself.

And that should be a sobering thought.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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There is a simmering debate into which every mere Lewisian descends at some point or other during the course of their life:  What is the “best” way to read the Chronicles of Narnia?  Should we read them in the order they were published or in chronological order according to the actual timeline of Narnia?  Lewis himself weighed in on that question in a letter to response to one of his young pen pals:

I think I agree with your order for reading the books [the chronological one] more than with your mother’s [who thought the published order was intentional].  The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks.  When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more.  Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last.  So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them.  I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.  I never keep notes on that sort of thing and never remember dates.

Letters to Children

In the end, readers will likely glean something from either approach.  It is far easier to get a real sense of the growth and history of Narnia if we read chronologically, but also, perhaps, a unique insight into Lewis’s own mind and life to read them in the order they were published.

In either case, the journey is more than justified.  “Further up and further in!”

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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You play the hand you’re dealt. I think the game’s worthwhile

–C. S. Lewis (allegedly) 

While this quote is widely attributed to Lewis on-line, I’ve yet to come across an actual reference that points to a place where I can verify that he really said it.*  Still, the advice is worthwhile, though we see it better modeled in what Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote.

It is a simple fact that we all are gifted with varying levels of ability and circumstance.  There is no society–nor will there ever be in this fallen world–where everyone is born into complete and total equality in those terms (their ultimate value as a being is another matter–we are all already equal there).  Compared to some people (like Lewis himself intellectually or Bill Gates financially), I am not “gifted” in any meaningful sense of the term.  Compared to others, I am incredibly “gifted.” That isn’t intended to be humble or arrogant.  It is just a statement of fact.  The people above and below me in this pattern of ability in turn likely relate to others the way I relate to them.

Therefore, learning to take what we have been given by God in particular and life in general and make the most of it is often what separates people who are successes from those who are failures.  Unless I am greatly mistaken, I am not called to redefine generations of belief and literary genres as Lewis and Tolkien have.  I am called to do the most I can with what I have been given, to take it and use it to its uttermost in ways that I myself would not have dreamed possible before I undertook it.

We see this best in Frodo Baggins, of course.  Frodo was “just” a hobbit.  He was not tall or strong; no master of wizardry, warfare, or woodcraft.  He came from a people who had traditionally distinguished themselves for nothing in particular, beyond, perhaps, puttering away the days with pointless chatter about family trees and social relations.  Taking only what he had been given, Frodo brought the One Ring to Mordor, something even the Wise, Great, and Strong could not have done.  He did it himself, as himself.

Another problem comes when we judge ourselves by what someone else did with an entirely different hand of cards.  If I judge my success as an author by that of Lewis or Tolkien, then I am almost 100% guaranteed to come up a failure.  Thankfully, as Christ taught in the parable of the talent (Matt. 25:  14-30), if we are to live by the hand we are dealt, we will be judged by that hand as well.  In that sense, a poor man or woman who lives an honest life in poverty will be judged greater than a dishonest national leader.

I, for one, find that reassuring!

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*If so, it was out of character for him.  Lewis described himself as a terrible gambler in Surprised By Joy, and therefore he probably wouldn’t naturally revert to a card-paying metaphor.  The phrase is actually provably older than Lewis, though, and therefore perhaps he would have simply been repeating it.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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My dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.  As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still.  But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.  You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.  I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,

C. S. Lewis

From  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 One of the amazing things about Lewis as a person was the fact that he never “got too old” for fantastic stories.  The tone of his stories changed over time, it is true, and he went through a period where he was “adult” enough to take himself all too seriously.  Ironically, those are the periods of his life where, as a creative writer, he seemed to make the least impact.  How many people, other than serious fans and students of Lewis, have even heard of Spirits in Bondage which Lewis intended to be his dramatic debut as an author of serious poetry?  Instead, we remember best a small book intended as a gift for a child, written with no pretense, at a time when Lewis himself had reached the point he was describing above.

The pressures of life and of ego oftentimes make us forget to see the wonder in the world around us–physically and spiritually.  We feel the weight of our responsibilities all too keenly.  Responsibilities–to God, to family, to country, to community–are good things that remind us of where our priorities should be, but if we are not careful, they can become vampiric, taking up all of our attentions and sucking the life out of us.  Ego does nothing to help that.  It adds a further set of “requirements” to our list, not because we need to meet them but because our self-image demands it.  And so we trudge along, feeling angry, exhausted, and unappreciated, unable to see the beauty and truth literally sitting at our feet, let alone comprehend any of it.

For everyone, the specifics will look different, but the result is almost always the same–we forget to look things as Christ said, with the eyes of a child.  One blessed day, hopefully, with time and true maturity, we awaken to realize all that we have been missing and where our real priorities should be.  On that day we can read fairy tales again.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

–C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Here, Lewis is hitting on one of the very significant mistakes that people make when it comes to religion in general and Christianity in particular.  (He had a knack for that sort of thing.)  Since the rise of theological liberalism in the 19th century, there has been an over-emphasis on the comforting aspects of the faith to the detriment of Christianity as a whole.  This results in the idea of religion as a “crutch” to help us limp through a hard world we fear to face.   That has been reinforced in recent years by the wave of affluence we’ve experienced in the western world since the end of World War II.  Today, no one wants to accept a religion that has hard things to say about them or the way they live their lives.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your position), the Truth of Christianity is far harder than the world around us.  It shows us things about ourselves that no one wants to admit–after all, a real relationship with Christ begins with a knowledge of our own sin and with the admission that “we’re not all OK, myself least of all.”  That is precisely the converse of the message being broadcast by the modern world.  In reality, religion–Christianity–is not simply an easy expedient adopted by the weak to protect themselves from harsh naturalism.  It is the acceptance of the even harder path that leads the weak to become strong through Him.

Christianity isn’t a warm, fuzzy blanket that we wrap ourselves in when we feel the cold of the universe.  It is far more than a get-out-of-Hell-free card.  It is the Universal Sovereign’s attempt to set us back to rights after we have so thoroughly injured ourselves and His creation that He would be justified in simply doing away with it all.  The Truth of Christianity restores us to proper balance with Himself and with His creation as a whole.  That affects our entire life in different ways, some comforting, some hard, but all good.

Just try to balance all that on a simple crutch!

__________

 Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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