Monday, January 30, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – X

On September 11, 1963 Lewis writes to Arthur Greeves:

“The only real snag [in Lewis’s condition of health] is that it looks as if you and I shall never meet again in this life. This often saddens me v. much.

“W., [Warnie] meanwhile, has completely deserted me. He has been in Ireland since June and doesn’t even write…

“I am glad you are fairly well…But oh Arthur, never to see you again!”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

Warnie is still absent, he has completely deserted Lewis – he will return before the final page is written, but for four months he has been gone in spite of numerous entreaties from Jack’s friends.

Arthur is not in the best of health, so a journey from Ireland to England may not be possible on his end any more than a trip from England to Ireland is possible for Jack. Friends since boyhood, confidants; cherishing their time together – indeed – jealously guarding their time together. What must their talks have been like as they matured over the years?

A brother who won’t return home to be with him; a friend who would come but likely cannot.

As I read and reread this letter of Lewis’s it makes me want to return to The Four Loves and review his treatment of friendship, for Lewis’s words, “But oh Arthur, never to see you again!” are words that once read, I can’t forget.

In The Four Loves Lewis writes concerning friendship:

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few “friends.” But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as “friendships,” show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chunks of one’s time…”

While Lewis was a man of great intellect, he was also a man of great imagination as well as a man of great passion. Those who gravitate toward Mere Christianity and never touch Narnia or Till We Have Faces may indeed benefit from Lewis’s work, but they have only touched one facet of the man; and the same can be said for any isolated approach to Lewis. Of course that’s fine in that interaction with a man’s body of work is not necessarily interaction with the man (or woman) on a level beyond the work in question; and Lewis himself indicated that a “work” should stand on its own – apart from the person who produced it. On one level I agree with Lewis; we need not know the creator of the work to appreciate the work; then again, my own experience has been that often knowing the man or woman (to some degree) behind the work helps me better appreciate the work. It can lend credence to the work in that I can see that the person endeavors to live what he or she promotes and teaches; it can also provide biographical context to help me see how life’s experience may have influenced what the author or artist produced. On the other hand, knowing something about the creator of a work can also juxtapose the person and work and remind me that we’re all fallible and that God can still use us.

As I look at what I’ve just written I realize that I am writing more about historical authors than contemporary ones; contemporary authors are lives in process and by-and-large I don’t have much interest in getting to know them in the way that I enjoy getting to know Lewis or Fenelon or Andrew Murray. I also realize that I am selective in wanting to know historical authors; after all, one can only have so many relationships with people – whether they are alive or dead. Now if you’ll pardon this digression let me get to where I am going…

While we can certainly view Lewis through his writing and speaking, we can also view Lewis through his relationships in general and through his friendships in particular. Greeves, Dyson, Tolkien, Barfield, Sayer, Green, Williams, Davidman…the list goes on – from boyhood to his exit from the Shadowlands, relationships in general and friendships in particular shaped Lewis’s life; a commitment to an Army friend to care for his mother led Lewis to what many consider a strange and problematic relationship with Mrs. Moore, one that observers might conclude limited Jack’s life for most of his life.

To C.S. Lewis friendship was not a marginal item in life’s banquet, it was essential to the main course. With all of the emphasis on small groups in today’s professing church, with all of the “high-touch” approaches to ministry, how many of us have the enduring friendships that Lewis and his friends experienced with each other? How are we inculcating the importance of friendship in our children, our youth, and in our churches?

If you and I knew today that we had but a short time to live, is there a friend to whom we would write the words, “Oh my friend…to think that I’ll never see you again!”? Is there someone who would write those words to us?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – IX

On August 29, 1963 Lewis writes to Cecil Harwood:

“…the whole experience (the Nurses took it for granted I wd. die) was very gentle. It seems almost a pity, having reached the gate so easily, not to be allowed through…”

On August 29 Lewis also wrote to John Warwick Montgomery:

“I am afraid my days of lecturing and travelling are over. Last July my death was hourly expected, and tho’ I didn’t get through the gate I have had to resign all my posts and settle down (not unhappily) to the life of an invalid.”

