Archives For Love

We’re accustomed to hearing the word “lust” used in a positive manner, such as “she has a lust for life.”

You might even see this in the context of writing. C.S. Lewis himself did this. In 1948, in a letter to an American pastor, he apparently answers a query about what inspires him to write. “The ‘incentive’ for my books has always been the usual one—an idea and then an itch or lust to write.”

I resonate with Lewis’ response. Some idea dawns on me—usually arising from something I’m reading—and then I get the desire to put my own twist on it and share the original idea with others.

This post is no different. I have been working on the military chaplaincy journal that I edit, and I was reading the poetry of a British chaplain from the First World War. Rev. G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929) was an Anglican priest. He was awarded the Military Cross due to his “disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire.” The award also noted his Gospel contribution to the harsh life of WWI trenches. “He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.”

You can read many of his poems in past issues of Curtana: Sword of Mercy, which is available for free download here.

After reading some of his poetry, I turned for the first time to one of his postwar books. It was entitled “Lies!” and addresses a litany of deceptions that plague the world. Included among these deceits is “the lie of lust.”

In the following excerpt, he refers to writing prurient literature which can guarantee a market. It is echoed by a later comment I read from a writer who said she had to write erotic novels to supplement her preferred titles, just so she could make a living. She used a pen name, of course, for the smut.

You can follow Chaplain Kennedy’s argument in the excerpt which follows. Since it is rather lengthy, I will highlight the reference to writing by using a boldface font. Kennedy contrasts in this passage the conflict between humanity’s sinfulness and our call to holiness, the struggle the Apostle Paul describes so succinctly in the seventh chapter of Romans.

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Here is Kennedy’s argument:

But lust in a man is obscene and filthy because it is unnatural. It becomes cruel and debased. It does not proceed to the making of children naturally and cleanly; it descends to unmentionable and disgusting things. The report on the German atrocities in Belgium* provides a kind of horror-chamber in which we can see what lust can bring men to. As one reads that awful document a kind of hot shame comes over one, and makes one sweat for sorrow over sin.

The sting of that shame lies in the fact that one is dreadfully conscious that the root of that disgusting horror is there in one’s own soul. Have you never felt a ghastly doubt rising up in your mind when you read such things? Now what am I reading this for? Is it purely because I want to hate it . . ?

Write a book about the cruelties and debaucheries of a Nero or a Rasputin, and it will sell. There is an appeal in it which thousands, nay, which all men feel, which all men would answer, if the other force within them failed. But the horror of it, the shame for it, is, thank God, as real, more real, than the appeal. There is human history: the war between the appeal and the repulsion of sin: the war between the monkey and the man.

There are thousands of writers, artists, playwrights, musicians, who are making their fortunes out of the appeal to the animal in man. It is the best paying business in the world. Yet, if there is anything that human experience makes certain, it is that there is no end to the journey a man makes in answer to that appeal except damnation, the utter loss of all that makes life good. Lust cannot satisfy a man, because he needs Love. Lust is unnatural in man, it leaves one side of his nature out, and sooner or later that neglected side has its revenge, and turns life’s sweetness bitter to his taste. Then in his despair he will descend in search of new sensations to things which men cannot mention, or even think of without shame. That is the way of it with all men if the great force fail that leads them upward from the animal to the human and divine (Lies! published in 1919).⁑

C.S. Lewis on Carnality

As noted, Lewis was able to use the word “lust” in its muted, nonliteral sense. He was also able to address it literally, and to challenge the hold it exerts on so many lives. In “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” C.S. Lewis vividly described how lust is an enemy.

If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth.

In a more metaphorical manner, in the Great Divorce Lewis uses the surprising image of a foreboding ruddy lizard to portray the sinister nature of lust.  

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile.

The encounter which follows is amazing. I won’t spoil it by describing how it ends, but I will once again encourage you to read what is one of my favorite novels. The Great Divorce is about the separation between Heaven and Hell, and explains how a loving God could allow some of his creation to choose a path away from him.

And a Bonus Insight from Dorothy Sayers

Lewis and Sayers were friends, and they deeply respected one another’s work. In 1943, Lewis wrote to Sayers congratulating her on her recently published The Other Six Deadly Sins. He said, “it is one of the few things which I find, within its limits, perfect—i.e. there is nothing one would wish added or removed or altered.” High praise.

Sayers brilliantly strips away some of the euphemisms that mask and confuse candid discussions about sin. This is how she begins what was originally delivered as a public address:

Perhaps the bitterest commentary on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word “immorality” has come to mean one thing and one thing only. The name of an association like yours is generally held to imply that you are concerned to correct only one sin out of those seven which the Church recognizes as capital.

By a hideous irony, our shrinking reprobation of that sin has made us too delicate so much as to name it, so that we have come to use for it the words which were made to cover the whole range of human corruption. A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct—and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man. I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity: “I did not know there were seven deadly sins: please tell me the names of the other six.”

About the sin called Luxuria or Lust, I shall therefore say . . . that it is a sin, and that it ought to be called plainly by its own name, and neither huddled away under a generic term like immorality, nor confused with love.

The book sounds like it’s well worth reading. It has been out of print for eighty years⁂ but it appears to have been reproduced in toto by this website. (I plan to read the essay as soon as I get this post uploaded!)


