Archives For C.S. Lewis

hamas

I wonder what C.S. Lewis would have made of our twisted world in which some adherents of a globe-spanning “monotheistic tradition” believe they can enter heaven by spilling the blood of innocents.

Not long ago, a husband and wife in Indonesia, simultaneously attacked three different Christian churches. Yes, three. There, in the world’s largest Islamic nation, they killed all four of their own children to work ISIS-inspired jihad.  

The father blew himself up at one church in a car bomb. The two teenage sons exploded at a second congregation. And the woman who had given birth to these willing murders, ushered her 9 and 12 year old daughters into a Christian sanctuary and . . . 

CNN has some video related to the incident, accompany their article on the attacks. 

I’ve written about suicide in the past from two perspectives. This discussion considered the question in a general sense, and this piece was inspired by my own encounter with a suicide situation.

The horrific event describe above—the mass murder accomplished by a single family—leaves us speechless. How can this be? How can a group of people be so deceived as to think the suffering of others will purchase their entrance into heaven? How can they wantonly sacrifice their own children on that altar of hatred?

The only answer to these questions is that it is caused by evil. Not confusion, evil. And not even merely evil—but Evil. The precedent for such vile acts go all the way back to humanity’s first family.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. (1 John 3:12)

A dozen victims died that morning. More than forty more were wounded. And this murder/suicide will surely not be the last of its kind.

C.S. Lewis’ View

Lewis was acquainted with evil. He recognized it bears many faces. Yet, it seems to me, that he too would find this murderous abomination incredible. Incredible in its most naked sense—impossible to believe.

I believe Lewis would be stunned. Just like we are. 

This is true, despite the fact that Lewis was prescient about the decay of the life-affirming core of civilization. In the words of an insightful article by Richard Weikart:

Many Christians recognize that we are living in a “culture of death,” where—especially in intellectual circles—there is easy acceptance of abortion and increasing support for physician-assisted suicide, infanticide, and euthanasia. . . . 

When C.S. Lewis cautioned about the dangers of dehumanizing secular ideologies in The Abolition of Man and his science fiction novel That Hideous Strength . . . on the whole, the intellectual world paid little heed, careening further down the fateful road against which Lewis warned. 

Few of us, by God’s mercy, see this sort of evil face-to-face. Military personnel and first responders are more likely to encounter it.

Despite our personal insulation from this violence, we too are targets of the Evil One. However, the tactics he employs against us are usually far more subtle and insidious. 

Lewis recognized this well. The Screwtape Letters is his masterful exploration of the way the Devil attempts to corrupt even those among us who do not believe in his existence. 

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts . . .

No one who reads Mere Inkling will be tempted to immolate themselves. Much less to steal the life of innocents. Still, the more conscious we become of this world’s self-destructive inclinations, the better equipped we should become to consciously become life-affirming influences in our cultures. 

This, I believe, is our common prayer.

UK candle

Years after I was part of a Search and Recovery team at the site of a horrific airliner crash, images of the scene would flash into my mind. Strangely, they were seldom triggered by the things I saw or heard.

It was usually some unusual or unanticipated smell that ushered the sad memories to the forefront of my mind.

I know I am not alone in knowing the power of smells. Odors can evoke wholesome recollections from the past. Isn’t it amazing how we are reminded by some scent, of our mother’s or grandmother’s kitchens?

In 1915, C.S. Lewis wrote from his boarding school to his friend Arthur Greeves, referring to his longing to return home to Northern Ireland.

How I pity you people who never have known the pleasures and the pains—which are an integral part of the pleasures—of a regular interchange of home-coming and school going. . . .

These last few days! Every little nuiscance, every stale or tiresome bit of work, every feeling of that estrangement which I never quite get over in another country, serves as a delightful reminder of how different it will all be soon.

Already one’s mind dwells upon the sights and sounds and smells of home, the distant murmuring of the ‘yards,’ the broad sweep of the lough, the noble front of the cave hill, and the fragrant little glens and breazy meadows of our own hills!

