Dedicated to one of the great thinkers and authors of our time: C.S. Lewis.
I hope you find each quotation interesting and inspiring.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Overcome, and Come Up
While I still watched, I noticed that the whole plain and forest were shaking with a sound which in our world would be too large to hear, but there I could take it with joy. I knew it was not the Solid People who were singing. It was the voice of that earth, those woods and those waters. A strange archaic, inorganic noise, that came from all directions at once. The Nature or Arch-Nature of that land rejoiced to have been once more ridden, and therefore consummated, in the person of the horse. It sang:
'The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
Master, your Master has appointed you for ever: to be our King of Justice and our high Priest.'
"Look," said Trufflehunter. "Miraz is angry. It is good." They were certainly at it hammer and tongs now: such a flurry of blows that it seemed impossible for either not to be killed. As the excitement grew, the shouting almost died away. The spectators were holding their breath. It was most horrible and most magnificent.
A great shout arose from the Old Narnians. Miraz was down - not struck by Peter, but face downwards, having tripped on a tussock. Peter stepped back, waiting for him to rise.
"Oh bother, bother, bother," said Edmund to himself. "Need he be as gentlemanly as all that? I suppose he must. Comes of being a Knight and a High King. I suppose it is what Aslan would like. But that brute will be up again in a minute and then -"
But "that brute" never rose. The Lords Glozelle and Sopespian had their own plans ready. As soon as they saw their King down they leaped into the lists crying, "Treachery! Treachery! The Narnian traitor has stabbed him in the back while he lay helpless. To arms! To arms, Telmar!" Peter hardly understood what was happening. He saw two big men running towards him with drawn swords. Then the third Telmarine had leaped over the ropes on his; left. "To arms, Narnia! Treachery!" Peter shouted. If all three had set upon him at once he would never have spoken again. But Glozelle stopped to stab his own King dead where he lay: "That's for your insult, this morning," he whispered as the blade went home. Peter swung to face Sopespian, slashed his legs from under him and, with the back-cut of the same stroke, walloped off his head. Edmund was now at his side crying, "Narnia, Narnia! The Lion!" The whole Telmarine army was rushing toward them. But now the Giant was stamping forward, stooping low and swinging his club. The Centaurs charged. Twang, twang behind and hiss, hiss overhead came the archery of Dwarfs. Trumpkin was fighting at his left. Full battle was joined.
"Come back, Reepicheep, you little ass!" shouted Peter. "You'll only be killed. This is no place for mice." But the ridiculous little creatures were dancing in and out among the feet of both armies, jabbing with their swords. Many a Telmarine warrior that day felt his foot suddenly pierced as if by a dozen skewers, hopped on one leg cursing the pain, and fell as often as not. If he fell, the mice finished him off; if he did not, someone else did.
But almost before the Old Narnians were really warmed to their work they found the enemy giving way. Tough looking warriors turned white, gazed in terror not on the Old Narnians but on something behind them, and then flung down their weapons, shrieking, "The Wood! The Wood! The end of the world!"
~C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (1951)
Note from Arevanye: Go see Prince Caspian. It's good!
How far have I got? Just as far, I think, as a widower of another sort who would stop, leaning on his spade, and say in answer to our inquiry, 'Thank'ee. Mustn't grumble. I do miss her something dreadful. But they say these things are sent to try us.' We have come to the same point; he with his spade, and I, who am not now much good at digging, with my own instrument. But of course one must take 'sent to try us' the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial he makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power - it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God....I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it beings in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth - only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943)
Lewis writes to Dr. Warfield Firor about grading Scholarship Examinations at the end of the term:
...But there is something about this endless examining, quite apart from the labour, which bothers me. It sets me wondering about the whole system under which you, as well as we, now live. Behind all these closely written sheets which I have to read every year, even behind the worst of them, lie hours of hard, long work. Even the bad candidates are doing their best and have been trained up to this ever since they went to school. And naturally enough: for in the Democracies now, as formerly in China under the mandarin system, success in competitive examinations is the only moyen de parvenir*, the road from elementary school to the better schools, and thence to college, and thence to the professions. (You still have a flourishing alternative route to desirable jobs through business which is largely disappearing with us: but it is at least equally competitive).