* Over 800 civilians were killed by German troops as they advanced through neutral Belgium in 1914. A short describing of these events can be found at this British Library site.

⁑ You can download free copies of Chaplain Kennedy’s books at Internet Archive: Lies! or a collection of his poetry in Rough Rhymes of a Padre.

⁂ A single used copy is currently available via amazon, for the modest price of $287.36, with the comforting notation that the shipping is free.

C.S. Lewis and Squirrels

October 31, 2019 — 15 Comments

One unchanging constant through the whole of C.S. Lewis’ life, was his love of nature. His affection for a creature frequently regarded as a pest, illustrates this perfectly.

In 1954, Lewis wrote playfully to the eight Kilmer siblings in the, the family to whom he dedicated The Magician’s Nephew. (Coincidentally, the thirty letters he wrote to these children recently sold for over $100,000.)

There is no snow here yet and it is so warm that the foolish snowdrops and celandines (little yellow flowers; I don’t know if you have them or not) are coming up as if it was spring. And squirrels (we have hundreds and thousands about this college) have never gone to bed for their winter sleep at all.

I keep on warning them that they really ought to and that they’ll be dreadfully sleepy (yawning their heads off) by June if they don’t, but they take no notice.

One can imagine the awe Lewis would have expressed at learning about the almost supernatural hibernations undergone by Arctic ground squirrels. Believe it or not, as they say, it is a fact that during their lengthy hibernations, curled up beneath the solidly frozen ground, the core body temperature of these small mammals actually hover around 3 degrees below freezing!

In 1941 he responded to a comment from one of his correspondents about unbridled nature.

I do know what you mean by the sudden ravishing glimpse of animal life in itself, its wildness—to meet a squirrel in a wood or even a hedgehog in the garden makes me happy. But that is because it is, being partly exempt from the Fall, a symbol and reminder of the unfallen world we long for.

That wildness would not be lost by the kind of dominion Adam had. It would be nicer, not less nice, if that squirrel would come and make friends with me at my whistle—still more if he would obey me when I told him not to kill the red squirrel in the next tree.

In the early 1930s, Lewis mentioned squirrels in several of his letters to his good friend Arthur Greeves. For example, he described a simple pleasure experienced during one of his daily walks.

I also had the experience lately of walking under an avenue of trees after a shower, and saw that tho all the rest was still, a kind of wave-motion was passing over the branches on one side, followed by a patter of drops. Coming nearer I found it was a squirrel leaping from branch to branch and sending a wake of tiny showers to earth as they bent under him.

Similar happiness echoes in a 1939 letter to another friend.

[During] my annual January walking tour with my brother . . . We had one glorious day crossing Wenlock Edge . . . with new snow on the ground and cloudless sunshine from end to end of the skies–beautiful shadows. And out in the country snow is a great betrayer. Rabbits and squirrels became as easy to see as bushes.

The tracks are rather exciting, too, aren’t they? To climb up some unearthly lane to a hill crest far from any house, still early in the morning, and find from the innumerable paw-prints how long ago the animals’ day has begun.

Squirrels in Narnia

Squirrels play prominently in at least two episodes in the enchanted land of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we witness a terrible scene when the White Witch comes upon a group of Narnians who are celebrating a visit by Father Christmas.

A little way off at the foot of a tree sat a merry party, a squirrel and his wife with their children and two satyrs and a dwarf and an old dog-fox, all on stools round a table. . . . But when the whole party saw the sledge stopping and who was in it, all the gaiety went out of their faces.

The father squirrel stopped eating with his fork halfway to his mouth and one of the satyrs stopped with its fork actually in its mouth, and the baby squirrels squeaked with terror. “What is the meaning of this?” asked the Witch Queen. Nobody answered. “Speak, vermin!” she said again. . . . Who gave [these things] to you?” said the Witch.

“F-F-F-Father Christmas,” stammered the Fox. “What?” roared the Witch, springing from the sledge and taking a few strides nearer to the terrified animals. “He has not been here!” At that moment one of the young squirrels lost its head completely. “He has—he has—he has!” it squeaked, beating its little spoon on the table.

Edmund saw the Witch bite her lips so that a drop of blood appeared on her white cheek. Then she raised her wand. “Oh, don’t, don’t, please don’t,” shouted Edmund, but even while he was shouting she had waved her wand and instantly where the merry party had been there were only statues of creatures . . .

On a happier note, in Prince Caspian we see how even the Talking Animals remain true to their species’ nature.

After that they went on till they came among tall beech trees, and Trufflehunter [the badger] called out, “Pattertwig! Pattertwig! Pattertwig!” and almost at once, bounding down from branch to branch till he was just above their heads, came the most magnificent red squirrel that Caspian had ever seen. He was far bigger than the ordinary dumb squirrels which he had sometimes seen in the castle gardens; indeed he was nearly the size of a terrier and the moment you looked in his face you saw that he could talk.

Indeed the difficulty was to get him to stop talking, for, like all squirrels, he was a chatterer. He welcomed Caspian at once and asked if he would like a nut and Caspian said thanks, he would. But as Pattertwig went bounding away to fetch it, Trufflehunter whispered in Caspian’s ear, “Don’t look. Look the other way. It’s very bad manners among squirrels to watch anyone going to his store or to look as if you wanted to know where it was.”