And the sea! I cannot bear to live too far away from it. At Belfast, whether hidden or in sight, still it dominates the general impression of nature’s face, lending its own crisp flavour to the winds and its own subtle magic to horizons, even when they conceal it.

A sort of feeling of space, and clean fresh vigour hangs over all in a country by the sea: how different from the stuffiness of Bookham: here the wind—that is to say, the true, brisk, boisterous irresistable wind—never comes.

And yet, I would not for a moment disparage the beauty of Surrey: these slumbering little vallies, and quaint farmsteads have a mellow charm of their own, that Ulster has not.

C.S. Lewis employed the sense of smell in creative ways in his fiction. For example, consider the following episode from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross.

It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them.

After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance.

But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

Another, more mundane but quite effective, example from the Chronicles of Narnia appears in The Horse and His Boy.

But what Shasta chiefly noticed was the air. He couldn’t think what was missing, until at last he realized that there was no smell of fish in it.

For of course, neither in the cottage nor among the nets, had he ever been away from that smell in his life. And this new air was so delicious, and all his old life seemed so far away, that he forgot for a moment about his bruises and his aching muscles . . .

Curiously, a book entitled The Perception of Odors references Lewis in the opening paragraph of its introduction.

Before odor pollution became a widespread problem, the sense of smell received only cursory attention in scientific treatments of its psychology and physiology.

By contrast, writers like C.S. Lewis held this modality in higher esteem.

As Lewis commented in a discussion of the value of perceptual experience: “Of landscapes, as of people, one becomes more tolerant after one’s twentieth year. . . . We learn to look at them not in the flat but in depth as things to be burrowed into. It is not merely a question of lines and colors but of smells, sounds and tastes as well: I often wonder if professional artists don’t lose by seeing it in eye sensation only.”*

C.S. Lewis’ Hyposmia

More “mature” readers of Mere Inkling may be familiar with hyposmia, even if the word is new to them. It refers to a decreased ability to smell. Like many others, Lewis suffered from it during his life. (Anosmia is the inability to perceive any odor, and is not always permanent.)

In some of his correspondence during 1953, Lewis candidly describes his frustration with this ailment. The following appears in a letter to one of his editors.

Your friend thinks I am ‘smelling things’ in the same sense in which the D.T. (delirium tremens) patient ‘sees things.’ But it’s not quite as bad as that. My smell (ambiguous phrase) is subjective only in the sense that it does not come from the outer world.

There is a real physical stimulus within the body—a sinus discharging its corrupt humours just under the olfactory nerves. So don’t be alarmed lest in my next letter I tell you that a marsh-wiggle called on me or something of that sort.

The same year, he told another correspondent, “I have been neglecting everything except the bare minimum of routine duties for many months, being worn to a ravelling by continued sinusitis in all its varying phases of much catarrh and little pain, much pain and little catarrh, and (sometimes) much of both.

Leave it to Lewis to draw a lesson out of even such an unpleasant illness. He continues the same letter with this astute observation.

One may perhaps add that the internal smell (‘bad smell in the nose’ like ‘bad taste in the mouth’) is rather allegorical: the world seems to stink, but (as often) the real corruption is in the observer.

We might well think of this, the next time we are tempted to remark that the world stinks. Perhaps some part of the problem—even if it is infinitesimal—lies within us. Acknowledging this truth, we may have more patience with others and be more inclined to sincerely pray for the wellbeing of our neighbor.


*The final section of this quotation appears in volume 1 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis as: “I often wonder if professional artists don’t lose something of the real love of earth by seeing it in eye sensations exclusively?”

I’m not quite sure how they capture the smells of various nations, especially since they are “made in small batches in the USA,” but Homesick® hasn’t forgotten our neighbor to the north.

Canada candle

fjord

Norwegian immigrants to North America were a hardy breed, and some of their descendants continue to display that resilience.

When they came to the United States, they scoffed at the thought of heading southward where any average human being could survive. Instead, they flowed in great numbers to Minnesota and the Dakotas. Spawned near the arctic, they appreciated the balmy temperature of places like Sioux Falls and Fargo.

