TagC. S. Lewis

the healing to come

The fact that the body, and locality and locomotion and time, now feel irrelevant to the highest reaches of the spiritual life is (like the fact that we can think of our bodies as ‘coarse’) a symptom. Spirit and Nature have quarrelled in us; that is our disease. Nothing we can yet do enables us to imagine its complete healing. Some glimpses and faint hints we have: in the Sacraments, in the use made of sensuous imagery by the great poets, in the best instances of sexual love, in our experiences of the earth’s beauty. But the full healing is utterly beyond our present conceptions. Mystics have got as far in contemplation of God as the point at which the senses are banished: the further point, at which they will be put back again, has (to the best of my knowledge) been reached by no one.

– C. S. Lewis, Miracles

the Pevensies and puberty

A comment on “the problem of Susan” and more particularly this post by Adam Roberts:

My thesis: None of the Pevensies goes through puberty in Narnia. Remember, while we are told that they “grow and change,” we don’t learn the specifics of that change — or, more tellingly, the ways in which they don’t change. It is perhaps the environment of a planet alien to the one on which they were born that afflicts them all with a rare acquired variant of Kallmann Syndrome. This is why none of them ever marries: though “all princes in those parts desire [Lucy] to be their Queen,” she refuses them because she knows that her condition makes her infertile, and knows that it is best for each of those princes to marry a woman who can bear him heirs. My thesis also explains why the Pevensies so unhesitatingly leave Narnia rulerless: they know that some plan for the succession has to be devised, but also that no Narnian (unacquainted as that land is with modern Terran medicine) would understand their condition or accept that it cannot be cured or remediated. In these circumstances, the responsibility for self-rule is the best gift they could give to their people. Otherwise their abandonment of Narnia would be inexcusable. It is only when they return to our world that they enter puberty for the first time — and puberty is something, I think you’ll agree, that no number of years ruling a country or fighting frost giants could possibly prepare one for.

the most incisive commentary on today’s disputes about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God

The process whereby ‘faith and works’ become a stock gag in the commercial theatre is characteristic of that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation. The theological questions really at issue have no significance except on a certain level, a high level, of the spiritual life; they could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure. Under those conditions formulae might possibly have been found which did justice to the Protestant — I had almost said the Pauline — assertions without compromising other elements of the Christian faith. In fact, however, these questions were raised at a moment when they immediately became embittered and entangled with a whole complex of matters theologically irrelevant, and therefore attracted the fatal attention both of government and the mob. When once this had happened, Europe’s chance to come through unscathed was lost. It was as if men were set to conduct a metaphysical argument at a fair, in competition or (worse still) forced collaboration with the cheapjacks and the round-abouts, under the eyes of an armed and vigilant police force who frequently changed sides.

— C. S. Lewis, from Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century. See also: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”

But it is also important to recognize how much the themes of the Narnia books are interwoven with what he was thinking and writing in other contexts around the same time, and with material he had already published in the 1940s — as well as the fact that the first seeds of the actual Narnia narrative seem to have been sown as early as 1939. For example: his 1946 book, The Great Divorce, foreshadows many of the ideas in the Narnia stories — most particularly a theme that Lewis insists on more and more as his work develops, the impossibility of forcing any person to accept love and the monumental and excruciating difficulty of receiving love when you are wedded to a certain picture of yourself. It is this theme that emerges most clearly in his last (and greatest) imaginative work, the 1956 novel, Till We Have Faces. The issues we shall be looking at in the following pages are very much the issues that Lewis is trying to work out in a variety of imaginative idioms from the early 1940s onwards — the problems of self-deception above all, the lure of self-dramatizing, the pain and challenge of encounter with divine truthfulness. What Narnia seeks to do, very ambitiously, is to translate these into terms that children can understand. And as to why Lewis decided to address such an audience, there is probably no very decisive answer except that he had a high view of children’s literature, a passion for myth and fantasy and a plain desire to communicate as widely as possible.

‘Is he – quite safe?’ asks Susan in Chapter 7 of The Lion. ‘Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe,’ says Mr Beaver; ‘But he’s good.’ Aslan’s unsafeness is referred to repeatedly: ‘Is it not said in all the old stories that He is not a Tame Lion?’ (Last Battle Ch. 2). But what is perhaps most remarkable in the entire sequence – and in itself a compelling reason for never reading the books without including The Last Battle – is the way Lewis allows this very axiom almost to undermine faith and truth. To take a parallel from as different an author as you could imagine, Dostoevsky can write in his personal journals of how he has learned to sing his hosanna in the crucible of doubt – but he also, in The Brothers Karamazov uses precisely this phrase in the mouth of a diabolical visitant as a mocking summary of religious evasiveness and dishonesty. Similarly, when the malign Shift begins his campaign to take over Narnia, the fact that he orders things that are absolutely contrary to what might be expected of Aslan is initially met with confusion rather than rejection – because ‘he’s not a tame lion’. Is he bound by his own rules? There have been no signs in the stars to announce the coming again of Aslan; but ‘he is not the slave of the stars but their Maker’ (Last Battle Ch. 2). Appealing to the unpredictable wildness of Aslan has become an unanswerable tool of control….

Aslan makes no promise; nothing can make him safe, and there is no approaching him without an overwhelming sense of risk. But there is no other stream. A less fearful and guilty person than Jill might – like the talking horse Hwin in The Horse (Ch. 14) – conclude that ‘I’d rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.’ But one thing Aslan cannot do is pretend he is not what and who he is. Under his scrutiny the likelihood is that we shall all feel as unsafe as it is possible to be. In this crucial sense – and as it were in response to the doubts expressed in The Last Battle – Aslan cannot break his laws. He is not bound by anything except what and who he is, but that is a real and unbreakable bond. He cannot be other than truth. And confronted with truth in this shape, there may be no promises, no rewards and no security, but there is nowhere else to go. Trust in Aslan may even open up the horrific possibilities of corruption and nightmare that The Last Battle describes, but there is no way for Aslan to come into this world without such risks. There are no other options for truthfulness to enter our consciousness or, more importantly, for sacrificial love to break our chains.

— Rowan Williams, The Lion’s World

That being said, I can only confess to being repeatedly humbled and reconverted by Lewis in a way that is true of few other modern Christian writers. Re-reading works I have not looked at for some time, I realize where a good many of my favorite themes and insights came from, and am constantly struck by the richness of imagination and penetration that can be contained even in a relatively brief letter. Here is someone you do not quickly come to the end of — as a complex personality and as a writer and thinker.

Rowan Williams on C S Lewis. I resonate with this very strongly. Lewis was fairly important to me when I was a young Christian, but not nearly as important as several other figures, and for many years I largely ignored him. Only when I was asked to write a biography of Lewis did I confront the uncomfortable fact that I was keeping Lewis at arm’s length not because of any of his own failings, but because I was tired of dealing with vast hordes of evangelicals for whom whatever CSL said about anything was the last word on that topic. It wasn’t Jack that I was tired of, but Jackolatry. When I had to read everything that he wrote in preparation for writing the biography — no small task, let me tell you — I was forced to see that his was a far more copious and supple mind than I had ever realized. Like Archbishop Rowan, I occasionally had the uncomfortable experience of finding in Lewis the source of some idea that I had believed to be my own, and further had believed to be very up-to-date, responsive to the moment — not the sort of thing that would ever have occurred to an old dinosaur like CSL. Those were telling moments.

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