Squirrels certainly know how to chatter. In 1955, C.S. Lewis shared with a regular correspondent, his idea of a perfect world. “I’m all for a planet without aches or pains or financial worries but I doubt if I’d care for one of pure intelligence. No senses (no relish of smells & tastes?), no affection, no Nonsense! I must have a little fooling. I want to tickle a cat’s ears and sometimes have a slanging match with an impertinent squirrel.”

The Most Significant Squirrel in C.S. Lewis’ Life

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Lewis describes an early encounter that exerted a profound influence in the shaping of his identity. It came not from a living specimen but, as I have written about in a different context, from a fictional member of the Family Sciuridae. Lewis describes the opening of his mind to the pursuit of true Joy.

Then came the Beatrix Potter books, and here at last beauty. It will be clear that at this time—at the age of six, seven, and eight—I was living almost entirely in my imagination; or at least that the imaginative experience of those years now seems to me more important than anything else. . . . in mapping and chronicling Animal-Land I was training myself to be a novelist.

Note well, a novelist; not a poet. My invented world [Boxen] was full (for me) of interest, bustle, humor, and character; but there was no poetry, even no romance, in it. It was almost astonishingly prosaic. Thus if we use the word imagination in a third sense, and the highest sense of all, this invented world was not imaginative. But certain other experiences were, and I will now try to record them.

The second glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire.

And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible—how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”

Rereading some of Lewis’ words about these entertaining creatures has taken me on an enjoyable journey, and not only because I share a similar rodent legacy or because our forest home is located on Squirrel Place. Lewis’ vision of the place of animals in this world and the next resonates with my sense of God’s relationship with this portion of his creation.

After all, it was our parents, not theirs, who brought about the fall. Thus Lewis’ sentimental thought that they are, “being partly exempt from the Fall, a symbol and reminder of the unfallen world we long for.”

buck rogers.png

If you are curious about a 1950s perspective on the sexual mores of life on a Martian base, you are in for a rare treat.

Although C.S. Lewis’ foray into science fiction is best seen in his Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet, he also penned a curious short story about courtesans in outer space. Lewis did not raise this rather tawdry subject, but he was responding to a serious argument for the practice, made by an American astronomer.

But First, a Quick Apologia

My posts have been fewer during recent months due to competing demands on my time. Most of these distractions are good, like watching over my wonderful brood of grandchildren. Another special pleasure has been working on a chapter for a book that will probably be published in a year or so. It deals with Theology and Star Trek.

I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I watched the first episode that aired, back on September 8, 1966. Thus, it’s no surprise that my enthusiasm has seeped into Mere Inkling.

Earlier this year I posted a piece related to Star Trek, in which I censured a human version of the Klingon practice of eating animals while they are still alive. And five years ago, I wrote about “Humanity’s Interstellar Exodus” and referred to Star Trek’s utopian view of the universe.

I have always enjoyed science fiction. It was, in fact, via C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy that I was introduced to the great writer. Lewis wrote in so many diverse genres. There are many paths that can motivate readers to explore his writings further, ultimately being invited to consider issues of faith and eternity.

That’s one reason I celebrate the fact that Netflix (admittedly a company without altruistic motivation) is going to be filming new productions set in Narnia.

According to the deal between Netflix and The C.S. Lewis Company, the streaming service will develop stories from the Narnia universe into series and films that the producers hope will cross mediums, similar to what the Star Trek and Marvel franchises have done with their successful properties.

Back to Mars

In the mid-fifties of the last century, Robert S. Richardson broached the question of what life would be like for the first humans to live on Mars. There are several flaws in Richardson’s presuppositions. The first is his gender-bias, which postulates “a station of several hundred young unmarried men.”

In addition, although the challenges of travel move some theorists to view the residents as quasi-permanent colonists, Richardson’s proposal is based on an estimate that “puts the round trip at nearly three years [which] includes a stay on Mars of 449 days.” He does note that due to the cost, “a man who volunteers for Mars must do so with the expectation of remaining a minimum of, say, five years on the planet.”

At the end of the article he raises his concern for the sexual needs of “normal, healthy young men.” His solution is to consider jettisoning the “moral attitudes” of his day. “To put it bluntly, may it not be necessary for the success of the project to send some nice girls to Mars at regular intervals to relieve tensions and promote morale?”

In order to address “the greatest threat to the success of the interplanetary project [which is] the gnawing absence of the opposite sex,” he argues:

Is it not conceivable that in an entirely alien environment survival will produce among other things a sexual culture—shocking on Earth—which would be entirely “moral” judged by extraterrestrial standards?

Ironically, the erosion of moral standards in the Western world appear to make his argument rather moot. Nonetheless, the essential argument elicited a creative response from C.S. Lewis. Richardson’s article had appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and it was to that same pulp journal that Lewis responded.

Lewis’ article was chosen for republication in the 1959 anthology The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, where it was introduced as “perceptive, human, and warmly comic. It is dated, of course, but well worth a read. And, it specifically addresses the issues raised by Richardson.

The arrival of two women at the Mars base is unexpected. But the powers that be on Earth decided that the men must be in need of Aphrodisio-Therapy, and sent two volunteers. One was rather elderly and morbidly obese. The other was a shrill psychology professor from a “modern” university.

