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THE SOUL OF C.S. LEWISA Meditative Journey through Twenty-Six of His Best-Loved
By WAYNE MARTINDALE JERRY ROOT LINDA WASHINGTON
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2010 The Livingstone Corporation
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Chapter OneThe Pilgrim's Regress
The first book Lewis wrote after his conversion to Christianity was The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. Lewis believed that the first problem in life is trying to fit reason and romantic longing together; that is, to fit the deepest aspirations of the heart with intellectual rigor. As a young man, Lewis believed that Christianity could not reconcile these competing parts of his life. In 1926 he published Dymer, a narrative poem featuring a young man questing for the Real. His pilgrimage ends in tragedy. Even so, the questions that permeate this earlier work are also present in The Pilgrim's Regress, but in the latter Lewis was able to supply the answers he was beginning to find in his newly acquired Christian faith.
The Pilgrim's Regress is the story of a young boy named John, who is raised in a city called Puritania. The religion of his world is dominated by pretenses, superstitions, inconsistencies, and legalisms. One day John has a vision of an island far, far away. This vision awakens in his heart a deep sense of longing, which he thinks is for the island. In time John will learn that the object of this desire, though awakened by the island, is actually for something much greater. So he sets out on a quest to find his heart's desire.
The route he takes on his quest has mountains to the north: these mountains represent reason. To the south are swamps representing romanticism. John finds himself continually off track, drifting toward a rationalism that denies his heart's longing or else a romanticism that slips into swamps of subjectivism and sentimentality. It is not until he encounters a hermit who represents history that he is able to sort out his longings. And it is not until he encounters Mother Kirk, who represents the church, that he is finally able to reconcile his reason with his longing. In seeking the object of his desire, John works through what Lewis called the dialectic of desire. This refers to a process of tethering the heart to some object expecting fulfillment from it only to be disappointed, then moving on to some other object and further disappointment. So, too, John tethers his heart to objects that only disappoint in the end. He longs for something greater than these objects, which can do little more than merely awaken his desire.
After his own conversion, Lewis noted that if we sense a desire that no earthly object can satisfy, that does not prove the world a fraud. Perhaps the things in this life only awaken the desire and set us on a pilgrimage till the true object of our deepest longing, which is God, is finally found. Lewis called this longing joy.
This book, Lewis's only allegory, is his first explicitly Christian book. It is also his first attempt at Christian apologetics, and it's worth noting that he uses fiction to make his point. Fiction was always part of Lewis's rhetoric when it came to apologetics. He knew that some things are more likely to be grasped with the imagination, and he wrote with this kind of appeal. Finally, it is important to remember that much, though not all, of The Pilgrim's Regress is autobiographical.
1 It seemed to him that a mist which hung at the far end of the wood had parted for a moment, and through the rift he had seen a calm sea, and in the sea an island. BOOK ONE, SEC. II, p. 8
The protagonist of The Pilgrim's Regress is a young man named John, who finds himself on a pilgrim quest. He has seen a vision of an island, and it set his heart to longing. But as we go on to learn, he only thinks it is the island that is the object of his desire, when in fact he longs for something far more important. Because the island became the occasion of his heart's awakening, it takes on special significance for him.
Longing is one of the most important of Lewis's themes. Its importance is not acknowledged merely because of the frequency with which Lewis writes about it but also because it speaks of something deep inside every man, woman, and child. Augustine observed that God made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.
John's island stands for countless other possibilities. Lewis's reference to mists parting and to the revelation of the island is significant. Things may often go unnoticed until an almost mystical moment when they appear to us with utmost clarity. And with the clarity comes an awareness of realities beyond our reach. Anything might awaken longing in us, and it is easy to deceive ourselves that the thing that awakens desire is actually the thing desired. In fact, the things that teach our hearts to ache with longing are, by virtue of their mutability-their temporariness-unable to sustain the longing they awaken. These things are given to woo us to God, not to serve as replacements for God. They are things that moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (see Matthew 6:19-20). Only God, the great lover of our souls, can satisfy us forever. Only God can awaken our hearts to long for him, and only in him will we not be disappointed. First loves, distant lands, dreams of the future-earthly objects will often raise expectations that they cannot satisfy. Only God has the capacity to satisfy forever.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. PSALM 16:11
2 You say that because you are a Puritanian.... You say that because you are a sensualist.... You say that because you are a mathematician. BOOK THREE, SEC. V III, P. 50
There is a common manner of speaking that should be characteristic of any sincere Christian: refusing to take the ideas of others seriously, choosing to dismiss others and calling them names rather than considering the content of their speech or the substance of their ideas. Lewis was particularly attuned to this problem and refuted it wherever he encountered it.