The Norwegianest of the immigrants chided their countrymen and women for settling in the tropics, and aimed higher than the United States. They opted to move to Canada, which was nearer their native land’s latitude. To make up for being closer to the equator, they compensated by settling in Canada’s harsh heartland where no ocean currents mediated the bitter cold.

Meanwhile, back in the States . . . as farmers continued to settle further west, some of them eventually happened upon paradise on earth. They crossed over the Rockies and Cascades and came to Puget Sound, a land with abundant coasts and shorelines which reminded them of the fjords back home. There the Norse placed deep roots.

Fjords are inherently impressive. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis describes encountering just such a body of water.

When morning came, with a low, gray sky but very hot, the adventurers found they were in a bay encircled by such cliffs and crags that it was like a Norwegian fjord.

In front of them, at the head of the bay, there was some level land heavily overgrown with trees that appeared to be cedars, through which a rapid stream came out. Beyond that was a steep ascent ending in a jagged ridge and behind that a vague darkness of mountains which ran into dull-colored clouds so that you could not see their tops.

The nearer cliffs, at each side of the bay, were streaked here and there with lines of white which everyone knew to be waterfalls, though at that distance they did not show any movement or make any noise.

Indeed the whole place was very silent and the water of the bay as smooth as glass. It reflected every detail of the cliffs.

Some of my own ancestors settled in the late 1800s in Poulsbo, a modest community that came to be known as “Little Norway.” They bore the familiar surname Olsen (Ole’s son). My grandfather married one of their descendants and our family name became Nesby (so revised because English’s stunted alphabet lacked two of the original name’s letters: Næsbø).

Following my retirement from the United States Air Force, I moved near to my family’s American homestead. However, I ended up living next to a rare geographic feature, a fjord.

It sounds reasonable that America would have fjords in Alaska, but Washington is home to a number of them as well. Much of Puget Sound was carved by glaciers that deeply scored the western portion of the state. Independent of these is a long inlet called Hood Canal. It is part of the Salish Sea.

This amazing fjord extends for approximately fifty miles. That makes it almost the length of Romsdalsfjord, Norway’s ninth longest fjord.

I absolutely love surveying the waters of Hood Canal. I suspect I was genetically preordained to feel at home here.

Fjords Appealed to C.S. Lewis Too

In 1958, C.S. Lewis described a visit he and his wife Joy had recently made to Ireland. They were awestruck by the scenery.

Yes, my wife and I had a glorious trip to Ireland. For one thing, we flew and it was for both of us a new experience. I can quite believe that for really long journies it can be dull and monotonous.

But one’s first sight of the cloud-scape from above—then, when the clouds cleared, the coastlines looking (as I’d never really quite believed) just as they do on maps—the first bit of Ireland shining out on the dark sea like enamel work—all this was indescribably beautiful. . . .

As for beauty . . . we saw mountains, heather just beginning to bloom, loughs (= fjords), yellow sand, fuchsia, seas Mediterraneanly blue, gulls, peat, ruins, and waterfalls as many as we could digest.

Lewis’ words serve as a reminder that while we may not all be so fortunate as to live beside a fjord, there is nothing to prevent us from visiting one to savor its wonder.

crownIf you have a pet as a member of your family, you are probably a better human being than you would be without them.

If you don’t have a pet, you’re likely thinking that I’m a fool for suggesting any such creature could be a “member” of one’s family.

Several years ago, Orthodox theologian David Mills, one-time editor of First Things, offered this witty observation related to cats and dogs [caveat: Mills is a “dog person”].

Wandering around the American Kennel Club’s big “Meet the Breeds” event with my two youngest children recently, I saw a big banner in the cat section proclaiming that a particular breed had been considered a god by an ancient civilization. . . . no one who knows about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the least bit tempted to worship cats.

I mean, would you want to worship a murderous narcissistic psychopath? This is not an image of God to make anyone happy. If you’re going to worship an animal, why not the Border Collie, frantically eager to please, or the loving, soulful-eyed Lab? . . . Or the classic loyal and even-tempered mutt?