This of course is what Democratic education means - give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless competition during those very years which, I can't help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health? (N.B. boys are now taught to regard Ambition as a virtue. I think we shall find that up to the XVIIIth Century, and back into Pagan times, all moralists regarded it as a vice and dealt with it accordingly).
*"way to arrive"
~C.S. Lewis, Letter to Warfield M. Firor Dec 3 1950, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III (2007)
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back, in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, 'Be perfect,' He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder - in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
It came over me like a thunderclap about 30 seconds after I had left you in the Lodge this afternoon that I must seem to you to have committed, in one very short conversation, all the most unprovoked and indeed inexplicable kinds of rudeness there are.* I implore you to try to understand - and believe - how it came about with no such intention.
The starting point was the fact that I have never noticed the slightest inequality in your gait. Seeing it for the first time when I was waiting behind you to cross the street I therefore immediately assumed some temporary mishap to be the cause: no alternative explanation entered my head. My evil genius then led me to ask you about it - largely because two people who see each other once a week can't very well meet on an 'island' and say just nothing. After your answer I ought of course to have apologized and dropped the subject at once: but by that time I had completely lost my head.
You are not the first to suffer this kind of thing from me: I am subject to a kind of black-out in conversation which now and then leads to ask and say the utterly wrong thing - the Brobdingnagianly tactless thing. I have (quite against my will) made many enemies this way. I hope very much you will not become one of them: give me a fool's pardon. ~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Robin Oakley-Hill Feb 16, 1953
*The recipient of this letter said: "I was walking from the boathouse back to college on an unpleasantly raw winter afternoon after an unsatisfactory session of coxing when I was joined by C.S. Lewis waiting to cross the High. He said something like: "You're limping - did you hurt yourself?" I said no, I'd had polio, in a fairly unfriendly manner, because I was fed up with the weather, the unsatisfactory rowing and the tedious unfinished work I was going back to. He looked embarrassed and said "Oh, poor chap," and we went our separate ways. I was astounded to get the letter next day, and was inclined to reply that it didn't signify, but a confidant warned me to take the apology in a serious manner because otherwise it would seem that I did not appreciate the trouble he had taken in writing the letter, and I did so."
Since the Fall no organization or way of life whatever has a natural tendency to go right. In the Middle Ages some people thought that if only they entered a religious order they would find themselves automatically becoming holy and happy: the whole native literature of the period echoes with the exposure of that fatal error. In the nineteenth century some people thought that monogamous family life would automatically make them holy and happy; the savage antidomestic literature of modern times - the Samuel Butlers, the Gosses, the Shaws - delivered the answer. In both cases the "debunkers" may have been wrong about principles and may have forgotten the maxim, abusus non tollit usum* but in both cases they were pretty right about matter of fact. Both family life and monastic life were often detestable, and it should be noticed that the serious defenders of both are well aware of the dangers and free of the sentimental illusion. [...] That is the first point on which we must be absolutely clear. The family, like the nation, can be offered to God, can be converted and redeemed, and will then become the channel of particular blessings and graces. But, like everything else that is human, it needs redemption. Unredeemed, it will produce only particular temptations, corruptions, and miseries. Charity begins at home: so does uncharity. ~C.S. Lewis, "The Sermon and the Lunch", The Grand Miracle (1970)
I do not think any efforts of my own will can end once and for all this craving for limited liabilities, this fatal reservation. Only God can. I have good faith and hope He will. Of course, I don't mean I can therefore, as they say, "sit back." What God does for us, He does in us. The process of doing it will appear to me (and not falsely) to be the daily or hourly repeated exercises of my own will in renouncing this attitude, especially each morning, for it grows all over me like a new shell each night. Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularised presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own. We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not the Vichy government. And this, so far as I can yet see, must be begun again every day. Our morning prayer should be that in the Imitation: Da hodie perfecte incipere - grant me to make an unflawed beginning today, for I have done nothing yet. ~C.S. Lewis, "A Slip of the Tongue", The Weight of Glory (1949)