August 30, 1963 to Mary Willis Shelburne”

“I am quite comfortable but v. easily tired. B.B. [this is Big Brother – Warnie] is still away…you must expect my letters to be very few and very short…”

On September 8 in a letter to Michael P. Perrott:

“To know one has been so used always gives pleasure – pleasure of a rather awe struck kind. I remind myself frequently that any one, or any thing, may be used: e.g. Balaam’s donkey!”

[All excerpts are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 3 Volumes, Walter Hopper, editor. Harper San Francisco.]

I selected the above to represent the tenor of Lewis’s correspondence in this season of life. I don’t know that I can, or should, add anything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

C.S. Lewis – Nearing the Journey’s End: VIII

On August 12, 1963 Lewis writes to John Forbes and Richard Ladborough at Cambridge:

“The bearer, Walter Hooper, will leave on the shelves in my room [at Cambridge] all the books that I want sold…(If either of you sees anything he would like as a keepsake let him pocket it.)…I am ashamed to ask all this of you but Walter has to return to America almost at once and my brother is still away, so I am at my wits end what to do.”

On August 13, 1963 Lewis writes Forbes again about selling books and furniture. Lewis concludes with:

“This is, I am afraid, a dreadful amount of trouble but my situation is rather desperate. Tell all my colleagues I am fit to be visited and should welcome it.”

Walter Hooper writes that Lewis gave him, “…seven pages of instructions about the care and disposal of every book in his library.”

Lewis brother, Warnie, is still away; presumably “drying out” in Ireland. Warnie, Lewis’s lifelong companion is absent in Jack’s desperate situation. Walter Hooper must return to America, Douglas and David are away at school; Jack would welcome visitors.

While Lewis is having a large number of books brought to his home in Oxford, many will now be sold. A portrait of his grandfather is to be shipped from Cambridge to the Parish Hall, Dundela, Belfast. There is no point in bringing the portrait back to Oxford, let it go home to Ireland for Jack will soon be going home himself…going to be with his Lord.

Jack is ashamed to ask for all this help, but what is he to do? No Warnie, a soon departing Walter, absent stepsons; what is Lewis to do? His situation is rather desperate. Here is a man who spent most of his life walking the pathways of England, Ireland, Wales…walking with friends, walking with Warnie, walking, walking, walking. A man enjoying the company and repartee of friends and acquaintances, a man engaged in a flow of correspondence; now he can’t walk, he can hardly write, and he can’t go out to meet friends; and where is Warnie?

Lewis is selling books. Not all of his books, many are being shipped to Oxford, but nevertheless he is selling books. What did he think about the books being shipped home? Did he really think he’d have them much longer? Ah, but they are friends and they represent the corridors of a lifetime of reading – so perhaps he’ll have them around just a bit longer. Of course I don’t know if Lewis had those thoughts or not, but I know that I’d have them, and since Lewis and I are book lovers I think I may be close to the mark. To read Lewis’s early letters to his friend Arthur Greeves about books…well…Lewis writes about books the way some men write about women; affectionately, adoringly, descriptively, passionately. I don’t know that I could write the words, the books that I want sold. Such a final phrase…once they are sold there is no return. But Lewis wrote those words and there was a finality about them.

No Warnie, Walter is leaving, the boys are away, and the books are being sold; the situation is desperate… Tell all my colleagues I am fit to be visited and should welcome it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Nearing the Journey’s End – VII


On August 6 Lewis returned to the Kilns from The Acland Nursing Home. Warnie was still away, a male nurse was hired, and Jack’s bedroom was moved downstairs since the doctors forbade him from climbing stairs. Walter Hooper continued to assist Lewis in his correspondence and other affairs. Lewis resigned his professorship at Cambridge.

On August 8, 1963 Lewis writes to Miss Harlan:

“The other passage (‘He who has not the Son’) [1 John 5:12] must mean, I think, he who wholly lacks the Spirit of the Son. Those who do not recognize Him as the Son of God may nevertheless ‘have’ Him in a saving sense – as the ‘Sheep’ had in the parable of the sheep and goats. [Matthew 25:31-46].