The gulf between worshipping dogs and cats is not so broad as one might think. Neither practice is advisable for one’s spiritual wellbeing. That’s why Mills uses the qualifier, “if you’re going to worship an animal . . .”

Best that you don’t, but if you do choose to, they are not all created equal. As an object of devotion, an elegant stag does seem inherently more commendable than a ruthless crocodile.

Cats, Dogs & C.S. Lewis

I’ve written about animals in the past. Followers of Mere Inkling may recall conversations about C.S. Lewis’ dogs, and Lewis’ relationship with cats.

I’ve pondered the differences between the two species, and the mistreatment of animals in general.

I’ve described Lewis’ doodlings of animals, and even the danger of British cows.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Narnia, knows that it is replete with Talking Animals. In Lewis’ fictional creation story, we see that—from the very beginning of Narnia, Aslan set aside a pair of many types of creatures to possess rationality and the ability to speak.

Speaking is only part of the gift. Its heart is nothing less than the ability to recognize Aslan, their Creator. And, upon Narnia’s fall into sin, this precious capacity of Talking Beasts becomes stained. Some turn evil, choosing to serve other masters. Others simply draw farther and farther from the elevated nature, until they are indistinguishable from the Dumb creatures of that world.

As the dwarf Trumpkin tells the children, near the end of Narnia’s time, “when most of the beasts have gone enemy and gone dumb, but there are still some of the other [good] kind left. You never know, and you daren’t wait to see.”

Lewis’ love for animals was evident. It’s one of the traits that reveals he was just a “regular person” like the rest of us who remain the whole of our lives in awe of God’s bountiful creation.

Still, as much as we love God’s handiwork, including the diverse creatures of land and sea, those of us who have met our Lord through faith should never be tempted to worship creation in place of our loving Creator.


* Part of my affection for Mills’ comments arises from the fact my wife and I are not only dog people, we’re Border Collie people. If you can overlook some foul language sprinkled among some brilliant satire, you might enjoy “The Hierarchy of Border Collie Smugness.” Be forewarned that the author is mightily prejudiced in favor of the breed, “the divine being that is the Border Collie.” In fact, with his propensity towards worshipping the border collies, I suppose I should forward him a copy of this post.

 

For an earlier discussion on this subject, inspired by the same quotation from First Things, you might enjoy glancing at “Beware of Zoolatry.”

 

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The diary of Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, includes some revealing insights into the life of a writer . . . words that I suspect may echo your own experience.

While I would never turn to Søren Kierkegaard for theological inspiration (many do), his comments about writing parallel my own.*

Only when I write do I feel well. Then I forget all of life’s vexations, all its sufferings, then I am wrapped in thought and am happy. If I stop for a few days, right away I become ill, overwhelmed and troubled; my head feels heavy and burdened.

So powerful an urge, so ample, so inexhaustible, one which, having subsisted day after day for five or six years, is still flowing as richly as ever, such an urge, one would think, must also be a vocation from God.

If these great riches of thought, still latent in my soul, must be repressed, it will be anguish and torture for me, and I shall become an absolute good-for-nothing. […]

Being an author . . . is not self-chosen; it is concomitant with everything in my individuality and its deepest urge.

May God then give me good fortune and succor and above all a certain spirit, yes, a certain spirit to resist the onslaughts of doubt and temptation that rise within me, for after all it is not too hard to do battle with the world.

This passage fascinates me. Kierkegaard eloquently expresses the struggle of the Christian writer, then ends on such a uniquely positive note, “after all it is not too hard to do battle with the world.” This victory, he indicates, comes from God placing within us a certain spirit to resist the onslaughts of doubt and temptation that rise within” us.

Keeping our eyes on Christ, and yielding to the Holy Spirit who abides within us, does indeed ensure our victory. Though the world assaults us daily, as we grow more mature in our Lord its temporary gains against us grow smaller and fewer.

I encountered Kierkegaard’s words in a recent post by Steve Laube, a prominent agent. (His agency’s blog is well worth subscribing to.) As he says,

These words resonate because it is the universal condition of writers. The call, the urge, to write is part of who you are. However, notice his last sentence where he admits to “the onslaughts of doubt and temptation that rise within me.” This, again, is a universal condition. It is normal. Embrace it and pray that God will grant you the strength today to resist.

