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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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We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn,” and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.

A Grief Observed

In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrestled with the implications of the death of his wife, Joy.  It was the first time that much of what he had been speaking about philosophically came home to him in a literal way.  He found in that terrible moment, as we all do, that pain and grief are one thing in the abstract and quite another when experienced.  The very best philosophy at that moment will seem nothing more than mere moonshine (though it may still be objective correct simultaneously).  This is a realization to which much of the western church–the American version in particular–is being rudely awakened.

America has been a nominally Christian nation* since its founding era.  As far back as the beginnings of its individual colonies, it was a haven from persecution.  We most often think of the Pilgrim Separatists of Plymouth, but there were many, many other sorts of believers that fled here to escape persecution, real and imagined, including Baptists, Anabapists, Moravians, Quakers, and Catholics.  They created a society were religious differences would be tolerated, including deism and atheism.

Since that time, America has been slowly redefined into a bastion of secular humanism, a peculiar kind of belief that, while claiming no god in particular in practice worships natural law and humanity as its chief expression.  Like the other religions it claims to critique, secular humanism can tolerate no meaningful dissent in public, and therefore we have seen Christianity’s special place in America regularly rolled back in favor of this new faith through movements that have redefined such classic ideas as the separation of church and state.  As that has happened, we have seen accompanying howls of outrage and indignation from politically active Christians who often have had trouble distinguishing their patriotism from their faith.

To this, I believe Lewis would say, “So what?”  As he noted above, we are promised sufferings and persecutions.  Anyone who signed you up for the Christian faith with the understanding that you would be guaranteed a happy, successful life free from frustration and grief is as bad a historian as they are a friend.  The reality is that the state of affairs that existed in the United States for its first 200 years is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, when things go back to “normal,” we will “have gotten nothing that [we] hadn’t bargained for.”

Of course, that is very easy to say.  The real rub will come the first time I personally have to confront what that actually means–in my life, for my family, and for my loved ones.  I can only pray I bear it well when it does.

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*By “Christian nation” I mean a nation that was founded largely (but not wholly) as an outgrowth of philosophical presuppositions native to the Christian faith and meant to govern a population that largely agreed with that faith.  I do not mean, as many secularists do in such conversations, that it was a theocracy.  It was not and has never been anything of that sort, and to point that out is not particularly noteworthy.

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

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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For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives — to both, but perhaps especially to the woman — a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

A Grief Observed

Love–in its truest sense–is not something that obscures our view of reality.  Instead, it sharpens it.  Through real love, according to Lewis, we see the one we love with crystal clarity…and we decide that we will love them anyway.

To Lewis, as to any really wise person, love is much more than a cascade of fuzzy emotion directed at what amounts to an idol.  It is something that really transcends both the lover and the object of his/her affection.  To use another of Lewis’s famous quotes, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  It is a decision to which we choose to adhere far more than it is mere feeling. We want the best for someone we love, even in the times we may not like them very much.

Most of the modern world defines “love” no more deeply than the flurry of emotion that accompanies infatuation.  Unfortunately, this does not last and eventually we see through the idealized fantasy version of the person that we have “fallen for” and realize who they really are (who we all are)–a broken, imperfect creature with a tendency towards selfishness and failure.  In that moment, if we define love on terms as shallow as infatuation, our “love” for them ceases.  We become “disenchanted.”

Shortly after we quit “loving” them, we begin to feel that we need not be obligated to them either.  We go in search of a new “love” who will excite in us the same feelings the first one did.  Relationships fall apart, marriages end in bitter divorce, and children are often the innocent victims.  Society as a whole then suffers as a result of a misunderstanding by the sum of its parts.

The cycle is vicious and predictable. It also can be broken with a simple, infinitely difficult step:  We make the decision to practice real love with those to whom we have offered the word in lip-service for far too long.

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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.

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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“Peace, Beaver,” said Aslan.  All names will soon be restored to their proper owners.  In the meantime we will not dispute about noises.”

–The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Names are powerful things, even though we may not often think of them as so.  Most cultures take them very seriously, and this is often reflected in literature.  We need only think of Hermionie Granger’s admonition to Lucius Malfoy that “fear of a name only increases the fear of the thing itself,” to see it.  While I don’t know that Lewis was thinking along these lines in particular, I find Aslan’s statement to be almost prophetic.

Christians believe that names matter.  God has promised this Himself:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden mana, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who recieves it.

