Planets, Beginnings, and Church Bells. A Short Farewell to 2012…

Tonight the sun sets on 2012.  This blog has been quiet for a while, perhaps for good reason.  It has been a time of breathing in, of quieting the mind, or in all honesty, just the mere attempt to do so.  Other times have been a mere running away from the Hound of Heaven, who thankfully still nips at my heels and will easily overtake me.

c-s-lewis-space-trilogy

How wonderful to end the year by finally completing Lewis’s Space Trilogy.  The order read was unorthodox: That Hideous Strength (meant to be the last in the trilogy) then Out of the Silent Planet, then Perelandra.  Yet I’m glad I got to Perelandra last, indeed even finishing the book tonight, as the final pages hold a wonderful meditation on endings and beginnings:

“And what after this, Tor-Oyarsa?” said Malacandra.

“Then it is Maleldil’s purpose to make us free of Deep Heaven.  Our bodies will be changed, but not all changed.  We shall be as the eldila, but not all as eldila.  And so will all our sons and daughters be changed in the time of this ripeness until the number is made up which Maleldil read His Father’s mind before times flowed.”

“And that,” said Ransom, “will be the end?”

Tor the King stared at him.

“The end?”  he said.  “Who spoke of an end?”

“The end of your world, I mean,” said Ransom.

“Splendour of Heaven!” said Tor.  “Your thoughts are unlike ours.  About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things.”

Most of this conversation takes place on Perelandra, or Venus.  Ransom is the only “earthling.”  Even given the sights of this amazing world, and what he has endured (read the book!), he still falls back on an ignorance of Time, or as in the next couple pages Tor says “talk[ing] of evenings before the day has dawned.”

I still have pages yet to read until the clock strikes twelve.  So I’ll leave you with a link to a poem by Malcolm Guite from his book Sound the Seasons, “Ringing in the New Year.”  I wish you peace and goodwill in the New Year.

church-bell-ringing

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Happy Birthday, Jack! (CS Lewis Born Today, Nov 29th, in 1898)

CS Lewis has had more of an impact on my life than any other writer.  So I raise a pint to Jack (as he desired to be called by) and give a hearty “here, here!” to this amazing writer.  And why?  I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the thoughts remain the same.   Perhaps this sums it up, at least for me.

After a number of years intently reading Lewis’s works, it is still hard for me to articulate the impact this author has had on my life and faith.  There’s a hearty handshake and an offer to sit with him with a pint, and after a bit of conversation, and some anxious questioning on my part he jumps up and says “Let me show you something,” and leads me out the door to show me the landscape of faith, with its towering mountains, leafy glades, and roaring seas.  We go hiking, swimming, climbing- and he knows or has struggled with every root in the path, every crested wave, and scrambled to find every foothold.  And the best part is after a day’s journey finding an out of the way pub, where we sit and he pontificates on the sheer joy of the landscape and breathing the fresh air.  He is not there to revel in the obscurity of it all, but the remarkable clarity of all things.

Coming across Puddleglum’s assertion to “Live like a Narnian,” in The Silver Chair, the peeling off of Eustace’s dragon skin in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wormwood losing his patient in The Screwtape Letters, longing for the irrigating of deserts in The Abolition of Man, tin soldiers becoming New Men in Mere Christianity, and impatient chargers stamping their hooves inMiracles, and Aslan’s roar throughout…there is much much more, but these images and situations have resonated within me, urging my soul to look up instead of down.  Lewis allows the world to become larger because he sees the eternal beyond it.  Not many writers do that nowadays.  Lewis still does.  And I say still not in the sense that he is still here among us, but in that larger sense a good writer attains when his/her work is around long after they have passed.

Back from Narnia

“Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

A place of safety and retreat for me is where I am sitting right now- in the armchair of my library, either reading, or writing, with a big fat mug of coffee or a glass of wine or pint of ale.   My books stand comfortably at their posts on the shelves behind me, and a few of those jolly souls occupy an honored spot of distinction on the end table beside me, a few dog-eared and well worn, others fresh from the field and awaiting perusal.