In popular thought, however, the origin of the universe has counted (I think) for less than its character - its immense size and its apparent indifference, if not hostility, to human life. And very often this impresses people all the more because it is supposed to be a modern discovery - an excellent example of those things which our ancestors did not know and which, if they had known them, would have prevented the very beginnings of Christianity. Here there is a simple historical falsehood. Ptolemy knew just as well as Eddington that the earth was infinitesimal in comparison with the whole content of space. There is no question here of knowledge having grown until the frame of archaic thought is no longer able to contain it. The real question is why the spatial insignificance of the Earth, after being known for centuries, should suddenly in the last century have become an argument against Christianity. I do not know why this has happened; but I am sure it does not mark an increased clarity of thought, for the argument from size is in my opinion, very feeble. ~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Dogma and the Universe" (1970)
The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, "Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words." A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces? ~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956)
Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean, Not that which may be speaking an hour hence (For I am Legion) in an opposite sense, And not by show of hands decide between The multiple factions which my state has seen Or will see. Condescend to the pretence That what speaks now is I; in its defence Dissolve my parliament and intervene.
Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall Free will once given. Yet to this moment's choice Give unfair weight. Hold me to this. Oh strain A point - use legal fictions; for if all My quarrelling selves must bear an equal voice, Farewell, thou has created me in vain. ~C.S. Lewis, "Legion", Poems (1964), (1st published in The Month, April 1955)
Since finishing the first volume of Spenser I have been reading again 'The Well at the World's End', and it has completely ravished me. There is something awfully nice about reading a book again, with all the half-unconscious memories it brings back. 'The Well' always brings to mind our lovely hill-walk in the frost and fog - you remember - because I was reading it then. The very names of chapters and places make me happy: 'Another adventure in the Wood Perilous', 'Ralph rides the Downs to Higham-on-the-Way', 'The Dry Tree', 'Ralph reads in a book concerning the Well at the World's End'.Why is it that one can never think of the past without wanting to go back? ~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume I, Letter to Arthur Greeves (16 November, 1915)
I spent the afternoon and evening between spells of working on "Sigrid" (which I did with incredible difficulty, but finally pleased myself) and beginning to re-read The Well at the World's End. I was anxious to see whether the old spell still worked. It does - rather too well. This going back to books read at that age is humiliating: one keeps on tracing what are now quite big things in one's mental outfit to curiously small sources. I wondered how much even of my feeling for external nature comes out of the brief, convincing little descriptions of mountains and woods in this book. ~C. S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me (entry of July 4, 1926) _______________________
"What is it, Aslan?" said Lucy, her eyes dancing and her feet wanting to dance.
"Come, children," said he. "Ride on my back again today."
"Oh, lovely!" cried Lucy, and both girls climbed on to the warm golden back as they had done no one knew how many years before.
Then the whole party moved off; Aslan leading, Bacchus and his Maenads leaping, rushing, and turning somersaults, the beasts frisking round them, and Silenus and his donkey bringing up the rear.
They turned a little to the right, raced down a steep hill, and found the long Bridge of Beruna in front of them. Before they had begun to cross it, however, up out of the water came a great wet, bearded head, larger than a man's, crowned with rushes. It looked at Aslan and out of its mouth a deep voice came. "Hail, Lord," it said. "Loose my chains."
"Who on earth is that?" whispered Susan.
"I think it's the river-god, but hush," said Lucy.
"Bacchus," said Aslan. "Deliver him from his chains."
