November 19, 2017

Remembering Jack

Monday was the 47th anniversary of the death of the man many consider the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century. C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963—the same day as Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy. Lewis was the author of such classics as Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and the Chronicles of Narnia. He was a renowned medieval English scholar at Oxford (and, in his latter years, Cambridge). But most of all, he was just Jack to his friends. And he had many friends.

Today I thought we would visit with Jack, counting ourselves among his friends. He spent much of his time with companions in local pubs, reading, arguing, discussing, laughing. Imagine yourself in an English pub, and you see Lewis engaged in conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield. Wouldn’t it be great to just listen to what Lewis had to say to his friends? So grab a pint, pull up a chair, and listen as Jack Lewis shares some of his thoughts with us.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God–it changes me.”

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

“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.”

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. ”

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

“I am a product […of] endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.”

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

“I gave in, and admitted that God was God.”

“God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

Comments

  1. C.S. Lewis was a giant among men. A giant so humble that he stooped low to be everybody’s friend.
    And a great author to boot.

    Cheers, Jack.

  2. “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

    An perfect wind-down to a Thanksgiving day. Thanks for posting, Jeff.

  3. “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    Oh boy thats a good one.

  4. I am a Christian — or at least I became aware that I was a Christian — because of reading “The Screwtape Letters” when I was sixteen. The hope of Narnia kept me going during some awful years between ten and sixteen.

    Long before I read “The Great Divorce,” I imagined getting to meet Lewis as my spiritual mentor when I got to heaven, as Lewis meets MacDonald. I realize now that the line to meet him will be long, but I’ll have eternity, and that’ll be a pretty good way to spend a chunk of it.

    A great man.

  5. Damaris, I hope to be with you in that line to talk with Lewis. He says such profound and yet simple things. And he is SO very aware of the power of a good story. I recently a book written by his stepson. I am glad it was a positive portrayal of Lewis.

    Thanks for all those fantastic quotations from Lewis, Jeff.

    • Two more things for me to be thankful for today: that Jack Lewis once walked the earth, and that people in the IM community still do.

  6. C.S. Lewis did what so many of us will never do. He brings hope to Christians who believe Christians will never be Christian. If I had to choose a person that I want to be like, it would be Him. Because in a roundabout way, being like him would be one more step, one big step, towards being like Christ.

  7. Thanks for taking the time to share these quotes with us. Let’s pass them on.

  8. Can’t decide who is able to do ‘sneaking past the watchful dragons’ best: Lewis, Tolkien, or Rowling.

    By the time an atheistic adult has wept at the death of Aslan and rejoiced at Aslan’s resurrection, he’s hooked. It may or may not ever strike him that a seed might have been planted;
    but, if, by chance, he comes one day to hear the Christ story in future, some recognition of a memory may be awakened in him of the sound of distant lion’s roar. 🙂

    • I forgot to mention WORDSWORTH in the line-up,
      another giant, who no doubt influenced the others in their writings:

      take a look (from his ‘Tintern Abbey’

      “For I have learned
      To look on nature, not as in the hour
      Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes 90
      The still, sad music of humanity,
      Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
      To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
      A presence that disturbs me with the joy
      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
      Of something far more deeply interfused,
      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
      And the round ocean and the living air,
      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
      A motion and a spirit, that impels 100
      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
      And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
      A lover of the meadows and the woods,
      And mountains; and of all that we behold
      From this green earth; of all the mighty world. . . ”

      For all the ‘giants’ who spoke and wrote what resonates so deeply with what is in our own souls, we can be thankful for their gifts, shared, that point towards the Holy One.

  9. Beelzebub's Grandson says:

    “,,,the man many consider the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century”…?!

    You must be joking. To begin with, Tolstoy lived until 1910, though most of his works were earlier. I suppose you mean to include only the authors of literary works, not theology per se (which would require us to weigh the virtues of say, Albert Schweitzer versus Vladimir Lossky); that we are limiting ourselves to the English language (which eliminates half of Kahlil Gibran Gibran’s output); and that the works in question must be didactically Christian and not merely Christian in setting or detail (Mark Twain cursed God but identified with Presbyterianism). I am unsure as to whether you mean Protestant writers only, or whether (say) Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, or Lewis’s friend Tolkien might qualify to displace him.

    Okay, how about T.S. Eliot? Christian enough for you?

    • Hey, BG-
      I think when he said “Christian Writer”, I think that implied the scope of Lewis’ works (he wrote essays, poetry, sci-fi, children’s books, and fiction), and also the wide range of people he reached compared to other authors. I don’t know many people who’ve read Schweitzer (as great as he was), but many non-believing readers have read some Lewis. And Kahlil Gibran?! Sorry, but he’s so nauseatingly heavy and introverted in his writing- shouldn’t even be on the list! More like a high school navel-gazer fooling around with poetry. Tolkien is a great writer and story-teller, but not very winsome or humble. Lewis is a true spiritual mentor, although he would never call himself that. He’s gotten me through many a hard time; can’t say that about any other author.

    • @j BG: I’m very sure that JeffD was not joking, but ironically enough, I’m just as sure that Jack himself would have thought so. If you want to celebrate Tolstoy or someone else, today is a good day for it. It looks like some of Jack’s friends are going to carve out some time for him.

      Giving thanks for many great writers today (including those at IMONK)
      GregR

    • Lewis always made a point of saying that he wrote as a layman, not as a theologian.

