CS Lewis

His Light in Our Darkness

Most of the people I know are familiar with C. S. Lewis. Many have spoken with me about the profound impact of his writing on their life.   All of them, I suspect, would be (or they are now) surprised to learn that prior to my visit to Lewis’ birthplace in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I did not feel a deep connection with him.  Truthfully, his intellect and the extent of his influence had mostly intimidated me. However, while I was in Ireland, not too long ago, at a friend’s insistence, I chose to take a closer look at his life.

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Screwtape’s Tactics

Of all the bits of C.S. Lewis wisdom that have formed my practical theology, The Screwtape Letters is the most memorable for me. In this little book Lewis reveals the devil’s strategies for tripping up us humans. He does it by means of notes sent from a senior devil Screwtape to his protégé Wormwood.

Intentional Reversal
As a reader I’m kept on my toes by Lewis’ use of intentional reversal in the cosmic drama. Screwtape speaks of ‘the Enemy’ who is opposed to ‘Our Father Below’, while ‘the patient’ is the mortal to whom Wormwood has been assigned.

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Loving People Into Goodness

I’ve been pondering these words of C. S. Lewis for years:  “God doesn’t love us because we are good; because God loves us, God makes us good.” This goodness (dikaiosune in Greek) is deep and sweet, yet also courageous and virtuous.  It is an attractive goodness, like what you see in a really good grandmother. For such a person, we behave in kind, brave, even honorable ways that surprise us. We go the extra mile without thinking about it.  This is the relational edge of spiritual formation, which Lewis outlined so well in the last two sections of Mere Christianity. 

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Finding Freedom

It began when someone I’ve worked with a lot wrote me an email telling me how much my life andmy books helped her.  It was lovely; it felt good. But she had referred to her blog so I read it—and her list of recommended books to read.  My books (which helped her so much?????)  were not on there. What would I do with this frustration?

Every time something like this happens I remember the words below of C. S. Lewis. I read them nearly every day for a while in the mid ’90s and they became a turning point for me. You may find it harsh. And, indeed, this quote is harsh, but I (like Arthur Greeves, Lewis’s friend to whom this is written) really needed to rehearse it over and over.

From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition [to succeed as a writer], from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognise myself as having unmistakably failed in it… . The side of me which longs, not to write, for no one can stop us doing that, but to be approved as a writer, is not the side of us that is really worth much. And depend upon it, unless God has abandoned us, he will find means to cauterise that side somehow or other… . Think how difficult that would be if one succeeded as a writer: how bitter this necessary purgation at the age of sixty, when literary success had made your whole life and you had then got to begin to go through the stage of seeing it all as dust and ashes. Perhaps God has been specially kind to us in forcing us to get over it at the beginning… .  As you know so well, we have got to die. Cry, kick, swear, we may: only like Lilith to come in the end and die far more painfully and later… . I would have given almost anything—I shudder to think what I would have given if I had been allowed—to be a successful writer…I am writing as I do simply and solely because I think the only thing for you to do is absolutely to kill the part of you that wants success.

Absorbing at least some of Lewis’s toughness with himself has given me such freedom. I don’t have to compete; I can just follow Jesus. I can be happy for others (most of the time). I can be enormously grateful that I’ve been able simply to make a living as a writer. What a great life I live.

Join the Conversation

Does any part of this quote resonate with you in a venture for which you are ambitious?

Kitten or Thunderstorm?

As I think of C.S. Lewis, quotes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Weight of Glory immediately spring to my mind. These I share with you.

The following three quotes speak of the tension we are invited to live in as Christians but often fail to do so, namely, the tension between the twin realities of God’s transcendence (God beyond us – wholly other) and God’s immanence (God with us). Lewis communicates a God who inspires knee wobbling fear (reverence, awe-fullness), whose ways are not our ways (wild) but who is good (loving, wise, gracious, merciful) and even playful (God as friend).

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I’m On Aslan’s Side

“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” 
— C.S. Lewis (The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6))

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the nature of reality. Not in a deep, theoretical, theological way, as one would chew on an interesting idea or penetrating insight. With the birth of my first grandchild and my first niece, the question of what the world that we live in is really like has pressed into me as I held each warm, small body in my arms, impossible to avoid, full of heft and cry and urgency.

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Medicine from God

My favorite C.S. Lewis’ books are his space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

In them, the protagonist, a man by the name of Ransom, has a wound that he received in another world. It incapacitates him in this world and cannot be healed on this planet. This idea has always intrigued me. It seems to be very much in line with sound teaching on confessing our sins to another person or even with the 12-Steps of the AA movement. When a wound has occurred, either to me or by me, I must return to the source to find healing. Sometimes that feels like going to another planet!

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Seeing Like Lewis

C.S. Lewis was a great scholar of medieval literature but also a man of the twentieth century. The twentieth century was filled with great good in the midst of great evil, and the culture Lewis inhabited needed wise interpreters and reminders of the grand scale of reality envisioned by Christian faith. In that century of war and self-sacrifice, C.S. Lewis gave his era a picture of the great themes – good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and demons, ransom and forfeiture, selfishness and selflessness.

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Loose in the Fire

I celebrate C.S. Lewis! Yes, I have read several of his books, but I celebrate something else about my connection with him. In 1998 my husband and I traveled to Oxford and Cambridge for the centennial of his birth at the “Loose in the Fire” C.S. Lewis Summer Institute sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We spent the first week at Oxford University and the second week at Cambridge University.

Our days were filled with lectures on various aspects of Lewis’ life, times, and work. The speakers list included many well-known scholars and practitioners who took on the challenge of the theme “to live as faithfully in our time as Lewis did in his, risking everything, if need be in pursuit of the God, the True, and the Beautiful” (J. Stanley Mattson).

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Ups and Downs

For the better part of my Christian walk C. S. Lewis has had both a direct and indirect impact on my life. I will never forget the demonology course I took in high school under the stern tutelage of Father Aquinas. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters was one of the required texts. I was fascinated by Lewis’ famous concept of “the law of Undulation” and the famous quote,

Has no one ever told you about the Law of Undulation?  Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal…. This means that while their spirits can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters [New York, NY: Macmillan, 1943], 37).

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