The following scene features a conversation between the Captain (Mars base commander) and the presumably Scottish commander of the ship upon which the women arrived. It begins with the Captain being stunned that the two candidates presented for the novel role were quite ill-suited to it.

The Captain seemed at first wholly occupied with its comic side. ‘Still,’ he said at last, ‘it has its serious side too. The impertinence of it, for one thing! Do they think—

‘Ye maun recall,’ said Ferguson, ‘they’re dealing with an absolutely new situation.’

‘Oh, new be damned! How does it differ from men on whalers, or even on windjammers in the old days? Or on the North West Frontier? It’s about as new as people being hungry when food was short.’

‘Eh mon, but ye’re forgettin’ the new light of modern psychology.’

‘I think those two ghastly women have already learned some newer psychology since they arrived. Do they really suppose every man in the world is so combustible that he’ll jump into the arms of any woman whatever?’

‘Aye, they do. They’ll be sayin’ you and your party are verra abnormal. I wadna put it past them to be sending you out wee packets of hormones next.’

‘Well, if it comes to that, do they suppose men would volunteer for a job like this unless they could, or thought they could, or wanted to try if they could, do without women?’

‘Then there’s the new ethics, forbye.’

‘Oh stow it, you old rascal. What is new there either? Who ever tried to live clean except a minority who had a religion or were in love? They’ll try it still on Mars, as they did on Earth. As for the majority, did they ever hesitate to take their pleasures wherever they could get them? The ladies of the profession know better. Did you ever see a port or a garrison town without plenty of brothels? Who are the idiots on the Advisory Council who started all this nonsense?’

C.S. Lewis’ insights into human nature are far more accurate than those of our previous writer, who assumes morality is so arbitrary that it can be modified according to location. “The minority,” as Lewis rightly points out through the voice of his protagonist, will seek to live according to high moral standards . . . whether they reside in Montreal, Mumbai, on Mars or in the Delta Quadrant of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Read More about Aphrodisio-Therapy

Both of the works discussed above are available online. Read the essay and story in full at the Internet Archives.

The Day After We Land on Mars

Ministering Angels


Did you know there is a crater on Mars named Malacandra, in honor of C.S. Lewis?

 

C.S. Lewis & Scrabble

February 12, 2019 — 11 Comments

scrabble

It’s not uncommon for people who love words to also enjoy the game Scrabble.

The word game, born in 1933, is quite popular. In fact, the Hasbro company claims “today the SCRABBLE game is found in three of every five American homes.”

The game made enough of an impact in New York City, that the neighborhood where it was conceived is adorned with the distinctive Scrabblesque street sign shown above.

C.S. Lewis was also a fan of the game. He and his wife Joy played the game regularly. But they modified the rules, to allow for their particular intellects. Doug Gresham, their son, describes this in The Magic Never Ends: The Life and Works of C.S. Lewis.

They played word games with each other. They had their own rather unique rules for Scrabble. They would take one board and both sets of letters from two Scrabble sets. And then they would proceed to play Scrabble, allowing all known languages, whether factual or fictional, and they would fill the whole board with words.

Jack, Joy & Their Love of Words

The third volume of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis includes two references to the way Scrabble became a familiar feature of their married life. In the first, written in July of 1957, he describes the situation at the beginning of Joy’s remission.

It is fascinating in several ways. It describes Lewis’ own declining health and the manner in which God had used it to be a blessing in their relationship. The shock, however, comes in Lewis’ confession about who was the Scrabble champion at The Kilns.

Joy is now home, home from hospital, completely bed-ridden. The cancer is ‘arrested,’ which means, I fear, hardly any hope for the long term issue, but for the moment, apparently perfect health, no pain, eating & sleeping like a child, spirits usually excellent, able to beat me always at Scrabble and sometimes in argument.

She runs the whole house from her bed and keeps a pack of men not only loving her but (what’s rarer) one another.

We are crazily in love.

My back turns out to be not slipped disc but osteoporosis–a spongy condition of the bones that is common in men of 75 but almost unknown at my age (58). After full investigation by a great Professor of Pathology the cause remains quite obscure. It has passed the stage of spasms and screams (each was rather like having a tooth out with no anaesthetic and you never knew when they were coming!), but I still ache a good deal and need sleeping draughts.

Can you realise the good side? Poor Joy, after being the sole object of pity & anxiety can now perform the truly wifely function of fussing over me–I’m in pain and sit it out–and of course the psychological effect is extremely good. It banishes all that wearisome sense of being no use. You see, I’m very willing to have osteoporosis at this price.

The fact that Jack and Joy were truly “crazily in love,” made the brevity of their life together all the more poignant and precious. In July of 1960, Lewis wrote to inform a friend of Joy’s passing.

Dear Mrs Gebbert, Alas, you will never send anything ‘for the three of us’ again, for my dear Joy is dead. Until within ten days of the end we hoped, although noticing her increasing weakness, that she was going to hold her own, but it was not to be.

Last week she had been complaining of muscular pains in her shoulders, but by Monday 11th seemed much better, and on Tuesday, though keeping her bed, said she felt a great improvement; on that day she was in good spirits, did her ‘crossword puzzle’ with me, and in the evening played a game of Scrabble.