“I could write you a better letter if I were not ill.” [This letter was apparently dictated by Lewis to Hooper and signed by Lewis.]

On August 10, 1963 Hooper writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

“I am Professor C.S. Lewis’s secretary writing to tell you some of the facts of Professor Lewis’s present state of health…

“Professor Lewis regrets that he is unable at this time (and probably for a long time) to answer your letters. He is much concerned for you and prays that you may have courage for whatever may be yours both in the present and future.”

I include the letter to Shelburne in this post because it reflects Lewis’s concern and faithfulness to his long-time correspondent. The letter to Harlan is included because it shows Lewis picking up the pen (via dictation) two days after returning home to answer questions regarding Scripture and Christ, as well as giving insight into Lewis’s approach to Scripture.

My sense of Lewis is that where Mere Christianity is concerned (the essentials of the Christian faith that Christians of all times and in all places generally agree upon) that his approach is tight and clearly defined. Where matters beyond Mere Christianity are concerned Lewis, as it seems to me, gives room to various approaches, thoughts, interpretations, and applications. Hence he writes, “The other passage…must mean, I think…” Earlier in his letter to Harlan Lewis writes:

“But whether confession here means auricular confession to a priest or pastor or confession to the human parties whom one has offended or simply confession before God in the heart is, I suppose, one of those points on which Christian authority has given different answers in different times and places.” [Italics mine].

This is, in my thinking, a fair representation of Lewis’s approach to many questions of doctrine and practice – an acknowledgement that historically and presently we live in a large Kingdom with a rich (and sometimes not so rich) tapestry of thought. Lewis tends to honor various Christian traditions, indeed, as he tends to respect all traditions, and it appears that Lewis allowed plenty of room for mystery, for questions, for possibilities – the one thing he was not likely to do was to say, “The interpretation and application of this passage must be this way; it is my way or the highway.” Again, I’m writing about his approach to things beyond Mere Christianity.

On the other hand, Lewis could be polemic and tightly weave arguments on philosophical and literary questions, which by extension were Christian questions (informed by Christianity) – the body of his published work does exactly this. And of course, his writings about Mere Christianity, which range from the Space Trilogy to Narnia to Miracles to the Problem of Pain are anything but nebulous – though again mystery is present is many of his works; he acknowledges (I think) whether overtly or by implication that we just don’t know everything, that we simply don’t know how all the pieces of God’s plan for the ages fit together.

Lewis’s approach disturbs some people, and many who use Lewis’s work apologetically don’t know him well enough to know that their rigid attitudes toward other Christians are the antithesis of Lewis’s approach; nor do they often know that their attitudes toward other religions and philosophies and histories lack the grace and thoughtfulness that Lewis bore toward others. Then there are those who hijack Lewis to promote political agendas, while Lewis did have political thoughts, my sense is that he knew that politics was not the “main thing” in life.

The pastoral Lewis (if you will), the Lewis who answered the questions of his many correspondents, both high and low, was (to me) a Lewis who gave people room to grow, to think, to explore – he was a man of grace. And why not? For I think that he was a man who knew about grace and forgiveness – who knew about pain and joy – who knew that one could be oh so wrong – but who also knew of Christ’s amazing love and mercy. And remember, Lewis did not come to Christ via argument per se, he came to Christ by responding to beauty, to desire, to the transcendent; he was not convinced by argument, he was surprised by joy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – VI

On July 11, 1963 Lewis writes to his boyhood friend, Arthur Greeves:

“Alas! I have had a collapse as regards the heart trouble and the holiday has to be cancelled…I don’t mind – or not much – missing the jaunt, but it is a blow missing you. Bless you. Jack”

On July 15 Lewis wrote to Shelburne:

“I go into hospital this afternoon. Think any sudden change in my state is v. improbable…I feel so sleepy and tired that I fell v. little concerned. The loss of all mental concentration is what I dislike most. I fell asleep 3 times during your letter and found it v. hard to understand! Don’t expect to hear much from me. You might as well expect a Lecture on Hegel from a drunk man.”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

In The Collected Letters Walter Hooper adds this footnote to the Shelburne letter:

“A 5 p.m. on Monday, 15 July, a few hours after writing the above letter, Lewis arrived at the Acland Nursing Home. Minutes afterwards he had a heart attack and went into a coma. The doctors informed Austin and Katharine Farrer that he was dying, and they contacted Douglas Gresham and Walter Hooper.”

