Category Archives: C.S. Lewis
I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien. And it is so like the real history of the world: “Then, as now, there was a growing darkness and great deeds were done that were not wholly in vain.” Neither optimism (this is the last war and after it all will be lovely forever) nor pessimism (this is the last war and all civilization will end), you notice. No. The darkness comes again and again and is never wholly triumphant nor wholly defeated.
(Also see Tim Keller on LOTR here.)
Kevin Vanhoozer, in his 2013 Desiring God National Conference plenary message Saturday:
Let me state, in my own terms, what I think I’ve learned from Lewis.
Theology ministers understanding, so that we can live out our knowledge of God. Theology is practical, it is all about waking up to the real, to what is, specifically to what is ‘in Christ.’ For Christ is the meaning of the whole, the one in whom all things are held together.
And disciples demonstrate understanding by conforming to that what is ‘in Christ.’ It’s all about living out our knowledge of Christ. There are no armchair disciples. You cannot be a disciple in theory. So doctrines tell us what is ‘in Christ’ and that’s what we live by.
What is ‘in Christ?’
Incarnation, Trinity, atonement are not abstractions to be thought but meaningful patterns to be lived and entered into. The imagination, then, helps disciples act out what is ‘in Christ.’ Theology exchanges the false pictures that hold us captive with truth, disciplining our imaginations with sound doctrine.
Discipleship is a matter of the indoctrinated imagination.
Now, of course, we have to beware of having our imaginations taken captive by other things. Many of Screwtape’s things have to do with capturing the imagination for Satan’s purposes. If you control the metaphors and stories people live by, you’ve got them.
Imagination is where God gives creative form to his thoughts, and literary forms to his word. Jesus used what we could call the ‘parabolic imagination’ to give story form to his thought about the kingdom of God. And similarly, disciples need this ‘parabolic imagination’ so we can live in that kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus doesn’t describe what the kingdom looks like, he tells us what kinds of things happen there. The metaphors the disciples live by are those that awaken them to the kingdom things God is doing ‘in Christ.’
What follows are 10 sentences from C. S. Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 1949), pages 45–46. These sentences are not written to parents, nor are they concerned specifically with the the fine art of parenting. And of course they have far-reaching implications for all of life. But for me the most frequent situations when these lines bubble up from my subconscious is when I’m thinking about my kids and parenting them well. So that’s where the title comes from. But enough of me.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.
C. S. Lewis to an inquirer, as published in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 2:644:
I myself always index a good book when I read it for the first time noting (a) Linguistic phenomena. (b) Good & bad passages. (c) Customs: meal times, social classes, what they read etc. (d) Moral ideas. All this reading, though dedicated ad Dei gloriam [to the glory of God] in the long run must not be infected by any immediate theological, ethical, or philosophic reference. Your first job is simply the reception of all this work with your imagination & emotions. Each book is to be read for the purpose the author meant it to be read for: the story as a story, the joke as a joke.
This is a nice concise summary of principles more fully unpacked in Lewis’ book An Experiment in Criticism.
As the father of two spirited boys, aged 10 and 4, I chuckled at these excerpts from the letters of C. S. Lewis, writing as a 55-year-old “crusted old bachelor.” (There’s some fine parenting advice mixed in here, too.)
December 21, 1953 [Letters, 3:389–390]:
We have had an American lady staying in the house with her two sons aged 9 1/2 and 8. I now know what we celibates are shielded from. I will never laugh at parents again. Not that the boys weren’t a delight: but a delight like surf-bathing which leaves one breathless and aching. The energy, the tempo, is what kills.
I have now perceived (what I always suspected from memories of our childhood) that the way to a child’s heart is quite simple: treat them with seriousness and ordinary civility — they ask no more. What they can’t stand (quite rightly) is the common adult assumption that everything they say should be twisted into a kind of jocularity.
December 23, 1953 [Letters, 3:394]:
We have not much news here; the chief event has been that last week we entertained a lady from New York for four days, with her boys, aged nine and seven respectively. Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation? It however went swimmingly, though it was very exhausting; the energy of the American small boy is astonishing.
