Wednesday, April 4, 2012

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

On November 18, 1963 Lewis writes to Muriel Bradbrook:

“That’ll be fine. Sat. 8th Dec. wd. do me excellently. If you come about 4 o’clock you shall have tea and scones in the kitchen: if you prefer it, it’s sherry or whiskey in the study.”

On November 21 he writes to Nan Dunbar:

“Thurs. Dec. 14 at about 11. a.m. wd. Suit me well.”

And then we come to his letter of November 21 to Philip Thompson, a letter that I excerpted in my December 18, 2011 post:

“Dear Philip Thompson,
To begin with, may I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age. And to go on with, thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear. It is a funny thing that all the children who have written to me see at once who Aslan is, and grown ups never do!”

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

On November 22, 1963 Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis completed his journey. He wouldn’t have tea and scones or sherry and whiskey with Muriel Bradbrook on December 8; nor would he spend time with Nan Dunbar on December 14. As I’ve previously written, it is fitting that his last published letter, that written to Philip Thompson, was a letter written to a child, for Lewis not only wrote for children, he also wrote to children. Jesus says to us that unless we become as children that we can’t see and enter the Kingdom of God, and for sure we can’t touch it or taste it or smell it – the texture of the Kingdom is a texture of joy and delight, it is one of selfless serving as opposed to self-serving. As Reepicheep would say, to experience the Kingdom is to take the adventure that Aslan gives us. Sometimes we may appear victorious, sometimes we may appear defeated – but the only appearing that matters is Christ’s and whether we live or die we are His…we can be certain that where we live today are but the Shadowlands.

It is the grown-up world that is one of make-believe; one of masks and role playing and falsehoods; one of spin, one of saying, “You may hear the words I speak but do you know what I really mean?” “You may see the mask I wear but do you know who I really am?”

The grown-ups are the ones with the imaginary friends, except their imaginary friends are not the harmless ones of childhood, no, the imaginary friends of grown-ups are pride and vanity and popularity and wealth and physical looks and possessions and power and affluence and personal peace…the list goes on; these are fiendish friends who kill, who deceive, who make empty promises. It is the child who sees that the Emperor is naked, stark naked.

The adult makes excuses as to why we can’t be our brother’s keeper; why we can’t provide for the poor and needy, the fatherless and widows. The adult builds walls of arguments that provide secure barriers to sacrificial living, to selfless giving, to reconciliation, to forgiveness, to mercy and grace. And the adult invades the Temple and pushes the children and the lame and blind away and makes Jesus into a figure of practicality and economic and political common sense. The adult in the Temple is so guarded that he does not know the pain of his fellow pew-sitter because to know his pain would require childlike vulnerability and trust – concepts foreign to the adult.

And so Aslan chooses children to reveal Himself through, and to us adults Christ says, “If you would know Me, really know Me, let me teach you to become as a child, and in becoming a child you will know what it is to be a true man (or woman) created in the image of God.”

I close this series with the last paragraph of the Narniad:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

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