Lewis came out of the coma the following day. Concerned about his correspondence, and knowing that he’d be in the nursing home for sometime, he retained Walter Hooper as his secretary. As Lewis told George Sayer, “There will be hundreds of letters, I must have a secretary.” (Warnie was in Ireland; during this trip to Ireland Warnie and gone on one of his alcoholic binges and was now a patient at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Sayer went to Ireland to find Warnie).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – V

Lewis writes to Shelburne on July 9, 1963:

“Our hearts, by the way, must be different. When yours is worst you have to lie flat. When mine was worst I had to sit up – night and day for months.

“By the way, as you come out I may possibly go in. Swollen ankles – the Red Light for me – have returned. I see the doctor about this tomorrow. My fear is that he will forbid me to go to Ireland on Monday as I had arranged, and put me back in hospital.

“Our friends might really get up a sweepstake as to whose train really will go first!...”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

I share this excerpt, as I share many other excerpts in this focus on Near the Journey’s End, because it provides a sense of Lewis’s deteriorating health and his attitude toward the final season of his life. Lewis is occupied in living, in maintaining friendships, in correspondence, in reading; he hasn’t stopped living just because his body is giving him fits. His body is not his primary focus; he doesn’t ignore it, he doesn’t pretend that it isn’t a major factor in life; he gives the facts of his health when appropriate; but the man continues to live, his mind continues to work, Lewis continues to explore, to cultivate, to encourage, to love.

I wonder whether, when Lewis wrote above about “whose train will really go first” if he perhaps thought about the train wreck in the Last Battle, which was the means of transportation into the Real Narnia?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ezekiel and The Call and the Presence

I'm struck how the Presence of God permeated Ezekiel's call to ministry. Visions of the Divine Presence bathe the early chapters of the book bearing Ezekiel's name. One result was that Ezekiel was called to act out, to portray, the Word of God to Israel, Judah, and the nations. To see Ezekiel was to see the Word of God. 

I wonder how readily Ezekiel would have responded to God's directions for "acting out" His Word had Ezekiel not experienced the Presence? A vision of the heavens prepared and empowered Ezekiel for ministry on earth. Perhaps this is what a taste of books such as Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel and Revelation can produce in us if we will be Christocentric in our approach to them? The book of Revelation, and all of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings that inform Revelation, is about Jesus Christ before it is about anything else, why do we seem to miss that so often?

On the Day of Pentecost in Acts Chapter Two the Presence of God descends from the heavens to fill His Temple, and His living Temple begins acting out the Word of God on earth - we like to use the term "incarnational" - the Presence and the Word are incarnated in God's Living Temple. The Temple is completed, it's growth and building are consummated, in Revelation Chapters 21 and 22 - the Presence and Person of God are the focal point of the Temple, which is the City, for the City is the Temple and the People are the City and God Himself is in the midst - they see His face and need no light but the light of the God.

The book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of His Presence and culminates in a vision of the Temple. Not a bad inclusio for a ministry, not a bad trajectory. May we always be aware of His Presence, whether beheld in the grandeur of the Himalayas or sensed in the aroma of a rose; and may we always and forever know that our lives are not about us, but about others being built into the Living Temple of the Living God.

Monday, January 2, 2012

C.S. Lewis - Near the Journey's End: IV Postscript

This evening I received a call from Charlie who lives down in Florida. It's probably been a year since I've spoken to Charlie, maybe longer. Charlie was full of thanksgiving as he shared with me his pilgrimage over the past year, "Bob", he said, "during the past year God has delivered me from some things I've struggled with all of my life".

Charlie went on to share Psalm 43:4 with me, a verse he used to recite as an altar boy years and years ago; a verse that God has quickened in his life during the past year.