–Revelation 2:17

A True Name, directly from God, that only He knows.  That is a gift indeed.

Of course, in the short run, not all names are going to be with their proper owners.  People who should be held in esteem and spoken of in terms of honor and grace are regarded with disdain and subjected to names so vile that I won’t repeat them here.  Others who should be ashamed of what they’ve done are held up as the finest examples of humanity and showered with praise.  There is something in us that cringes at both extremes.  We get angry when we see this kind of injustice, though at times we may not even realize why.

The good news is that God sees through to the very heart of things, and He is the ultimate Namer of whom we are but a poor imitation.  One day, as Aslan promised Beaver, all names will be restored to their proper owners.  In the meantime, we “need not dispute about noises” and let what others think of us weigh too heavily on on our minds.  We should take curses and praises both with the proverbial grain of salt.

Remember, the One who really matters sees us as we truly are.  His name is waiting for us.

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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.

Still trying to find time to sit down an give that comparison of Surprised by Joy‘s description of “Chartres” and Lewis’s letters home I mentioned a post or two ago the attention it deserves.  In the meantime, I came across a passage in SBJ that seems to point to part of Lewis’s inspiration for that so unlovable uncle, Andrew Ketterley, in The Magician’s Nephew.  Jack is discussing “Miss C.” and her interest in the paranormal that she introduced to him while she was at Cherbourg:

…that started in me something with which, on and off, I have had plenty of trouble since–the desire for the preternatural, simply as such, the passion for the Occult. …  It is a spiritual lust; and like the lust of the body it has the fatal power of making everything else in the world seem uninteresting while it lasts.  It is probably this passion, more even than the desire for power, which makes magicians.

This does seem to compare well with Uncle Andrew’s discussion with Digory in his study after sending Polly to the Wood Between the Worlds.  There, Uncle Andrew is more interested in being known as a great sage, thinker, and wizard than he is in making anyone bow before him.  He seems to prefer mystical knowledge for its own sake, so much that he was willing to break his vows and even risk life and limb to acquire it.  Of course, once he had achieved greatness, no doubt he expected the whole bowing/homage bit would be sure to follow, but from the tone of the conversation, it seems that he thought it would come when people where awed by his presence, not because he forced them to against their will.  Here is one of the more recognizable bits of his talk:

“Rotten?” said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look.  “Oh, I see you mean that little boys ought to keep their promises.  Very true:  most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it.  But of course you must understand that rules of that sort…can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages.  No Digory.  Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures.  Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

Both books were published in 1955, though Lewis began writing The Magician’s Nephew back in 1949, not long after he had finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I don’t think it is much of a stretch to see him putting a bit of his own temptation to the dark side of the supernatural in what we see from Uncle Andrew.

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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We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven, a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’

–C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain 

This is indeed symptomatic not only of modern Christianity, but of humanity in general.  From the very beginning of recorded history, we see that as a race we care first and foremost about getting what we want instead of doing what is right and best.  All too often, we project that demand directly back onto our expectations of God.

The examples are too many to examine in so short a space.  Consider only a sampling:

  • In the political realm, there is the battle between secular capitalism and socialism.  On the one hand, I demand the ability to work all things around me for my own good–even other people’s lives.  On the other, I demand that the government forcibly take from someone else to insure that I can have what I want.
  • In deism and atheism we see worldviews that demand people be absolute sovereign of their own destiny and morality.  Not only can I have what I want, but no one–least of all a non-existent or irrelevant God–has grounds to even express disapproval.  I am only held accountable to myself and a standard of natural law that rarely, if ever, enforces itself.
  • Moral relativism takes it even a step farther and declares that there is no standard by which what I want can be measured at all.  Since nothing is “right,” everything is.  It is, perhaps, the ultimate example of the grandfatherly indulgence that humanity has come to expect and demand.

The problem has only gotten worse since Lewis first wrote about it.  The idea of “grandfatherly Christianity” has spread like wildfire through western churches.  We long ago abandoned the idea of “meeting people in their need” (a good thing) to “giving people what they want” (a much more questionable proposition).  The end result is a castrated faith that, in many ways, bears a pale resemblance to what the world it imitates looked like five to ten years before.

And we wonder why people don’t respect the modern church?

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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.

And so, little by little, with fluctations which I cannot now trace, I became an apostate, dropping my faith with no sense of loss but with the greatest relief.