Who, after all, can really claim to know very much? Considering the number of books available in any given bookstore and the magnitude of information stored in those books, who could ever claim to be familiar with even a very small amount of this material? And considering how little any of us know, it is irresponsible to dismiss other people and relegate their ideas to mere categorization by names such as Puritan, Sensualist, Liberal, or Conservative. We must first hear someone's point of view and understand it. Then, if we disagree, we should use well-crafted arguments to show exactly why we disagree. If we cannot do this, we should simply remain quiet until we've learned enough to speak intelligently.
We are often too quick to dismiss those whose ideas are different from our own. Perhaps we lack the life skills necessary to listen patiently to the ideas of others. Perhaps we have not yet learned to treat all who are made in the image of God with the dignity that is due them. Perhaps we neglect to cultivate the kind of rigorous thinking necessary to engage in a fair-minded, lively debate. Nevertheless, an inability to hear and engage well with dissenting voices will guarantee that we stay stuck in our prejudices.
All Christians should be quick to acknowledge that we are pilgrims on this earth together-and nothing is more stifling to pilgrim longing than holding fast to one's prejudices. If we are sojourners, it is good for us to discover a world wider than our own experiences. If our views do not stand up to scrutiny, our position is not strengthened by simply calling those we disagree with unkind names. If our point of view is capable of standing up to those of others, we must begin by listening to what others say and then answer them with both reason and patience.
It is in honest debate, rather than name-calling, that we can measure the strength of our beliefs. Paul wisely warned Timothy to avoid contentiousness, through gentleness and consideration for everyone. Rather than prejudice and unfair judgment of others, let us embrace honest engagement with others and so allow the confidence of our own faith to grow.
They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. TITUS 3:2
3 "I would strongly advise you to take this turn...." "Where does it go to?" asked John suspiciously. "It takes you back to the main road," said Reason. BOOK FOUR, SEC. IV, P. 65
John's quest to find the island he has seen in a vision will actually turn out to be a pilgrimage to God, for the island has awakened in him a desire that cannot be fulfilled by any earthly object. Such objects can awaken this unquenchable desire; only God can satisfy it.
The journey takes John along a path with mountains to the north, which represent Reason, and swamps to the south, which represent Romanticism-a symbolic polarization reflecting Lewis's belief that the first problem in life is to find concord between the head and the heart. Often, John gets off track. If he vectors toward the mountains, he finds Reason rigid and lacking heart, and he drifts toward legalism. If he vectors toward the swamps, his heart drifts to sentimentalism and sensuality. He must stick to the main road in order to satisfy his deepest desire.
Lewis is making the point that John's story is the story of every man and woman. As the old hymn observes, each of us is "prone to wander." Our reason may fail us and our hearts lead us astray. Each of us can drift toward one of those forms of rationalization that become self-referential-a tendency to interpret all life from one's own perspective.
But to create one's own sense of reality, to spin justifications from ourselves, is to live like a spider within its web, using others and justifying our bad behavior. On the other hand, drifting toward heartfelt impulses that are unresponsive to good sense can also lead to self-referential behaviors that, in the end, hurt us or those around us.
When we vector away from God and lose our pilgrim way, we must find our way back. Confession of wrongdoing and a cry for mercy are always appropriate at such times to put us back on track. God loves us and wants us to come to him, to follow him with constancy. He knows the tendencies of our hearts to drift and our reason to rationalize. Even so, he seeks to woo us back to him.
If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 JOHN 1:9
4 There has been this gorge, which the country people call the Grand Canyon. But in my language its name is Peccatum Adae. BOOK FIVE, SEC. II, P. 74
While John is on his pilgrimage, he learns of a great chasm that separates man from God. He is told that this chasm is called Peccatum Adae, which means "Sin of Adam." This is a reference to the first sin-in other words, what some call the doctrine of original sin, which asserts that somehow, by virtue of the first sin ever committed, the whole human race is infected.