Then do it again tomorrow.

Turning to Lewis

Although Kierkegaard’s words were written in 1847, it’s doubtful C.S. Lewis would have been familiar with them. The rather severely** edited diary did not appear until 1960, only a couple of years before Lewis’ passing.

As a scholar, Lewis was familiar with Kierkegaard. While he did not find Kierkegaard’s existentialism helpful, he could acknowledge that some appreciated his writings. In 1961, he responded to a correspondent’s request for some recommendations, he wrote,

For meditative and devotional reading . . . I suggest . . . my selection from MacDonald, George MacDonald: an Anthology. I can’t read Kierkegaard myself, but some people find him helpful.

The primary reason for Lewis’ albeit tepid mention of Kierkegaard here must have been the fact that one of his close friends was keen on the philosopher. An early translator of Kierkegaard’s works praised Inkling Charles Williams who “affectionately fostered the enterprise of publishing S.K.’s works in English.” (“How Kierkegaard Got into English”).

I am curious how Lewis would have responded to Kierkegaard’s notes on the writing life. Would he have identified with these sentiments?

I suspect they would concur in the statement, “If these great riches of thought, still latent in my soul, must be repressed, it will be anguish and torture for me.” After all, as many of Mere Inkling’s readers can personally attest, the Great Dane was not alone in experiencing this explosive pressure.

As an ancient man named Elihu once said to the Prophet Job, “I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.” (Job 32:18-19).

My advice—get your precious words out before they explode.


* Here you will find the “testimony” of a person whose atheism was reinforced by reading Kierkegaard.

** The editor, Peter Rohde, says in his preface: “The luckless reader who sets out on his own to find his way in Kierkegaard’s vast, and vastly demanding works, runs the risk of losing his way and finally of losing his courage.”

It is precisely their fragmentary character that dispenses us from the obligation which the finished works place upon us, viz. to respect their wholeness—for it is nonexistent.

However, from their 8,000 to 10,000 pages it is possible to distill some one hundred and fifty pages that contain the true essence—that is, if the editor has been successful in his selection.

ice cream

What is your favorite dessert? I envy you if it’s something like kale or chia seeds. For me it’s a toss-up between chocolate chip cookies and brownies. However, for my wife, nothing else comes close to ice cream.

A recent study revealed some interesting facts about ice cream and those addicted to it. They say “consuming an entire pint of ice cream was once an act cloaked in shame, conducted from the privacy of one’s couch . . . Now some, even the waistline conscious, are unabashedly eating a whole pint in one sitting. From the container.”

Apparently half of all Americans have done just this. Well, they may have used bowls and sat somewhere other than their couch, but they have devoured a savory pint in one sitting. Unsurprisingly, forty percent felt guilty afterward. However, only ten percent felt sick.

Although there is little evidence C.S. Lewis was susceptible to the temptations of ice cream, he did enjoy its cousin. In a 1920 letter to his father, he describes some recent walking trips during which he enjoyed some exquisite clotted cream. Clotted cream was especially popular before refrigeration became an everyday luxury.

As you see, we have not yet moved: indeed the weather has not encouraged us to set out, though it has not prevented us from a great deal of walking. . . . You need not have any fears about our cuisine here. Remember we are almost in Devon and the clotted cream of the country is a host in itself: also–shades of Oldie–the real ‘Deevonshire’ cider in every thatched and sanded pub.

A few miles away is a little fishing town called Watchet, which saw at least one interesting scene in its obscure history: it was here that Coleridge and the Wordsworths slept (or ‘lay’ as they would have said) on the first night of their walking tour.

In All My Road Before Me, his diary from the mid-twenties, he mentions several times enjoying another cream-based delight.

We then motored back to town to a civilian club of which W[arnie] is a member, where he had provided a royal feast of the sort we both liked: no nonsense about soup and pudding, but a sole each, cutlets with green peas, a large portion of strawberries and cream, and a tankard of the local beer which is very good.