"That means the bridge, I expect," thought Lucy. And so it did. Bacchus and his people splashed forward into the shallow water, and a minute later the most curious things began happening. Great, strong trunks of ivy came curling up all the piers of the bridge, growing as quickly as a fire grows, wrapping the stones round, splitting, breaking, separating them. The walls of the bridge turned into hedges gay with hawthorn for a moment and then disappeared as the whole thing with a rush and a rumble collapsed into the swirling water. With much splashing, screaming, and laughter the revellers waded or swam or danced across the ford ("Hurrah! It's the Ford of Beruna again now!" cried the girls) and up the bank on the far side and into the town. ~C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, Chapter 14 (1951)
The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' - which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions; but the second half goes on, 'For it is God who worketh in you' - which looks as if God did everything and we nothing. I am afraid that is the sort of thing we come up against in Christianity. I am puzzled, but I am not surprised. You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together. And, of course, we begin by thinking it is like two men working together, so that you could say , 'He did this bit and I did that.' But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it. In the attempt to express it different Churches say different things. But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you to do good actions. At any rate that is as far as I can go. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 12 'Faith' (1952)
We may observe that the teaching of Our Lord Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their context. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the "wisecrack". He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be "got up" as if it were a "subject". If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, "pinned down". The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam. [...] Yes, it is, perhaps, idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no "letter" in the words of Jesus. Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man's whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.
~C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Chapter XI "Scripture" (1958)
I Should Put the Odds at 10,000 to 1 Against You All
I don't think Tolkien influenced me*, and I am certain that I didn't influence him. That is, didn't influence what he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him very much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife not as a father. The similarities between his work and mine are due, I think, (a) To nature - temperament. (b) to common sources. We are both soaked in Norse mythology, George MacDonald's fairy-tales, Homer, Beowulf, and medieval romance. Also, of course, we are both Christians (he, an R.C.).
The relevance of your problem to 'Higher Criticism' is extremely important. Reviewers of his books and mine, both friendly & hostile, constantly put forward imaginary histories of their composition. I do not think any one of these has ever borne the slightest resemblance to the real history. (e.g. they think his deadly Ring is a symbol of the atom bomb. Actually his myth was developed long before the atom bomb had been heard of).
You see the moral. These critics, in dealing with us, have every advantage which modern scholars lack in dealing with Scripture. They are dealing with authors who have the same mother tongue, the same education, and inhabit the same social & political world as their own, and inherit the same literary traditions. In spite of this, when they tell us how the books were written they are all wildly wrong! After that what chance can there be that any modern scholar can determine how Isaiah or the Fourth Gospel [...] came into existence? I should put the odds at 10,000 to 1 against you all. [...]
The Narnian series is not exactly allegory. I'm not saying 'Let us represent in terms of märchen** the actual story of this world.' Rather 'Supposing the Narnia world, let us guess what form the activities of the Second Person or Creator, Redeemer, and Judge might take there.' This, you see, overlaps with allegory but is not quite the same.
I don't think a marsh-wiggle is like a hobbit. The hobbit is essentially a cheerful, complacent, sanguine little creature. If Puddeglum is like any of Tolkien's characters, I'd call him 'a good Gollum'. ~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Francis Anderson 23 Sept 1963 _______________________ * Anderson had written to Lewis asking what the connection was between the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series and which writer had influenced the other.
**märchen - the German term for tales of enchantment and marvels, usually translated as ‘fairy tales’.
As far as I can remember you were non-committal about Childhood's End*: I suppose you were afraid that you might raise my expectations too high and lead to disappointment. If that was your aim, it has succeeded, for I came to it expecting nothing in particular and have been thoroughly bowled over. It is quite out of range of the common space-and-time writers; away up near Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus and Well's First Men in the Moon.
[...]There has been nothing like it for years: partly for the actual writing--'She has left her toys behind but ours go hence with us', or 'The island rose to meet the dawn', but partly (still more, in fact) because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim than the survival or happiness of humanity[...]
It is a strange comment on our age that such a book lies hid in a hideous paper-backed edition, wholly unnoticed by the cognoscenti, while any 'realistic' drivel about some neurotic in a London flat--something that needs no real invention at all, something that any educated man could write if he chose, may get seriously reviewed and mentioned in serious books - as if it really mattered. I wonder how long this tyranny will last? Twenty years ago I felt no doubt that I should live to see it all break up and great literature return: but here I am, losing teeth and hair, and still no break in the clouds.