      For me, personally, he has been the single most influential writer of the 20th Century.

      Way back in childhood the Narnia series were my absolute favorite. The series led to a lifelong love of fantasy. Fantasy, imagination, expands our world into the infinite. You look beyond what ‘is’ to what might be. The most ordinary butterfly in the garden might be a princess from fairyland traveling in disguise. The most ordinary child in the world might be capable of slaying dragons.

      Then more recently returning to Christ after so many years as an agnostic, I was able to turn again to my old friend for good instruction.

      I hadn’t thought of it before, but now I wonder if he didn’t plant some seed way back when I happily escaped to Narnia. A seed that germinated with my eventual return to Christ.

  10. No qualifiers are needed, B’s grandson.

    Lewis’ work was tremendous in its scope, breadth and insight. Tolstoy wrote longer (and very specifically Russian) novels. But Lewis wrote masterfully in many genres, and probably wrote more in total. He was easily readable, and always pertinent. With Tolstoy or Waugh, you can never forget that you’re reading a book. With Lewis, it can feel like you’re listening to a friend. And there are more surprises in Lewis than any of those other writers’ work:

    It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better. It is not wholly desirable that any man should be allowed at once the pleasures of a tyrant or a wolf’s-head and also those of an honest freeman among his equals.

    And anyway, there are people who think Philip Gulley is the greatest Christian writer of the 20th Century. Is there really any good reason to act surprised at anything that “some people” say or believe?

    • A scholar, indeed. The trivia that sticks with me about Lewis, after reading a biography of him, is this. In working on his volume in the Oxford History of the English Language, which took decades to finish, he read every single volume from the 16th century in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, something like 200 different authors.

      • I’m embarrassed at how the word “scholar” is thrown around in some circles. I don’t think Jack made a big deal of it, but he certainly was one to do the heavy lifting before writing. Thanks for the vignette.

      • Rev Dave: I heard at a Lewis conference a few years ago that he referred to that work as his “O Hel” book! 😀

  11. I’m fond of this quote, from the second chapter on “Faith” in Mere Christianity:

    “though Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke.”

    • Excellent quote, Moonshadow! And I think every Christian in the world should have to read that quote and then be made to participate in an open discussion group addressing its meaning and how it might apply to each person’s chosen brand of theology and churchianity. We might actually make a little progress when it comes to getting “out of all that” and “into something beyond.”

  12. “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher…”

    This quote really grabbed hold of me back when I first read it. Yes. He was exactly right.

  13. I admit to having had more imaginary conversations with Jack than with any other writer. My faith has been influenced by many modern storytellers, but none more so than Lewis. He had such a keen awareness of the “deep magic,” and a gift for describing the Indescribable.

    After several months of standing quietly in the shadows, observing and listening to the wonderful conversations of the IM community, I am finally voicing a comment. Stumbled into this pub by accident (?) and have been hooked ever since!

  14. And here’s one that I use to encourage people – believers and non-believers alike – to examine their lives:

    If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

  15. For the real C.S. Lewis aficionados… there is a new bible out… a C.S. Lewis bible. So in case you dont know what to get your special someone for christmas this year? Do a bit of browsing.

    And on a more personal note: C.S. Lewis is the main reason why I can’t become a calvinist (most dutch protestants are to a more or lesser extent).

  16. Lewis and Tolkien were definitely my first loves as a young reader. If I were ever to raise a complaint about Lewis, it would be that his works prompted me to be a bit too cerebral in my faith as a young, immature Christian — something that got me into a lot of trouble once I started exploring beyond Lewis and Christianity itself during my college years. But I don’t really blame him. That was all me. And Lewis’s works definitely helped me find my way back years later.
    And I’m also pissed off that he never finished the Dark Tower — which would have been a sort of fourth addition to his Space Trilogy. I guess we’ll never know what ultimately became of Scudamour and Camilla in Othertime.

  17. Can’t say I’ve read much Lewis. Narnia of course; and some of his later writings were my springboard into the world of 19-20th cen. English Catholicism that I spend half my time in these days. But his money quote, for me?

    “I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man. St. Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation…Contrawise, there is the danger that what is boring and repelent in the job may alienate one from the spiritual life.”

    Whenever I get too frustrated with making a living as a waitress when my “real work” is with my parish, coordinating a young adult group, I pull that one out and stare at it for a good, long while. Probably one of the most purely practical pieces of advice on the Christian life I’ve ever come across.

  18. Oh, I just clicked on the Jonathan Barry painting that is with this post. It opens nice and BIG! Beautiful.

  19. Will be teaching Mere Christianity in my Advanced English class next spring — always the high point of the year!

    If anyone has never read C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, you have to get a copy. It gives you a whole new side of Lewis to contemplate. My favorite (nonreligious) Lewis quote comes from this book: “I’ve been having a sebacious (no, not Herbacious) cyst lanced on the back of my neck: the most serious result is that I can never at present get my whole head & shoulders under water in my bath. (I like getting down like a Hippo with only my nostrils out).”

    Boy, is that a picture, or what?!

  20. I learned more about Jack from the book of compiled letters he wrote, “Letters of C.S. Lewis,” than I learned from any of professional works, including his autobiography “Surprised by Joy.” The compilation of his “Letters to Children” is also good.

    • I have to admit, though, I’ll be in line alongside Lewis to shake hands with MacDonald. His “Unspoken Sermons” was a theological game-changer for me, just as it was for Lewis.