At quarter past six on Wednesday morning, the 13th, my brother, who slept over her, was wakened by her screaming and ran down to her. I got the doctor, who fortunately was at home, and he arrived before seven and gave her a heavy shot.

At half past one I took her into hospital in an ambulance. She was conscious for the short remainder of her life, and in very little pain, thanks to drugs; and died peacefully in my company about 10.15 the same night.

I could not wish that she had lived, for the cancer had attacked the spine, which might have meant several days of suffering, and that she was mercifully spared.

You will understand that I have no heart to write more, but I hope when next I send a letter it will be a less depressing one.

This letter suggests that Joy’s final evening in this world was a happy one. It was filled with warm and family domesticity. Under the circumstances, who could hope for more. As Lewis writes, it would only be for our own selfishness that we would wish to prolong the suffering of those we love.

I would be curious to learn whether Lewis ever again played Scrabble during those final few years of his own life. I suspect that it would have been too painful. Best to recall the game in light of the affectionate competition the two of them shared.

comfort bunny

Some people flee from those who are depressed. Others feel compelled to do their best to lift their spirits. Did you react the same way as C.S. Lewis to the suffering of others?

Recently I’ve had the privilege of sharing the anguish of several people who see no solution to their personal challenges. In truth, even though I sincerely believe “with God, all things are possible,” it is likely that these particular dilemmas will trouble these people the remainder of their lives.

Some people are “fixers,” or problem-solvers. They want to step in, quickly resolve the difficulty, and return to their normal routine as soon as possible. When faced with an intransigent challenge, they typically get called away by other matters, or they fade into the background.

There is a sort of spectrum when it comes to offering comfort to people. At one end, we have the people who offer insincere clichés like “I’m so sorry.” These remarks are often an automatic response and the only thing the speaker is “sorry” about is having their time “wasted” by the litany of another’s suffering.

Better than these liars, are the pretenders. They actually do feel sorry for the person when they say so. Only, they’re not sorry enough to actually devote another moment’s thought to their pain. They are hypocrites, because if they really understood what the word sorrow means, they would understand that it doesn’t evaporate into the mists six mere heartbeats after it is experienced.

Most people fall further along the spectrum, where we might place sympathy and empathy. Although the words are frequently used interchangeably, this site offers a concise definition of their differences.

In essence, when we are empathetic, we identify more intimately with the sufferer. It seems to me that empathy, often viewed as a sort of super-sympathy, is not necessarily the mark of a better sympathizer. Sometimes it corresponds to our own life experiences. For example, while my mother was still living I could readily sympathize with those who had lost their own. After my mom’s untimely death, I found myself naturally, and sometimes intensely, empathizing with their grief.

Genuine sympathy is a precious commodity. But it must grant higher honor to that form of consolation that puts our emotional concern into actual action. The specific actions are less important than the fact that we have physically placed the needs of the other ahead of our own. They might consist of attending to someone’s responsibilities while they are incapacitated, or simply holding a hand for long hours in a silent bedside vigil. The form matters little; the essence of the gift is everything. It is nothing less than love in action.

Lewis’ Compassionate Heart

Lewis constantly offered consolation to those with whom he corresponded. Our last post included an excellent example of this. What made his brief expressions of concern so powerful was not their eloquence. It was their sincerity. As we read the words we have no doubt that Lewis meant them. What’s more, when he said that he was praying for someone, he truly was.

Lewis also incorporated moving scenes of compassionate empathy in his fiction. Read how Steven Garber described the comfort he has received from the Chronicles of Narnia.

“A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last,” Lewis once wrote. Over the years, in the moments when life seems bleakest, when I can only sigh or groan, I have come back again and again to The Magician’s Nephew. . . .

Lewis gives us an image that is profoundly rich and wonderfully tender. We need both. The tears of God are complex. They must be tears of sympathy, even empathy, as Aslan weeps for Digory’s mother and as Jesus weeps with his friends at the death of their brother.

But sometimes they are also tears of anger at the unnaturalness of death, at the distortion of death, at the skewing of human hopes, as Jesus “groaned severely in his spirit” at the death of Lazarus. (Visions of Vocation)

One of the clearest examples of consolation offered by Lewis is found in his provision for Mrs. Moore, the mother of a WWI friend. The story is complex, but it is based upon Lewis keeping a promise—that if one of them died in the trenches, the other would care for that soldier’s parent.

Lesser men would have conveniently forgotten their vow, but Lewis provided for her from 1917 until her death in 1951. Their relation during the early years is uncertain, but there is no doubt that after his conversion to Christianity, it was chaste. Lewis was dutiful, like a true son, in caring for a woman more than twenty-five years his senior, whose own daughter acknowledged was emotionally abusive towards Lewis.

Professor Alice von Hildebrand offers a candid essay on this sensitive subject here. She includes the following quotation from the diary of Lewis’ brother, Warnie, who was a member of the same household.

One of Jack’s friends is supposed to have said, “Cursed be the day that thou fell into the hands of the Moore.” Warren gave vent to his frustration and constant irritation by confiding in his diary. He writes:

“It fills me with both admiration and irritation to see how completely the whole of J’s [Jack, the name by which Lewis’ friends addressed him] life is subordinated to hers—financially, socially, recreationally: the pity of it is that on his selflessness her selfishness fattens . . .”

True Compassion

An essay on this subject could easily grow into a book. To avoid that, I will restrain myself to one final point.

