C. S. Lewis and the Christian Life Ep. 1
January 24, 2018 Speaker: The Rev. Brian K. McGreevy
C.S. Lewis and the Christian Life
St. Philip’s Church 2018
The Rev’d Brian K. McGreevy, J.D., Facilitator
“A Treaty with Reality”
by Danielle Durant, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, 2013
Whether filing our taxes, writing a research paper, or following up with the doctor, we often try to avoid as long as possible what we don’t want to do or to think about. We may chalk this up to mere procrastination, the putting off of a difficult or unpleasant task. But sometimes, could it be that we wish to guard ourselves from anticipated pain or from ideas and experiences we’d rather not explore?
C.S. Lewis confesses that he made “a treaty with reality” to navigate around the trauma he witnessed in World War 1. He writes, “I put the war on one side to a degree which some people will think shameful and some incredible. Others will call it a flight from reality. I maintain that it was rather a treaty with reality, the fixing of a frontier.”(1) Although Lewis authored over three dozen books, only briefly in Surprised by Joy does he recall “the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass.” Instead, “[A]ll this shows rarely and faintly in memory. It is too cut off from the rest of my experience and often seems to have happened to someone else.”(2)
Given his wartime experience as well as the early death of his mother, it is understandable that Lewis (and others who have known similar loss or trauma) would want to distance himself from the events that occurred. And yet, he acknowledges that sadly much of his life was characterized by avoidance: “I had always wanted, above all things, not to be ‘interfered with.’ I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. I had always aimed at limited liabilities.”(3)
As the proverbial saying goes, “The truth will set you free.” In fact, those are Jesus’s very words in John 8. He is speaking to those who “believed in him,” who call God their Father.(4) They believe they see reality clearly and understand who God is. Jesus challenges them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (verses 31-32).
With a curious oversight of their painful history with Egypt and Babylon, let alone their current oppression under Rome, they quickly reply, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus responds, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word” (verses 33-37).
The last line reads literally, “My word finds no room in you.” Seemingly unbeknownst to them, they try to shut every door and window to the nature of God that Jesus is disclosing. They want to guard themselves from what they cannot or do not want to see; moreover, they are willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of this source of disruption.
The apostle John has sometimes been reproached for his unsympathetic treatment of “Abraham’s descendants,” but I think a careful reading of his Gospel reveals that he records Jesus presenting a universal portrait of humanity. Indeed, he uses simple language and contrasting categories such as light and darkness, life and death to show that we are all prone to respond to God in a similar manner. We often swing between belief and unbelief because deep down, like C.S. Lewis, we don’t want to be “interfered with.” We want freedom and truth on our own terms, because we recognize, as one author remarks, “The truth makes us free but first it makes us miserable.”(5)
Yet one night, Lewis encounters “The reality with which no treaty can be made.”(6) He comes to discover that the joy he has longed for, the fleeting shadows of which he has traced since childhood, is actually a person: God. And, as the title of his early memoir reveals, he is surprised.
Lewis finds, like countless others have, that the gospel challenges him in ways that he needed—and even dare hoped: “The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”(7)
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and holds the M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 158.
(2) Ibid., 196.
(3) Ibid., 228.
(4) See John 8:31, 41.
(5) Sandra Wilson, Released from Shame, quoted in Diane Komp, Anatomy of a Lie (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 9.
(6) Surprised by Joy, 228.
(7) Ibid., 229
"The Man Born Blind" by C.S. Lewis
"Bless us!" said Mary. "There's eleven o'clock. And you're nearly asleep, Robin."
She rose with a bustle of familiar noises, bundling her spools and her little cardboard boxes into the work-basket. "Come on, lazy-bones!" she said. "You want to be nice and fresh for your first walk tomorrow."
"That reminds me," said Robin, and then stopped. His heart was beating so loudly that he was afraid it would make his voice sound odd. He had to wait before he went on. "I suppose," he said, "there... there'll be light out ther -- when I go for that walk?"
"What do you mean, dear?" said Mary. "You mean it will be lighter out of doors? Well, yes, I suppose it will. But I must say I always think this is a very light house. This room, now. We've had the sun on it all day."
"The sun make it ... hot?" said Robin tentatively.
"What are you talking about?" said Mary, suddently turning around. She spoke sharply, in what Robin called her 'governess' voice.
"I mean," said Robin, " ... well, look here, Mary. There's a thing I've been meaning to ask you ever since I cam back from the nursing home. I know it'll sound silly to you. But then it's different for me. As soon as I knew I had a chance of getting my sight, of course I looked forward. The last thing I thought before the operation was "light". Then all those days afterwards, waiting till they took the bandages off --"
"Of course, darling. That was only natural."
"Then, then, why don't I ... I mean, where is the light?"
She laid her hand on his arm. Three weeks of sight had not yet taught him to read the expression of a face, but he knew by her touch the great warm wave of stupid, frightened affection that had welled up in her.
"Why not come to bed, Robin dear?" she said. "If it's anything important, can't we talk about it in the morning? You know you're tired now."
"No. I've got to have this out. You've got to tell me about light. Great Scot -- don't you want me to know?"
She sat down suddenly with a formal calmness that alarmed him.
"Very well, Robin," she said. "Just ask me anything you like. There's nothing to be worried about -- is there?"
"Well then, first of all, there's light in this room at present?"
"Of course there is."
"Then where is it?"
"Why, all around us."
"Can you see it?"
"Then why can't I?"
"But Robin, you can. Dear, do be sensible. You can see me, can't you, and the mantelpiece, and the table and everything?"
"Are those light? Is that all it means? Are you light? Is the mantelpiece light? Is the table light?"