Did I mention that Charlie is 80 years old? 

It takes Lewis 50 years or so to forgive Robert Capron (see previous post on Lewis). It takes Charlie 79 years to overcome certain things in his life. There is hope for me...and if you can receive it...there is hope for you. We are indeed called into a relationship with the Living God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End: IV

Lewis writes to Shelburne on July 6, 1963:

“Do you know, only a few weeks ago I realized suddenly that I at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I’d been trying to do it for years: and like you, each time I thought I’d done it, I found, after a week or so it all had to be attempted over again. But this time I feel sure it is the real thing. And (like learning to swim or to ride a bicycle) the moment it does happen it seems so easy and you wonder why on earth you didn’t do it years ago…one is safe as long as one keeps on trying [to forgive].

“How terribly long these days and hours are for you. Even I, who am in a bed of roses now compared with you, feel it a bit. I live in almost total solitude, never properly asleep by night…and constantly falling asleep by day. I sometimes feel as if my mind were decaying. Yet, in another mood, how short our whole past life begins to seem!”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

Those who know Lewis know that the schoolmaster referred to above was Robert Capron. George Sayer, in his biography of Lewis, writes, “It is sometimes suggested that Jack exaggerated the evils of Wynyard [Capron’s school]. But this does not seem to be the case. Jack’s apparently highly colored account agrees with the slightly more sober one of his brother in The Lewis Papers and with the opinions of other former pupils.”

Sayer quotes Warren Lewis, who preceded Jack at Wynyard, “I have seen him lift a boy of twelve or so from the floor by the back of his collar, and holding him at arm’s length, as one might a dog…apply his cane to his calves…He was the most complete domestic tyrant I have ever met with or even read of.”

In Sayer’s biography of Lewis, the chapter in which Lewis enters Wynyard is titled, Into Bondage. Sayer writes, “Once he [Lewis] had become a Christian, he tried hard to forgive [Capron], to heal the memory, and free himself from an almost obsessive resentment. But he did not succeed until he was lying ill in Oxford’s Acland Nursing Home in the last July of his life.”

Forgiveness is not a magic pill we drop in our mouth and take with a glass of water and say, “There, that’s done”. Forgiveness no more looks the same in everyone’s life than our paths to Christ look the same. In an individual life forgiveness may look one way in one relationship and another way in another relationship. Some forgiveness may be rather instantaneous with closure, but other acts of forgiveness may, as in this case with Lewis, take a lifetime to consummate. And perhaps there are even some acts of forgiveness which do not know consummation until we leave this life for the next – these things can be shrouded in mystery.

Unforgiveness is toxic, a lethal dye coursing through arteries and veins. It may take the antibodies a lifetime to work; the thing is to recognize the poison, seeking the grace of Christ to forgive, thus dealing with the poison, and to continue to seek to forgive as Christ forgives us. As Lewis writes, “one is safe as long as one keeps on trying”. The danger is not trying, and the greater danger is to nurture the unforgiveness.

I have seen people foist the act of forgiveness on others believing that physical action and mere words without soul will coincide with Christ’s command to forgive; it is not unusual in such cases for inward forgiveness not to be consummated because it lacked the heart and volitional consent of the person coerced into the action. It is one thing to pray for the grace to forgive, it is that same thing to say, “Lord, I forgive this person, help me to forgive”, but it is another thing to mouth words and acquiesce in actions that are the words and actions of someone’s puppet.

It is, I think, better to be engaged in a lifetime of working through forgiveness than to pretend that forgiveness has been consummated when it hasn’t – pretending glosses over heart and volitional realities, while engagement opens us to the grace of God, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit of God.

None of the above is intended to mitigate miraculous testimonies of forgiveness that abound in history and contemporary life – such is the witness of Christ in His people. However, with many of us forgiveness in some areas and towards some people is a process, to be sure it is a process triggered by a decision to forgive in obedience to Christ and in light of Christ’s forgiveness, but it is a process all the same, a process triggered by a decision and sustained by subsequent decisions. Yes, I desperately need the grace and mercy of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins; but I no less need His mercy and grace in order to forgive others.