Only a master of language, and an astute student of humanity, recognizes the immense power, and the fragile limitation, of words. Ironically, it is when they are most important—such as in the offering of comfort to someone bereaved—that their shortcomings are most clear.

In the wake of the unbearable loss of his wife, Joy, Lewis wrote A Grief Observed. In this enlightening text, he points out the hollowness of mere words.

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

This is something few people recognize before they are the recipients of word-oriented attempts at comfort. That’s why we stumble about saying things that frequently provide precious little true consolation.

Lewis had learned that abstract theological declarations—even those based on certain promises of God—do little to remove the deep sting of death. Far more effective, is sharing the crippling pain of the loss. To offer, as Jesus did to the sisters of Lazarus, one’s own tears.

If you are interested in reading more about this subject, you might want to check out one of my earlier posts on the nature of genuine consolation.

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The illustration above comes from a thirteenth century manuscript. I have included it here, because the effort of the rabbit seeking to console the forlorn bird seems quite Narnianesque. It echoes the essence of Lewis’ childhood world of Boxen as well, and I imagine that C.S. Lewis would have enjoyed this marginalia on its own merit.

C.S. Lewis & Cats

February 28, 2017 — 24 Comments

cat-ear

Is it possible to love both dogs and cats? Or, does the preference for one work in some invisibly mystical way to create a dislike for the other?

I suspect the majority of people who are genuine animal lovers, maintain the capacity to appreciate both . . . in light of their respective attributes.

Most cat lovers I know, don’t hate dogs, even if they could happily live without them. Likewise, most dog lovers (me included) enjoy interacting with cats too . . . although I must confess, the more doglike they are in their personality, the better.

I’m not focusing on the comparison between people according to their preference. This despite the fact that Psychology Today cites a study that says “cat people [are] generally about 12 percent more neurotic.” However, the same article does offer a provocative observation that may suggest dog lovers are readier than their counterparts to expand their affections.

My results showed that people who owned only cats seemed to be somewhat different than dog owners or people who owned both dogs and cats in terms of their personalities. People who own both dogs and cats seem to be much like people who own only dogs.

C.S. Lewis was like those of us who appreciate each of these creatures as they live in accordance with their created nature. Lewis was an animal lover, and throughout his lifetime he expressed affection for both dogs and cats.

I have written about the dogs in Lewis’ life in the past. The fact is that his residence was also home to a number of cats as well.

In 1962 he wrote to a correspondent who asserted they held much in common. He agreed on one score: “We are also both ruled by cats. Joy’s Siamese—my ‘step-cat’ as I call her– is the most terribly conversational animal I ever knew. She talks all the time and wants doors and windows to be opened for her 1000 times an hour.” (To be fair, most dogs I know also regard their people as doorkeepers and chefs.)

Among Lewis’ references to cats is this quaint observation, shared with a different correspondent the same year. “Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.”

One of Lewis’ finest insights into the feline psyche is found in Letters to an American Lady. Writing a decade before the previously quoted letters, he describes an observation that echoes true in my own experience with both varieties of pets.

We were talking about cats and dogs the other day and decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other cats!

In Mere Christianity Lewis uses these animal species to illustrate his point that you cannot fairly contrast Christians and non-Christians in the abstract. After all, “there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.” So, simply sorting them out would prove a monumental problem.

On the other hand, there are some abstract generalizations that it is possible to make.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.

A final delightful reference to cats is found in a letter Lewis wrote near the end of the Second World War to his goddaughter, Sarah Neylan. It is particularly impressive because he takes the time to scribble some images for the young girl. He names and sketches three animals in the letter.

csl-sketches

Please excuse me for not writing to you before to . . . thank you for your nice Card which I liked very much: I think you have improved in drawing cats and these were very good, much better than I can do.

I can only draw a cat from the back view like this. I think it is rather cheating, don’t you? because it does not show the face which is the difficult part to do.

It is a funny thing that faces of people are easier to do than most animals’ faces except perhaps elephants, and owls. I wonder why that should be!

If I might hazard a response to Lewis’ question, it could be due to the fact that a dog’s face clearly reveals their intent, whether it be love or malice. Cats, in contrast, are capable of appearing inscrutable, which nearly always suits their purpose. (No surprise there, since they are feline pharisees, after all.)

Despite their differences, and for some perhaps, due to their distinctions, they are both lovable. And fortunately, there is no crime in harboring a preference for one over the other.

True Friendship

July 7, 2015 — 9 Comments

charles williamsIt seems odd to describe someone you deeply respect with the words “ugly as a chimpanzee,” but that’s precisely what C.S. Lewis once did.

Yet, reading the description in full, we find that Lewis considered the physical unattractiveness of his mentor to be a positive thing. In a sense, it accented his impressive persona.

Describing Charles Williams to his childhood friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis wrote:

As for the man: he is about 52, of humble origin (there are still traces of cockney in his voice), ugly as a chimpanzee but so radiant (he emanates more love than any man I have ever known) that as soon as he begins talking whether in private or in a lecture he is transfigured and looks like an angel. He sweeps some people quite off their feet and has many disciples. Women find him so attractive that if he were a bad man he could do what he liked either as a Don Juan or a charlatan.

