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.
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.
My earliest memory of C. S. Lewis came not through a man named Lewis but through a girl named Lucy. As it is for so many, the Chronicles of Narnia is still my truest Lewis love.
I first knew Narnia through my dad as he read aloud to my sister and me before bed. He leaned against the kitchen sink, a book in one hand, or leaned against sofa pillows with a daughter on each side. I ate Cheerios at the counter, watching his mouth form different shapes for different characters. Or I lay on the floor and walked my feet up the refrigerator. Sometimes I put my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes to hear his breath and swallow, to listen to his voice between words.
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.
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. (more…)
I like books. I mean really love them. You can ask my wife or one of my three sons about my “toys.” They’d all know you were talking about my books. It probably borders on obsessive, compulsive or at least pathological. One of the qualities I’ve come to appreciate in reading the letters and the biography of C. S. Lewis was his love of reading.
When they came out, I enjoyed the three volumes of his Collected Letters (about 3,600 total pages). He wrote a lot of letters! But as I read them I felt I came to know Lewis as a friend (presumptuous, I know, but it’s how I felt after I had finished).
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.
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Does any part of this quote resonate with you in a venture for which you are ambitious?