So we gorged like Roman Emperors in a room to ourselves and had good talk.

While there are few improvements I think can be made to the Narnian tales, I do have one. The White Witch, as we know, presides over a snow-covered world where Mr. Tumnus sadly says “it is always winter, but never Christmas.”

Thus, it seems quite evident Queen Jadis could just as easily have bewitched Edmund with ice cream, as with Turkish delight. (Perhaps she didn’t wish to offer it to him because frozen dairy delicacies were her own secret delight.)

Modern Creamery Temptations

We have noted that some people feel remorseful after eating a “large” portion of ice cream. Marketers attempt to assuage such guilt by offering an increasing array of “low-cal” options. They may be better for us than the real thing, but I’ll leave that to the experts to justify. It seems to me if they taste just as good and are less bad for us, they’re worth considering.

There must be something to this line of thought. The afore-cited article compares the sales growth of regular ice cream companies (single digit) and Halo Top low calorie ice cream (555% from 2016 to 2017).

Most people have only enjoyed ice cream from domesticated cattle. The more adventurous have eaten ice cream prepared from the milk of sheep, goats, and other lactating creatures. There are also non-dairy alternatives, but in a civilized world these should rightly go by other names. PETA praises them, so they may well be worth a taste test (just don’t pretend they are the genuine article).

People have experimented with buffalo, yak, and even human ice cream (promoted in London).

Still, even the most curious people would have to draw the line at using cockroach milk, which isn’t milk proper, but is touted by some as the next “SuperFood Trend.” Speaking for myself—and with confidence, for C.S. Lewis as well—I say, “No, thanks.”


Postscript

While the following excerpt from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” does not offer any insight into Lewis’ relationship with ice cream, it does reveal something he found distasteful in alternative approaches to writing for children.

I think there are three ways in which those who write for children may approach their work; two good ways and one that is generally a bad way.

I came to know of the bad way quite recently and from two unconscious witnesses. One was a lady who sent me the MS of a story she had written in which a fairy placed at a child’s disposal a wonderful gadget. I say ‘gadget’ because it was not a magic ring or hat or cloak or any such traditional matter.

It was a machine, a thing of taps and handles and buttons you could press. You could press one and get an ice cream, another and get a live puppy, and so forth.

I had to tell the author honestly that I didn’t much care for that sort of thing. She replied “No more do I, it bores me to distraction. But it is what the modern child wants.”

My other bit of evidence was this. In my own first story I had described at length what I thought a rather fine high tea given by a hospitable faun to the little girl who was my heroine. A man, who has children of his own, said, “Ah, I see how you got to that. If you want to please grown-up readers you give them sex, so you thought to yourself, ‘That won’t do for children, what shall I give them instead? I know! The little blighters like plenty of good eating.’”

In reality, however, I myself like eating and drinking. I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties.

The lady in my first example, and the married man in my second, both conceived writing for children as a special department of ‘giving the public what it wants.’

Children are, of course, a special public and you find out what they want and give them that, however little you like it yourself.

autobiography.png

When you get to a certain age, most writers will consider, at least momentarily, penning an autobiography. Often, aware the effort will invite charges of vanity, they will opt to call it a memoir. Whatever the label, the result is the same.

Writers are faced with the question—and they alone can answer it—as to whether or not there is any value in the preservation of notes about their life journey.

I would argue that there is a clear benefit, even when no one else will read it. Self-reflection, in and of itself, enriches one’s life. Even if it is painful, it can be therapeutic. And, since we’re still alive as we examine our past, time remains to rectify some of the mistakes we have made.

This very process of looking at our lives invites us to question our motives for recording these stories. And, if we’re considering merely to praise ourselves, it would be best to abstain.

On the other hand, it seems to me that many “normal” lives can validly serve as an inspiration to others. (I don’t presume my own effort would fit into this category.)

Here is the reason why I’m actually contemplating assembling some notes for a near-the-end-of-my-earthly-sojourn document. It just might be of interest to some of my descendants. I have often wished to have just such a jewel written by my own ancestors.