–C. S. Lewis Surprised By Joy

Lewis, as a former atheist himself, understood something about that particular belief system* that many life-long Christians completely fail to grasp:  for many people, atheism feels good.  Converting provides instant and complete relief from the massive weight of what it means to be a believer, not only in Christianity but in any of the major world religions.  All of them make claims on your life.  All of them require that you conform yourself, your beliefs, and your actions to a set of standards that you have no control over.  Atheism instantly releases you from all those obligations and, in fact, does so much more: It makes you the sovereign of your own little universe.  That can potentially provide an unparalleled sense of temporary security.  After all, who better to trust with your future than yourself?

This also helps explain why many atheists are so loudly sure of themselves to the point of epistemological absurdity–emotion often sits at the center of their position while their reason provides cover.  Lewis was one of these types.  He came to hate the forced prayers and unjustified legalism of what he had been taught about the Christian faith, and so when atheism presented itself, his emotions led him to grasp at it in intellectual desperation.

Lewis later rejected atheism–though he had to be dragged “kicking and screaming” back into belief.  For Lewis it was simply a issue of truth:  he still believed that there was an external world that he must conform to rather than vice versa.  Through his association with J. R. R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield, he was gradually led to accept proofs that Christianity was true, and therefore he changed his mind a result.

For me, there is another issue that speaks against atheism:  knowledge of myself.  While it sounds like a fine thing to be the sovereign of my own destiny, the more I understand about myself and how little I truly know, the less comfortable I am exercising the kinds of power atheism in theory would grant me over others.  I become even less pleased when I think about others having that kind of absolute authority over myself.  I would think that the Twentieth Century–and the bloodbath than certain atheists like Stalin and Mao made of it–bears out that concern.

That is one reason I am thankful that God created humanity able to both think and to believe.  Properly understood, the strength of each keeps the excess of the other in check.  In Lewis, we see a good example of both.

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*While atheism likes to style itself as a “lack of belief,” it is in fact its own separate religion. Modern atheism puts faith in what Lewis would later call the “Total System,” by which he meant the whole of the natural universe and the measurable phenomena which it produces. Since humanity is the ultimate expression of the intelligent side of the Total System, atheism usually (but not always) begins to treat the human race and its needs with an attitude that borders on mysticism.  This faith is often as blind as it is exclusive, and is also couched in a pseudo religious awe–remember, according to modern atheist thinkers “Forget Jesus.  Stars died so that you might live.”  In that sense, I see no particular difference between the basic fundamentals of atheistic belief and the “religions” they claim to critique.  Of course, this is too big a topic for a footnote!

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

I’ve decided that I will leave Spirits in Bondage aside for a while and try to get back into the basic process of working through Lewis’s letters.  I don’t think there will be a better (or more convenient) time for me to get back on the proverbial horse in the general process of reading through his letters.  Besides, if I use up all of my SIB content now what will I have to say later?  🙂

Picking back up from where I left off, Jack left Robert Capron’s Wynyard School and spent one term at Campbell College, not far from his home at Little Lea.  His father had moved Warnie to Malvern College and Jack to the nearby Cherbourg School.  At first glance in the letters it seems that Jack really doesn’t have much to say about his time at Cherbourg.  His is letters home from Cherbourg number, from start to finish, all of four (one letter per page).  In fact, on one page (Letters, vol. 1, 17), Hooper’s commentary (even in small print) takes up as much space as the letter itself.  From that, one might be tempted to think that Cherbourg didn’t matter that much.

An interior view of Chartres Cathedral. Impressive indeed.

And then we turn to Surprised By Joy.  There, Lewis calls Cherbourg “Chartres” after, as Hooper notes, “the most glorious cathedral in France” (Letters, vol. 1, 15).  In contrast to his few letters, he devotes two entire chapters (27 pages) to Cherbourg in SBJ.  That drastic of a discrepancy may indicate several possibilities, but I’ll mention two at the moment.  First and most obviously, it probably implies that he was simply too busy and excited with his self described “renaissance” to take the time to write.  Second and more seriously, it also likely marks a furtherance of the double life Jack  led.  He let his father see only one side of that life, while he lived the other with gusto.

This is a busy week, but I hope to reread these sections of SBJ and then take a fresh look at the Cherbourg letters.  I expect that some interesting comparisons will emerge.  I’ll have a new meditation post ready on Sunday and hope to post some more on this topic before next weekend.

Have a great week!