I find this description evocative of the words about Jesus’ physical appearance. You can read the full passage about Jesus, the promised Messiah, here.

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

Lewis continues with his description of Williams, revealing a more intimate relationship than the previous words might suggest. Williams, you see, was one of the Inklings.

He works in the Oxford University Press. In spite of his “angelic” quality he is also quite an earthy person and when Warnie, Tolkien, he and I meet for our pint in a pub in Broad Street, the fun is often so fast and furious that the company probably thinks we’re talking bawdy when in fact we’re very likely talking Theology. He is married and, I think, youthfully in love with his wife still.

I find it amazing how vivid Lewis’ portrait of his colleague is. He briefly passes over his physical appearance (the least important of human traits, despite what the modern era intimates). And, even though his words are not flattering, the rest of the description reveals they are expressed with deep affection.

Lewis then quickly presses on to a poetic depiction of Williams’ oratorical skills, and concludes with a personable picture of the man among brothers. The final sentence, given Lewis’ perception that he himself would remain a lifelong bachelor, is quite perceptive.

Mutual respect—especially when tempered with affection—generates bonds that allow for honest assessments of both weaknesses and strengths.

A Personal Experience

I recall receiving a lovely engraved glass plaque as a memento of my tour at the United States Air Force Chaplain School. Most of my duties related to writing, but it was common knowledge that there were few subjects on which I did not have something to say.

When the Commandant of the Institute read the inscription during the presentation (it was the first time he had seen it), he paused in embarrassed silence thinking he must have read it wrong. It didn’t sound like the flattery that traditionally adorns such tokens.

“He says in a book what others say in a sentence.”

You can only offer such a dialectical “compliment” to a friend.

It was true, of course, and it was to much laughter that I immediately responded, “True, and it is a book well worth reading.”

When I read this description of the literary friend who made such a profound impression on Lewis, it makes me smile. It is all the more poignant, since it was written just a year before Williams’ death.

There are far, far worse things a person can experience than having someone who respects and loves them say they resemble a chimpanzee . . . or that they tend to be just a little bit verbose.

Loving Prostitutes

September 12, 2014 — 20 Comments

comfort womenI love prostitutes.

It’s true.

Although I have never in my life “physically” loved one, I possess great compassion for them.

Sharing physical intimacy with a prostitute would have nothing to do with “love,” anyway.

My empathy for prostitutes grew significantly during the year I spent stationed with the United States Air Force in South Korea during the 1980s.

My love for them has just been reignited by an article I read about the plight of aged Korean prostitutes who are being evicted from their hovels so that developers can profit. These women, ostracized by their own society and discarded by their pimps and the soldiers, sailors and airmen who abused them, have nowhere to go.

Americans have a perverse understanding of prostitution. Calling it a “victimless crime” is incomprehensible. For every one American call girl living in comfort and able to choose her “clients,” there are probably five thousand who are beaten daily, and driven to an early (often welcome) death.

No woman, at least none with a healthy mind, wants to sell their body and forfeit their future.

The gifted author and professor, C.S. Lewis, recognized this fact.

Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger (The Problem of Pain).

I love prostitutes because God has granted me the vision to see them as he does. Jesus spoke with true love (agape love) to one unloved and physically used woman he met at a well. You can read the story here.

She had been passed from one man to another and no longer had any options. Her current partner had not even bothered to marry her. She was not unlike the poor prostitutes of South Korea.

Jesus looked into this woman’s scarred soul and offered her forgiveness, healing and peace.

South Korea is prosperous today. It was not always so. During the Second World War, and the Japanese occupation, thousands of woman were enslaved as “comfort women.” The Korean government provides these victims with special compensation. Not so the post-war “comfort women” who serviced the country’s allies.

They did not have a choice either. Which is one reason C.S. Lewis writes, “a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.” (Mere Christianity).

And now they languish. Others, working in bars and “clubs” near bases today, are in their “prime.” It won’t last. This will be their destiny as well.

Because I love prostitutes, I pray that they might be liberated from their bondage. And, I also pray, that if they remain trapped in their current plight, that their souls might be free . . . that they might encounter the Messiah who can offer them “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

The article I read, and linked to above, ends with a potent yet tragic image.

Jang Young-mi, 67, who was orphaned as a girl and worked in a military camptown for nearly two decades, lives with three mangy dogs. A bite from one of them left the long white scar on her hand, but she refuses to abandon the offending animal.

Dogs too, are often outcasts in many societies. The irony is not lost that in Korea a dog is as likely to be devoured, as it is to be embraced and protected.

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The WWII image of so-called “comfort women” is of Indonesian women. It is estimated that the Imperial Japanese Army enslaved a quarter of a million women in Asia to serve in this cruel and vile manner. Due to the large number of victims, many still live today, still hoping for an official apology for their suffering.

Married, or Not?

April 22, 2014 — 11 Comments

unificationShould a wedding ceremony during which the bride forgets the groom’s name be considered valid? That question may sound slightly preposterous, but I just witnessed it happening.

One of the network news programs just did a story on the latest “Holy Marriage Blessing Service” conducted by the Unification Church. This is the religion founded by Sun Myung Moon, whose disciples believe to be the second coming of Jesus. (Moon died in 2012, but his wife continues to lead the religion, and officiate at these regular ceremonies.)

