I am finally writing about C.S. Lewis, but not about him in a way that I initially expected. Several years ago on this blog, I made a list of all of the interesting people that I would have liked (or would like) to meet. I’ve posted in the past about Madeline L’Engle, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Bono, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Antoni Gaudi. I’m slowly making my way through the list.
You probably know C.S. Lewis as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series. What you may not know is that he is a very respected Christian writer and thinker. Lewis was an Irish immigrant to England as a boy, who described himself from the age of 15 as an atheist who was “very angry with God for not existing.” Later in life, Lewis held prestigious titles at Oxford and Cambridge as an expert on medieval and renaissance literature, and he was a person who was fascinated by language, mythology, poetry, literature, theology, and by life in general.
As a middle-aged man, Lewis weighed evidence for God and Christianity seriously with the encouragement of friends like J.R.R. Tolkien and a group of intellectuals, writers and friends known as “The Inklings.” He describes himself as coming to Christianity like a prodigal, even to the last moment “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.” Lewis eventually became one of the most respected Christian thinkers of the 20th century. His book “Mere Christianity” is still highly relevant for people interested in taking a serious look at the philosophical reasons and personal implications for Christianity.
I often find myself wishing I could have met Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings, or at least have been a fly on the wall in their favorite pub where they discussed life, literature, and theology. The fictional stories that came out of that group took us to Narnia, Middle Earth, and to other planets. I’m incredibly jealous of their imaginations, their knowledge and interest in so many subjects, and their ability to weave those stories together in a way to bring all of those things together. What a wonder it would have been to know them.
However, my real reason for posting about Lewis is that I just finished reading a small memoir he wrote called “A Grief Observed.” I don’t really know what possessed me to pick it up and read it, but afterward I ended up feeling like I had actually met and known him. The book is really not a book, but rather more like an intimate journal that he kept after the death of his wife to chronicle his struggle with grief. I admit that I cried through whole sections of it – it’s raw, personal, uncomfortable and incredibly honest. You get the feeling he didn’t go back and edit it to try to make it easier for the reader, but in a way, it’s exactly the kind of difficult thing that all of us need to hear. We need to hear that everybody struggles with faith and grief, even someone like C.S. Lewis.
This book forces it’s application on us: by offering a glimpse into the real suffering and grief of someone else, we are reminded that we don’t experience these things as our own island, but that grief and suffering are very real, universal human experiences. The reality is that everyone is confused and confronted by grief and sadness at one time or another – there is no shaman, magic pill, or remedy in the world that can cure it. Christ himself knew grief in a way that I can’t begin to imagine – he was overwhelmed by grief in the garden before his crucifixion, “to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
Through A Grief Observed is at times difficult to read, at the end of the day I am so glad that he put his suffering to paper in this way. Lewis reminds us that the reality of this life is that we live in a messed up world where we can see glimpses of heaven, but at the same time, glimpses of hell. Grief is a real and tangible struggle that exists because we live in between.