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?

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