This pair thought nothing of a four-mile hike across broken country as an incident in a day of ceaseless activity, and when we took them up Magdalen tower, they said as soon as they got back to the ground, ‘Let’s do it again!’ Without being in the least priggish, they stuck us as being amazingly adult by our standards and one could talk to them as one would to ‘grown-ups’ — though the next moment they would be wrestling like puppies on the sitting room floor. The highlights of England for them are open coal fires, especially if they can get hold of the billows and blow it up…
December 26, 1953 [Letters, 3:396]:
My brother and I have just had the experience of an American lady to stay with us accompanied by her two sons, aged 9 1/2 and 8. Whew! Lovely creatures — couldn’t meet nicer children — but the pace! I realize have never respected young married people enough and never dreamed of the Sabbath calm which descends on the house when the little cyclones have gone to bed and all the grown-ups fling themselves into chairs and the silence of exhaustion.
Peter Kreeft writes that the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis, “contains the most important and enlightening single statement about our civilization that I have ever read.”
C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, page 77:
There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.
If the Enlightenment helped the modern world discard notions of original sin and moral absolutes, it also uprooted the foundations of truth and goodness. Unlike the Medieval era, all we have left are vague political and psychological notions of what works efficiently. Technology has replaced religion as our civilization’s summum bonum. Naturalism has replaced supernaturalism. Subjectivism has defined a new age of moral relativity.
Explains Timothy Keller in The Reason For God, page 71:
In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order outside the self, built in to the fabric of the universe. If you violated that metaphysical order there were consequences just as severe as if you violated physical reality by placing your hand in a fire. The path of wisdom was to learn to live in conformity with this unyielding reality. That wisdom rested largely in developing qualities of character, such as humility, compassion, courage, discretion, and loyalty.
Modernity reversed this. Ultimate reality was seen not so much as a supernatural order but as the natural world, and that was malleable. Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques.
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953 in London. C. S. Lewis chose not to attend the festivities because the weather was not great, because he did not like crowds, nor did he feel like dressing up. Instead he watched the event on TV (it was the first fully televised coronation). In July, Lewis wrote this in a letter (Letters, 3:343):
You know, over here people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it. Hence, in the spectators, a feeling of (one hardly knows how to describe it) – awe – pity – pathos – mystery. The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if He said, ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’ Do you see what I mean? One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendor.
C. S. Lewis, the Christian apologist and novelist, was born this day in 1898. Among modern Christian thinkers and writers he remains one of the most important voices, and you can learn much about him in the biographical address by John Piper (here).
Lewis spoke of the physical limitations that pushed him towards fictional adventure and novel writing in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), page 12:
What drove me to write was the extreme manual clumsiness from which I have always suffered. I attribute it to a physical defect which my brother I both inherited from our father; we have only one joint in the thumb. The upper joint (that furthest from the nail) is visible, but it is a mere sham; we cannot bend it. But whatever the cause, nature laid on me from birth an utter incapacity to make anything. With pencil and pen I was handy enough, and I can still tie as good a bow as ever lay on a man’s collar; but with a tool or a bat or a gun, a sleeve link or corkscrew, I have always been unteachable. It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. As a last resource, I was driven to write stories instead; little dreaming to what a world of happiness I was being admitted. You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table.
C.S. Lewis, in a letter (3/22/55; Letters, 3:172):
Dear Miss Mathews,
I was glad to get your letter. I seem to be as ignorant of America as you are of India. I had no idea your parsons preached Hell-fire: indeed I thought the ordinary presentation of Christianity with you was quite as milk-and-watery as with us, if not more so. We could do with a bit more Hell fire over here.
. . .
C.S. Lewis wrote the following in a corrective letter to his friend, the 78-year-old Don Giovanni Calabria [12/26/51; Letters, 3:152]:
. . . This emboldens me to say to you something that a layman ought scarcely to say to a priest nor a junior to a senior. (On the other hand, out of the mouth of babes; indeed, as once to Balaam, out of the mouth of an ass!) It is this: you write much about your own sins. Beware (permit me, my dearest Father, to say beware) lest humility should pass over into anxiety or sadness. It is bidden us to ‘rejoice and always rejoice.’ Jesus has cancelled the handwriting which was against us. Lift up our hearts!
Permit me, I pray you, these stammerings. You are ever in my prayers and ever will be.