Many of the couples who marry in these ceremonies are matched by their parents or, if they are determined to be especially blessed, they are “randomly” matched by the church leader (presently the widow of their messiah). Reportedly, each match takes about thirty seconds as the prophets place the hands of men and women together in divinely appointed relationships.

Officially, a person can decline their match after they’ve had a little time to talk with their future spouse, but it’s evident that contradicting the action of one’s savior would require immense courage.

That said, I have no doubt that—due to the earnest commitment and efforts of both parties—many of these marriages end up happy. After all, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go… But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love”—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. . . . “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

In the case of Unification Church members, even if the relationship lacked an emotional stage of “being in love,” it doesn’t mean that it is destined to fail. Far from it, since, as Lewis wisely points out, true love isn’t about feelings.

In the aforementioned case, the bride was from a French-speaking African nation. The husband, I believe, was from Japan. Her English was quite good, but his was poor. They were essentially unable to communicate. Then, when the interviewers revisited them immediately before the ceremony was to begin, they asked the beautifully-gowned bride what her husband’s name was. And she had forgotten.

Another peculiar thing about Unification marriage practices is that, following the wedding, there is a 40+ “separation period,” during which they are required to refrain from intimate relations. While Christians are called to practice premarital chastity, I’m unfamiliar with any other group that requires a post-wedding purification.

One last comment about the Unification marriage blessings. As if they could not be more bizarre. In 1997 the Moons presided over a ceremony in Washington, D.C. While only 2,000 of the 30,000 couples were actually being married, among the other 28,000 couples having their marriage “blessed” by the Unification messiah included a prominent American political figure—none other than Al Sharpton.

At least he and his wife, Katherine, probably knew each other’s names.

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The picture above comes from one of the group weddings. This young bride has to be content with the photograph of her absent groom. One wonders if the two have yet to meet.

Rescuing Orphans

April 14, 2014 — 17 Comments

orphansWar is a terrible thing. It should be avoided at (nearly) all costs. As C.S. Lewis wrote during Hitler’s atrocities, “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful” (“The Conditions for a Just War”).

I was writing this weekend about one of the sad consequences of war—the creation of orphans. As an adopted child of God, I possess deep compassion for children without parents in this world. Over a decade ago I was privileged to represent the United States Air Force at the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial.

When I contacted the coordinator of that event, Dr. George Drake, he provided me with the photograph above, which shows the speakers that day. Drake appears to the left, and yours truly is in uniform, to the right. The primary speaker was Chaplain Russell Blaisdell, center, who saved the lives of at least a thousand Korean orphans during the war, delivering them from almost certain death as Seoul fell to the Communists. (My next post will reflect on his heroism and humility.)

The war in Korea was horrific. The frontlines swept across the peninsula, leaving desolation and tragedy in their wake. The number of orphans created by the violence was legion. In the cruel ebb and flow of the conflict, many perished. Still, even in the crimson terror there were expressions of mercy and grace.

Chaplains often led the way in reaching out to the children, but their efforts would have accomplished little if the compassion of the common Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airman had not moved them as well to make sacrifices to care for the children.

Chaplains who serve in Korea today have maintained the strong bonds of support for orphanages that was so vital to the wartime chaplains represented by Blaisdell.

During my year in Taegu (Daegu), I coordinated the ministry of the airmen at Taegu Air Base in partnership with Love and Hope Orphanage. Love and Hope has a unique role, caring for the least of the least . . . children with serious physical and/or mental handicaps. There is little room for them in most societies, and Korea is no exception.

Orphans are made not by war alone, of course, but by a variety of tragic confluences of suffering. Some lose parents to accident or disease. Today, we find the greatest number of orphaned children in various parts of Africa where AIDS has devastated local adult populations. Similarly, following natural disasters such as major earthquakes and tsunamis, many orphans are left alone in the rubble or receding waters.

Some children flee abusive homes, or are rescued from dangerous environments; in one sense these were orphans even before their legal bonds with cruel predators were severed.

Many causes account for the existence of orphans. And, as long as we live in this fallen world, orphans will be among us. This is why we must never forget that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

C.S. Lewis was well acquainted with the sorrow of wartime violence and the shattering of families. A veteran of World War I, he saw many friends perish just as they were embarking on adulthood. After World War II, one of his many correspondents was Don Giovanni Calabria, who operated an orphanage in devastated Italy

In 1951, Lewis sent his friend a newly translated copy of the first book in his Chronicles of Narnia. He invited the priest (who would be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church less than fifty years later) to pass the book on to one of the orphans in his care.

I am sending you my tale recently translated into Italian in which, frankly, I have rather played than worked. I have given my imagination free rein yet not, I hope, without regard for edification—for building up both my neighbour and myself. I do not know whether you will like this kind of trifle. But if you do not, perhaps some boy or girl will like it from among your “good children.”

While I imagine the volume remained close to the future “saint,” I trust that Lewis’ powerful tale delighted many of the young children in his care.

As Chaplain Blaisdell says about caring for innocent children, the act itself provides more than sufficient reward. Formal recognition is not required, and may in fact detract from the intrinsic satisfaction that accompanies the giving of oneself in service. Ninety-nine percent of those who sacrifice for the widow and orphan remain essentially anonymous to all but God, and this is just fine. (You can read more about the Kiddy Car Airlift and who received credit for it here.)