As a person who prays for more tolerance of stupidity, and more Christian forgiveness towards others and myself (we are often hardest on ourselves, you know) — it was interesting to recently read George Sayers’ biography of CS Lewis (“Jack,” the name he was known by) — and find out how prickly a person he could be.
This was the man who wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia,” a children’s favorite since 1950. He’s also the man who the BBC asked to give talks about faith during World War II, on the radio, and for which thousands of soldiers and bomb-weary civilians thanked them.
The old fashioned adage is “he didn’t suffer fools kindly.” Which is an obtuse way of saying he had no time for useless conversations, uninteresting people, etc. He liked vigorous discussion of almost anything and was a lifelong learner. And he apparently wore out a lot of colleagues because of that in the early days — but the ones who understood him, and the depth of his thinking, stayed to the end.
And once he found salvation, he worked on the bad habits. He was not as dismissive of people he disliked, and he found patience through children and animals — don’t we all! He took Christian charity very seriously, as well as promises, and as an older person he took care of others to the point of making himself ill. His very loyal friends were concerned for his welfare.
His wife, too, was someone who changed a lifetime of beliefs when she became a Christian. She had been an ardent communist, and was married to one as well. But she found faith through CS Lewis’ writing — as have millions — and put that aside, like a smoker throwing the pack out the window. (An aside here: in our time she would have been a stalker, sort of the Meghan Markle variety, she got to know people who knew people, to meet CS Lewis, even though she was married with two children…)
I’m not sure she was working on being a better person, like he was, because by most accounts, she was a very off-putting outspoken American, at least for British academics at the time, who were probably pretty stiff. But, she turned out to be an interesting enough woman to have engaged CS Lewis, one of the world’s most learned men, close friend of Tolkein (another Christian, by the way.) And by all accounts she was very important to his work while she lived.
To their credit, prickly, introverted, or set in their ways, these academics were interested in knowing about the spiritual plane, the one no one can really ever describe, but which both Tolkein and Lewis attempted with their fantastic stories. From their first meeting at Oxford, they read their stories to each other, and among a small group of other dons, on Mondays.
Neither Tolkein nor Lewis set out to tell Christian allegories. Lewis said he hoped Narnia simply opened people up to the possibilities, later in life, of something bigger than themselves. Certainly the Lord or the Rings is enjoyed as one of the greatest adventures ever written. But the lessons are no less important for that. The Ring is a powerful symbol.
And you don’t have to crawl through Mordor to learn life’s lessons. One of the things that levels the playing field for all judgmental snarkiness is time. If God doesn’t slap you down in your youth and show you “you ain’t all that,” you will surely learn it physically with age. None of us is impervious to the reminders when the systems start to fail. And that makes us cranky.
The NewWorld has an answer for that – but we’re not discussing transhumanism today, we’re talking about learning that our philosophical heroes didn’t always make easy company.
Which gives the rest of us prickly people hope. We may be among the interesting ones, after all.
CS Lewis knew that and thought that literature and learned writing should stand on its own, apart from the human being who created it. In that there is a lot to be said. You can be profoundly moved by a piece of writing, and not care for the person who wrote it; (a feat that is easier before you know anything about the author, of course.) We often don’t care for our heroes when we meet them. They disappoint us. Because they are just humans.
But Lewis addressed that, with God. As in, God disappointing us.
When his wife, died, he was disappointed in God. Some biographers have said he “lost his faith,” which his friend of 29 years, Sayer, says is not true. He says Lewis realized that he was disappointed because God was not responding to his wishes. Lewis didn’t marry until late in life and it wasn’t, initially, a romantic relationship. But when it became that, he realized a whole other level of love — again, don’t we all! So he must have thought he’d get to enjoy it for longer than 4 years. And he was very disappointed that his prayers didn’t bring that result.
The interface between want and receive, as relates to life in general and prayers in particular, is like a rather ironic ven diagram. Your wants and God’s best plan for you may not even touch in this one.
A version of the Lord’s Prayer reminded Lewis when you pray for “Thy will be done” you are praying for God’s will to be done –9 times out of 10 it isn’t what you had in mind.
But it is always the best thing for you.
God provides….rarely what we expect or think we want, but it is always what we really need.
And when you look back on it from the perspective of time, you can see how you might have missed it, too. That odd moment, the unexpected choice…..sometimes we do miss it, and those are the moments about which we have regrets.
You can follow the thread backwards and see what a different choice would have meant.
In those journeys you can sometimes see where God gave you little nudges that you may or may not have heeded. And you can see the path of your life because of them, taken or not.
The ones you didn’t choose are not all entirely bad, either. Even mistakes and poor choices aren’t the end of everything. Because God never lets go of us. We just let go of Him. Those angels have scooped you up and whooshed you out more times than you know – even if you don’t believe in angels.
Just ask Edmund in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”….you can change, even if you make a mistake the first time. The key is to be listening for those nudges from God, to be open to the little whiffs of the supernatural that is still around us….
….Tolkien didn’t like that Lewis mixed classical motifs and popular icons, like fauns and Santa Claus, into his Narnia books. But kids don’t mind at all. There’s no conflict for them. Just fantasy.
And Lewis didn’t really care for the way Pauline Baynes drew lions…but children can picture Aslan all by themselves, and imagine burying their faces in his golden mane, like Lucy did, and feeling safe.
And if you can create a character like Aslan, who all of us wish for, you can be bossy about the tea….just saying…
Thanks for reading.
If you are interested in Narnia, or Lewis, I get all my printed matter from Thriftbooks.com who do not pay me to push them.
I buy nothing at all from Amazon, nor listen to Audible any more.
If you like to listen to books, you can purchase them individually on CHIRP app. Also, if you like to share books with others, within the 48 states “media mail” is VERY affordable. I recently mailed 16 lbs. of books for $14.
My local postal clerk recommends paperbackswap.com, where you only pay postage. (I have no idea how easy it is to find books there.)
KEEP READING PEEPS! It’s the best thing you ever do!