|Statue of CS Lewis - photo by GeeJo|
My great teacher died 50 years ago today.
My first experience of CS Lewis was from the poorly animated cartoon movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Made on the cheap, it does not hold up to most adult standards. But as a boy, I was transfixed.
When I was young I didn't just want to learn about knights and magic and adventures. I wanted to believe that we could travel to a magical world and experience those things directly. That cartoon showed me a world I wanted to explore: Narnia. And it was not far away. The walls between the worlds were thin. I watched that movie every chance I got when it was on TV.
Then I discovered that it was based on a book. And not only that, it was only the first book in a series of 7 books. The Chronicles of Narnia represent not only some of the most important reading in my life, but they also represent some of the most joyous. I loved Narnia. I loved Aslan and the Pevensies. I remember always going to the back of my school library where the books were filed. I always made sure that they were in the proper order. I also pushed them back in the stack so that they were different than all the other books around them. It seemed as though I was the only one who read them, like they were my secret, hidden treasure.
It took me longer to get through them than perhaps it should have. I remember finishing The Last Battle at my mother's apartment just as it was beginning to really sink in that my parents' marriage was truly over. Lewis gave me an escape. He brought me into a world that was not drab and depressing. It was not a place where love ended, but instead love never ended in Narnia.
The stories you read as a kid shape how you look at the world. Lewis' strong emphasis on honor and friendship, courage and faith forged those ideals in my life. I have not always lived up to them, but their value has always been iron-clad because of Lewis.
As I grew up I moved on to more sophisticated writers like JRR Tolkien and his wonderful sagas in Middle-Earth. It gave me no small amount of pleasure to learn that Lewis and Tolkien were close friends. It seemed as though my books were keeping good, accommodating company with each other.
But it wasn't until my conversion that I learned about Lewis' Christian writings. To be sure The Chronicles of Narnia are Christian. But his books of apologetics are a true marvel to behold. Whenever someone has questions on the faith, I almost always turn them to CS Lewis. He had such a natural gift for taking some of the most mysterious elements of the faith and putting them in a new light with amazing clarity.
His take on Trinity is one of my favorites. He not only agreed that God is Trinity, but God MUST be Trinity. Why? Because God is love. And in order for there to be love, there must be at least one other Person. And God's love is so powerful that this love must be alive as well. Hence the Trinity is not just a fancy mystery, it is a metaphysical necessity.
I particularly love the way he twists the questions I would bring back onto myself. "Why does God let me suffer needlessly?" Lewis made me question if my suffering really was needless. Maybe God was allowing me to suffer so that I could grow.
His fictions also continued to bring forth new insights into life. The beautiful words from Perelandra fill me with joy and hope. If you ever want to get a sense of what masculinity and femininity are in essense, read the last chapters of Perlenadra. He makes you feel how every part of the universe is significant and every part is part of the plan.
His own favorite work was Till We Have Faces. It took me years to get through this book. It is not long, but I would start it and only get a few dozen pages in before I would stop and put it down for a few years. I didn't get it. Finally I resolved to finish the whole thing and I cannot overemphasize what a feat this book is. It resolves this question: if God has the power to show us He is real, why doesn't He just do it? Why does He make us rely on faith when He could simply show us Who He is? If you've ever struggled with this, read this book and it will resolve it for you.
I have consumed what I can of Lewis' wisdom. He has been more influential on me than most writers I have read combined. He is the most Catholic non-Catholic writer I have encountered. Over the years he has taught me so much about my faith in this life and my destiny in the next.
And I have grown a deep and abiding affection for him. As a Catholic I believe in the communion of saints, and so I pray to CS Lewis every day. Though he was not Catholic, I would find it very difficult to imagine heaven without one of its true defenders. I ask him daily to pray for me, so that I might have wisdom like his so that I can teach the faith as effectively as he did.
Aslan once said, "Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia." Lewis was never truly at home in this world. He was always a Narnian.
And 50 years ago today he went off to the real Narnia, the true Narnia, where he can take up his Kingly Narnian crown.