And now, what do you think? Do you agree that it is AN ABSOLUTE CORKER?
__________________ ~C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Joy Gresham, Dec 22, 1953
*Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End (New York: Ballantine, 1953)
Joy Gresham showed Clarke the letter from Lewis, and when Childhood's End was published by Pan Books of London in 1956, parts of his letter were quoted on the back of the book.
My dear Nurse Davison* Excuse me. I cannot address you by any other name. Remember you? I should think I do. Do you remember the night Warnie and I came home very late and got into trouble and were sent to bed without supper, and you brought us in bread and jam in our little room--opposite my father's bedroom? Do you remember the night you went to the Mikado with Warnie and I wasn't allowed to go? Do you remember the first night before my poor mother's operation when you both sat and talked about operations and I said 'Well you are gloomy people.' And now it has all happened again with my father. I thought of you a lot during his illness and wished you could have been with him. He constantly mentioned you and your photo has been on the mantel piece at Little Lea for a great many years.
Thank you for your sympathy. I thought I had perhaps got a bit used to people I cared for dying while I was at the front, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. He was such a very strong personality and had been the background of my life for so long that I can hardly believe its all over. One keeps on thinking 'I must tell him that' when some little episode happens, and then [one] remembers. I suppose we get used to these changes in time. Thanks awfully for writing. It is really comforting to be taken back to those old days. The time during which you were with my mother--and I remember that much better than my own little operation--seemed very long to a child and you became part of home. We must try to meet when I'm in Ireland again. Probably we have often passed each other in the street without knowing. Yours very sincerely Jack Lewis ~C.S. Lewis, letter to A. M. Davison, Sept. 29, 1929, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III (2007)
*A. M. Davison was the senior of the two nurses in charge of Lewis's mother, Flora, during her final illness. Flora died on August 23, 1908.
About loving one's country, you raise two different questions. About one, about there seeming to be (now) no reason for loving it, I'm not at all bothered. As Macdonald says 'No one loves because he sees reason, but because he loves.'
Or say there are two kinds of love: we love wise and kind and beautiful people because we need them, but we love (or try to love) stupid and disagreeable people because they need us. This second kind is the more divine, because that is how God loves us: not because we are lovable but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but because He delights to give.
But the other question (what one is loving in loving a country) I do find very difficult. What I feel sure of is that the personifications used by journalists and politicians have very little reality. A treaty between the Govts. of two countries is not at all like a friendship between two people: more like a transaction between two people's lawyers.
I think love for one's country means chiefly love for people who have a good deal in common with oneself (language, clothes, institutions) and is in that way like love of one's family or school: or like love (in a strange place) for anyone who once lived in one's home town. The familiar is in itself a ground for affection. And it is good: because any natural help towards our spiritual duty of loving is good and God seems to build our higher loves round our merely natural impulses - sex, maternity, kinship, old acquaintance, etc. And in a less degree there are similar grounds for loving other nations - historical links and debts for literature etc. (hence we all reverence the ancient Greeks). But I would distinguish this from the talk in the papers. Mind you, I'm in considerable doubt about the whole thing. My mind tends to move in a world of individuals not of societies. ~C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Mary Van Deusen, May 25, 1951
Another job change for me, so posts have been scarce. Apologies!
Everyone has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: ''How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?' -- 'That's my seat, I was there first' -- 'Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm' -- 'Why should you shove in first?' -- 'Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine' -- 'Come on, you promised.' People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.
Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: 'To hell with your standard.' Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.....It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of Fair Play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football. ~C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book I Chapter 1 (1952)
I have never been able to understand why the fact of living in the suburbs should be funny or contemptible. Indeed I have been trying on and off for years to complete a poem which (like so many of my poems) has never got beyond the first two lines--
Who damned suburbia? "I", said Superbia.