"Oh! I see. No. Of course not. That's the light," and she pointed to the bulb, roofed with its broad pink shade, that hung from the ceiling.
"If that's the light, why did you tell me the light was all round us?"
"I mean, that's what gives the light. The light comes from there."
"Then where is the light itself? You see, you won't say. Nobody will say. You tell me the light is here and the light is there, and this is in the light and that is in the light and yesterday you told me that I was in your light, and now you say that light is a bit of yellow wire in a glass bulb hanging from teh ceiling. Call that light? Is that what Milton was talking about? What are you crying about? If you don't know what light is, why can't you say so? If the operation has been a failure and I can't see properly after all, tell me. If there's no such thing -- if it was all a fairy tale from the beginning -- tell me. But for God's sake --"
"Robin! Robin! Don't. Don't go on like that."
"Go on like what?" Then he gave it up and apologised and comforted her, and they went to bed.
A blind man has few friends; a blind man who has recently received his sight has, in a sense, none. He belongs neither to the world of the blind nor to that of the seeing, and no one can share his experience. After that night's conversations Robin never mentioned to anyone his problem about light. He knew that he would only be suspected of madness. When Mary took him out next day for his first walk he replied to everything she said. "It's lovely -- all lovely. Just let me drink it in," and she was satisfired. She interpreted his quick glances as glances of delight. In reality, of course, he was searching with a hunger that had already something of desperation in it. Even had he dared, he knew it would be useless to ask her of any of the objects he saw, "Is that light?" He could see for himself that she would only answer, "No. That's green" (or "blue", or "yellow", or "a field", or "a tree" or "a car"). Nothing could be done until he had learned to go for walks by himself.
About five weeks later Mary had a headache and took breakfast in bed. As Robin came downstairs he was for a moment shocked to notice the sweet feeling of escape that came with her absence. Then, with a long shameless sigh of comfort, he deliberately closed his eyes and groped across the dining-room to his bookcase - for this one morning he would give up the tedious business of guiding himself by his eyes and judging distances and would enjoy the old, easy methods of the blind. Without effort his fingers rand down the row of faithful Braille books and picked out the worn volume he wanted. He slipped his hand between the leaves and shuffled across to the table, reading as he went. Still with his eyes shut, he cut up his food, laid down the knife, took the fork in his left hand and began reading with his right. He realized at once that this was the first meal he had really enjoyed since the recovery of his sight. It was also the first book he enjoyed. He had been very quick, everyone told him, in learning to read by sight, but it would never be the real thing. "W-A-T-E-R" could be spelled out; but never, never would those black marks be wedded to their meaning as in Braille, where the very shape of the characters communicated an instantaneous sense of liquidity through his fingertips. He took a long time over breakfast. Then he went out.
There was a mist that morning, but he had encountered mists before and this did not trouble him. He walked through it, out of the little town and up the steep hill and then along the field path that ran round the lip of the quarry. Mary had taken him there a few days ago to show him what she called the "view". And while they had sat looking at it she had said, "What a lovely light that is on the hills over there." It was a wretched clue, for he was now convinced that she knew no more about light than he did, that she used the word but meant nothing by it. He was even beginning to suspect that most of the un-blind were in the same position. What one heard among them was merely the parrot-like repetition of a rumour - the rumour of something which perhaps (it was his last hope) great poets and prophets of old had really known and seen. It was on their testimony alone that he still hped. It was still just possible that somewher ein the world, not everywhere as fools had tried to make him believe, guarded in deep woods, or divided by distant seas, the thing Light might actually exist, sprining up like a fountain or growing like a flower.
The mist was thinning when he came to the lip of the quarry. To left and right more and more trees were visible and their colours grew brighter every moment. His own shadow lay before him; he noticed that it became blacker and firmer-edged while he looked at it. The birds were singing too and he was quite hot. "But still no Light," he muttered. The sun was visible behind him but the pit of the quarry was still full of mist - a shapeless whiteness, now almost blindingly white.
Suddenly he heard a man singing. Someone whom he had not noticed before was standing near the cliff edge with his legs wid apart dabbing at an object which Robin could not recognise. If he had been more experienced he would have recognised it as a canvas on an easel. As it was, his eyes met the eyes of this wild-looking stranger so unexpectedly that he had blurted out, "What are you doing?" before he realised it.
"Doing?" said the stranger with a certain savagery. "Doing? I'm trying to catch light, if you want to know, damn it."
A smile came over Robin's face. "So am I," he said and came a step nearer.
"Oh - you know too, do you?" said the other. Then, almost vindictively, "They're all fools. HOw many of them come out to pain on a day like this, eh? How many of them will recognise it if you show 'em? And yet if they could oopen their eyes, it's the only sort of day in the whole year when you can really see light, solid light, that you could drink in a cup or bathe in! Look at it!"
He caught Robin roughly by the arm and pointed into the depths at their feet. The fog was at death-grips with the sun, but not a stone on the quarry floor was yet visible. The bath of vapour shone like white metal and unfolded itself continually in ever-widening spirals towards them. "Do you see that?" shouted the violent stranger. "There's light for you if you like it!"
A second later the expression on the painter's face changed. "Here!" he cried. "Are you mad?" He made a grab at Robin. But he was too late. Already he was alone on the path. From beneath a new-made and rapidly vanishing rift in the fog there came up no cry but only a sound so sharp and definite that you would hardly expect it to have been made by the fall of anything so soft as a human body; that, and some rattling of loosened stones.
Mythopoeia J.R.R. Tolkien (1931)
To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'.
Philomythus to Misomythus
You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.
At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o'er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain's contortions with a separate dint.
Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jeweled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.
Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise -- for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.
Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.
Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.
Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.
I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.