Putting myself in the place of my great-grandchildren, etc., I suspect some of them and their own grandchildren might be curious about an ancient progenitor. In fact, the more such records, the fuller the picture they stand to gain of their lineage.

The key, I think, to writing a worthwhile memoir is honesty. If we share our challenges and failures, the volume will not only be more interesting, if may offer our descendants encouragement in their own struggles.

As a man vulnerable to the sin of pride, I’m cautious about proceeding. I pulled this disarming contrast from a book review written several years ago by theologian Carl Trueman.

Autobiographies are typically opportunities for the display of ego and the rationalizing of error. They have been so at least since Julius Caesar’s military memoirs. In our day, it is not just politicians and military leaders who indulge in this.

One thinks of the memoirs of Hans Küng: names dropped on every page, always with the purpose of reminding the reader how important—and how correct—Küng has been over the years on every significant issue and how unfairly he has been treated by his mediocre opponents.

Autobiography need not be so, as this volume [A Change of Heart] by Thomas Oden shows. Though Oden seems to have known everyone who was anyone in the theological world of the last sixty years, from Barth and Niebuhr to Dulles, Ratzinger, and Wojtjyla, there is no sense of ego. Names are regularly dropped but no self is ever promoted. Oden is a humble, fascinating, and important man blissfully unaware of the fact.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet several people during my life whose names would be familiar to you. But, God be merciful, I prefer to be an Oden rather than a Küng.

C.S. Lewis was a man like the former, “humble, fascinating and important.” Yet, despite the accolades he received from some quarters, he remained blissfully unaware of the fact that God would continue using his words to inspire others so many decades after he joined his Lord in Paradise.

A Worthy Exemplar

Lewis resisted writing about himself. Not out of a false modesty, but due to a desire to maintain personal privacy and a genuine sense that his life was neither particularly inspirational nor unique. Nevertheless, if it were possible that sharing about his life could help others, he was willing to do so.

His works are sprinkled with autobiographical commentary. His vast correspondence also provides great insight into his life. In 1955, he wrote a traditional autobiography, primarily to explain his conversion.

He entitled it Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. As he begins in the Preface:

This book is written partly in answer to requests that I would tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity and partly to correct one or two false notions that seem to have got about.

He describes his approach, noting how it differs from what readers might expect.

The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less “Confessions” like those of St. Augustine or Rousseau.

This means in practice that it gets less like a general autobiography as it goes on. In the earlier chapters the net has to be spread pretty wide in order that, when the explicitly spiritual crisis arrives, the reader may understand what sort of person my childhood and adolescence had made me.

When the “build-up” is complete, I confine myself strictly to business and omit everything (however important by ordinary biographical standards) which seems, at that stage, irrelevant.

I do not think there is much loss; I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting. The story is, I fear, suffocatingly subjective; the kind of thing I have never written before and shall probably never write again.

I have tried so to write the first chapter that those who can’t bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time.

A Naked Autobiography

As fascinating as Surprised by Joy is, there exists another volume in which the mature Lewis bared his soul as have few others. When he lost his wife, Lewis experienced a profound sorrow that he described in A Grief Observed. So vulnerable was his writing, that Lewis published it under a pseudonym.

In 1988, Madeleine L’Engle penned a Foreword to the book, which now appears under Lewis’ own name.

In the end, what shines through the last pages of his journal of grief is an affirmation of love, his love for Joy and hers for him, and that love is in the context of God’s love.

No easy or sentimental comforts are offered, but the ultimate purpose of God’s love for all of us human creatures is love.

Reading A Grief Observed is to share not only in C. S. Lewis’s grief but in his understanding of love, and that is richness indeed.

Lewis was an exceptional writer, but I daresay that his life was little more amazing than your own. Certainly, Lewis’ life was no more precious to God than yours is.

I encourage you to consider writing (at the appropriate moment) your own memoir. This is particularly important if you have family who may be interested. But even if you don’t, consider writing.

Just remember to follow Lewis’ example and try “to write the first chapter that those who can’t bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time.”