[....]It was early evening when my journey began. The train was full, but not yet uncomfortably full, of people going home. It is important to insist--you will see why in a moment--that I was under no illusion about them. If anyone had asked me whether I supposed them to be specially good people or specially happy or specially clever, I should have replied with a perfectly truthful No. I knew quite well that perhaps not ten percent of the homes they were returning to would be free, even for that one night, from ill temper, jealousy, weariness, sorrow or anxiety, and yet--I could not help it--the clicking of all those garden gates, the opening of all those front doors, the unanalysable home smell in all those little halls, the hanging up of all those hats, came over my imagination with all the caress of a half-remembered bit of music. There is an extraordinary charm in other people's domesticities. Every lighted house, seen from the road, is magical: every pram or lawn-mower in someone else's garden: all smells or stirs of cookery from the windows of alien kitchens. ~C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "Hedonics", 1986 (1st published in Time and Tide, 16 June 1945)
All that night and all next day they glided eastward, and when the third day dawned - with a brightness you or I could not bear even if we had dark glasses on - they saw a wonder ahead. It was as if a wall stood up between them and the sky, a greenish-grey, trembling, shimmering wall. Then up came the sun, and at its first rising they saw it through the wall and it turned into wonderful rainbow colours. Then they knew that the wall was really a long, tall wave - a wave endlessly fixed in one place as you may often see at the edge of a waterfall. It seemed to be about thirty feet high, and the current was gliding them swiftly towards it. You might have supposed they would have thought of their danger. They didn't. I don't think anyone could have in their position. For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw - eastward, beyond the sun - was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter of a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full, of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, "It would break your heart." "Why," said I, "was it so sad: " "Sad!! No," said Lucy.
No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan's country.
At that moment, with a crunch, the boat ran aground. The water was too shallow now for it. "This," said Reepicheep, "is where I go on alone."
They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or had happened before. They helped him to lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword ("I shall need it no more," he said) and flung it far away across the Idled sea. Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye trying to be sad for their sakes but he was quivering with happiness. Lucy, for the first and last time, did what she had always wanted to do, taking him in her arms and caressing him. Then hastily he got into his coracle and took his paddle, and the current caught it and away he went, very black against the lilies. But no lilies grew on the wave; it was a smooth green slope. The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave's side. For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep's on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse. But my belief is that he came safe to Aslan's country and is alive there to this day. ~C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 16 (1952)
When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided--in a sense it was decided 'before all worlds'. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.) The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sort of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, 'Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, 'Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?' No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity 'before all worlds'; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time series. ~C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Appendix B (1947)
I am not referring simply to the first few hours, or the first few weeks of the Resurrection. I am talking of this whole huge pattern of descent, down, down, and then up again. What we ordinarily call the Resurrection being just, so to speak, the point at which it turns. Think what that descent is. The coming down, not only into humanity, but into those nine months which precede human birth, in which they tell us we all recapitulate strange pre-human, sub-human forms of life, and going lower still into being a corpse, a thing which, if this acending movement had not begun, would presently have passed out of the organic altgether, and have gone back into the inorganic, as all corpses do. One has a picture of someone going right down and dredging the sea bottom. One has a picture of a strong man trying to lift a very big, complicated burden. He stoops down and gets himself right under it so that he himself disappears; and then he straightens his back and moves off with the whole thing swaying on his shoulders. Or else one has the picture of a diver, stripping off garment after garment, making himself naked, then flashing for a moment in the air, and then down through the green, and warm, and sunlit water into the pitch black, cold, freezing water, down into the mud and slime, then up again, his lungs almost bursting, back again to the green and warm and sunlit water, and then at last out into the sunshine, holding in his hand the dripping thing he went down to get. This thing is human nature; but, associated with it, all nature, the new universe. ~C.S. Lewis, "The Grand Miracle", God in the Dock (1st preached by Lewis in St. Jude on the Hill Church, London, and afterwards published in The Guardian on April 27, 1945)
In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. At this moment, for example, I am trying to understand something very abstract indeed--the fading, vanishing of tasted reality as we try to grasp it with the discursive reason. Probably I have made heavy weather of it. But if I remind you, instead, of Orpheus and Eurydice, how he turned round to look at her, she disappeared, what was merely a principle becomes imaginable. You may reply that you never till this moment attached that 'meaning' to that myth. Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract 'meaning' at all. If that was what you were doing the myth would be for you no true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what you were tasting turns out to be a universal principle. In the moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely. ~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Part I, Chapter 5 (1st published in World Dominion, Vol XXII 1944)
"Do you not see, Master," said the Fox, "that the Priest is talking nonsense? A shadow is to be an animal which is also a goddess which is also a god, and loving is to be eating--a child of six would talk more sense. And a moment ago the victim of this abominable sacrifice was to be the Accursed, the wickedest person in the whole land, offered as a punishment. And now it is to be the best person in the whole land--the perfect victim--married to the god as a reward. As him which he means. It can't be both."