Some have wrongly assumed that the doctrine is an attempt to blame all men and women for the act of someone who lived a long, long time ago. Nothing can be further from the truth. If you are struggling with this idea, simply try to live a perfect life. Therein lies the problem: no one can live a perfect life. We all make mistakes; we all live inconsistently with our own convictions. The doctrine of original sin is one established not so much to project universal blame as to explain a universal phenomenon: that each of us tends to live in a manner that is inconsistent and troubling.
As G. K. Chesterton observed in his book Orthodoxy, this is the only theological doctrine that is empirically verifiable. In other words, history is full of examples. Perennial wars, genocides, human slave trafficking, corporate greediness, political abuse, and powermongering all testify to the unsavory truth that something has gone wrong with the species called humankind. But, though the pages of history are useful in showing examples of sin and regrettable acts, looking there may keep the idea of sin remote. In fact, an honest appraisal of our own hearts should be enough to supply plenty of evidence.
The doctrine of original sin is only man's errant brushstroke across a wider canvas of God's goodness and grace. Furthermore, God did not leave humanity marooned in its predicament. After all, awareness of one's deep need to have mended what is broken inside is also an incentive for a pilgrim age. In Lewis's allegory, John ultimately finds grace. So, too, we can find grace in Christ.
Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 1 CORINTHIANS 15:22
5 All prayers always, taken at their word, blaspheme, Invoking with frail imageries a folk-lore dream.... Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense, but in thy great, Unbroken speech our halting metaphor translate. BOOK EIGHT, SEC. IV, P. 139
No matter what we think about God, he is bigger and better than our biggest and best thoughts about him. This is a constant theme in Lewis's writings, and it is an important one for the Christian pilgrim to keep in mind. After hearing a sermon or reading a book or after deep conversations with friends, we may understand something about God we did not understand before. Pieces of the puzzle come together and our vision of God may expand significantly. Nevertheless, if we hold on to this vision of God too tightly, it will compete against a growing understanding: the image once helpful becomes an idol because God is far bigger than our best thoughts about him.
This idea of pursuing God as he is rather than how one might want him to be is one that appears often in literary history. Baron von Hügel, a philosopher of religion, wrote about levels of clarity, warning, "Beware of the first clarity; press on to the second clarity." Similarly, Robert Browning wrote, "Then welcome each rebuff that turns earth's smoothness rough." When we think we have everything figured out, our conception of the world is nice and smooth and round. But the world is not smooth; it has texture and complexity, peaks and valleys. As Augustine wrote, "The house of my soul is too small. Enlarge it, Lord, that you might enter in." And Stephen, accused of speaking against the Jerusalem Temple, told his accusers they could never contain God in a box. Like Stephen, Lewis also understood that God is big; he is always kicking out the walls of temples we build for him because he wants to give us more of himself.
God is greater than our best thoughts of him, than our best prayers. Lewis recognizes in this fact a source of encouragement to the spiritual pilgrim: no matter how far beneath God our best thoughts of him, no matter how feeble our prayers, he still accepts us and receives to himself those very thoughts and prayers, accepting us as we are.
"Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that?" asks the Lord. "Could you build me such a resting place? Didn't my hands make both heaven and earth?" ACTS 7:49-50
6 [T]here sat a hermit whose name was history. BOOK EIGHT, SEC. V II, P. 143
The word allegory comes from two Greek words: allos, which means "another of a same kind," and agora, which means "marketplace." This is where, for example, we get the word agoraphobia: fear of the marketplace. The book of Acts makes it clear that the apostle Paul's pattern when coming to a city was to preach first in the synagogue and then in the agora. So, taking the two words together, an allegory is a story configured in such a way that one thing is told in a different "marketplace." It provides a fresh way of looking at something and permits some things to be seen that might be missed if seen only from an old, familiar way.
Excerpted from THE SOUL OF C.S. LEWIS by WAYNE MARTINDALE JERRY ROOT LINDA WASHINGTON Copyright © 2010 by The Livingstone Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
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