If any hope had put up its head within me when the Fox began, it was killed. This sort of talk could do no good. I knew what had happened to the Fox; he had forgotten all his wiles, even, in a way, his love and fears for Psyche, simply because such things as the Priest had been saying put him beyond all patience. ~C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, Chapter 5 (1956)
Moved by a desire to change the subject, I asked why the Solid People, since they were full of love, did not go down into Hell to rescue the Ghosts. Why were they content simply to meet them on the plain? One would have expected a more militant charity.
'Ye will understand that better, perhaps before ye go,' said he. 'In the meantime, I must tell ye they have come further for the sake of the Ghosts than ye can understand. Every one of us lives only to journey further and further into the mountains. Every one of us has interrupted that journey and retraced immeasurable distances to come down today on the mere chance of saving some Ghost. Of course it is also joy to do so, but ye cannot blame us for that! And it would be no use to come further even if it were possible. The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen.'
'But what of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus at all?'
'Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.' ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Chapter 9 (1946)
Thursday 27 March, 1924-I went eastward and had almost begun to despair of ever escaping the residential streets beyond Dial Hill when suddenly as in a vision the whole thing, so to speak, fell to pieces before me. Ahead was a smooth grassed down with a ruined castle on top - Walton Castle they call it. To my right was a long level bank of a wooded hill with a sudden sheer gorge through whose V shape I could see the inland country, flat as a table and blue with distance. I scrambled up the green hill to my left, which is occupied by a golf links and open to all men: that is the one good thing I know of golfers, that they keep stretches of fine country from being spoiled.
After a stiff climb over spongy, rabbitty grass with grey stone showing through here and there, I reached the castle. Its appearance and position are more like a boy's dream of a mediaeval castle than anything I have ever seen. After I had walked all over the shaved turf of the courtyard and been into the roofless keep and watched the clouds hurrying across the circle of open sky at the top, I came out into the wind again and continued my walk on a path which runs along the very top of this long hill, so that I had a good view of the valleys on each side...
Then by road to my left till I struck the coast and began coming homewards across fields that sloped down through gorse to the water's edge. [...] I ran down nearly to the rocks and sat down for a moment amid the gorse. I was out of the wind. The sun grew hot. A big tramp [steamer] was anchored just below me. I have seldom had a better moment... ~C.S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922 - 1927, edited by Walter Hooper (1991)
If the Moral Law was one of our instincts, we ought to be able to point to some one impulse inside us which was always what we call 'good,' always in agreement with the rule of right behaviour. But you cannot. There is none of our impulses which the Moral Law may not sometimes tell us to suppress, and none which it may not sometimes tell us to encourage. It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses--say mother love or patriotism--are good, and others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad. All we mean is that the occasions on which the fighting instinct or the sexual desire need to be restrained are rather more frequent than those for restraining mother love or patriotism. But there are situations in which it is the duty of a married man to encourage his sexual impulse and of a soldier to encourage the fighting instinct. There are also occasions on which a mother's love for her own children or a man's love for his own country have to be suppressed or they will lead to unfairness towards other people's children or countries. Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the 'right' notes and the 'wrong' ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 2 (1952)
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