Many of these books are by or about CS Lewis.  Over the past few years, his books have been the pebble in the pond, sending ripples out to other books, other authors, living and dead, past and present, which now grace my shelves.  Lewis has been that particular member of the communion of saints who has opened door after door after door, engaging me, challenging me, until I learn more about myself as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I have found others in my own situation.  I registered for the CS Lewis Retreat held in Navasota, TX early, knowing that it would be smack dab in the middle of a busy 1st quarter teaching my rambunctious seniors, but feeling it was high time to engage in person with authors I had only known in black and white thus far, and a hazy coterie of folks who had been touched by Lewis and I knew were out there somewhere and not just on WordPress and Blogger.  Who were the faces behind the fingers tapping at those keyboards?

“So how did you get into Lewis?” Andrew Lazo asked me as I found a seat in the lobby at Camp Allen Retreat Center in Navasota Texas.

I waxed semi-lyrically a rather incoherent reply.

Andrew seemed to get the gist.  And he must have also seen an undercurrent of pleading in my voice and eyes, as in “Did I make the right decision to take a plane and come here?  I’m not here with anybody.  There just seemed to be this necessary pull to…to trust that it wouldn’t be a waste of ti–…”

“Well, it’s great to have you here.  You’re home, my friend.  Welcome home.”

And that was pretty much the whole retreat, folks.  Just one interaction with “home” after another.  Further up and further in.

The primary focus of the retreat centered on Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an allegorical novel about a purgatorial bus ride to the lowlands of Heaven.  Speakers such as Joseph Pearce and Louis Markos expounded on the novel and its understanding of the true nature of sin and its application for us today, especially as (as many were in the audience) writers, teachers, and scholars.  A writer’s track featured Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: Lewis and Tolkien as Writers in Community.  Using Lewis and Tolkien as models, she explained differences and writing styles and importance of recognizing our own styles and playing to their tune instead of the ideal tune we wish to fit ourselves into.  I had the good fortune of arriving early on Thursday and getting to know Diana and her 10 year old daughter Sierra.  Sierra was mid way through a novel with an unmistakable cover which immediately identified the author for me: The Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques, the famous creator of the Redwall series.  So we ended up having a wonderful discussion about hares, squirrels, mice, otters, and the difficulty of mastering mole speech (as in “Burr-oi, soir, oim gurtly afurred of villy-ans.”).  Lancia Smith led a hosted group focusing on CS Lewis and our approach to prayer which was revealing and refreshing.

A highlight for me was Bag End Café, led by Andrew as a sort of open mic night for the retreatants.  Original poetry was read, songs were sung, music was played, and if the cookies and other assorted goodies, as well as the wine and beer, didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in the Green Dragon, I don’t know what else would have.  A few of us continued to burn the midnight oil when others had left, leading to a few more hours of horrible punnery, bad jokes, and multiple toasts to whoever and whatever.

Friends were made quickly and permanently.  A woman named Lani and I shared our stories over coffee.  Lani was friends with Lancia, who introduced me to William, who sat at lunch with Kathleen who pulled me into a fascinating conversation about cathedral architecture with Steve, which resonated with Katie, who introduced me to Thomas, and then there was that great conversation with Crystal, and …you get the picture.  Everywhere and anywhere, conversations abounded and fed our hearts, minds, and spirits.

The Ad Deum Dance Troupe lent movement to many emotions and insights unvoiced in a beautiful performance which made me forget the pain in my knee and just revel in unspoken story.

Thus, after a full weekend of almost too many expectations fulfilled, it was time to say goodbye.  Stan Mattson, president of the CS Lewis Foundation (and may I take this opportunity to just rename him King Frank, as humble, forthright, and good-natured as that character was in The Magician’s Nephew?) led us in an old folk song entitled “Will Ye No Come Back Again,” a fitting, quite emotional end to our time together as our voices (including my reedy tenor) intermingled with a sense of true fellowship and completeness.

I left with a heart a thousand times lighter, with grace and a sense of purpose I haven’t known for a long while.  And with, as the theme of the retreat indicated, a sense of eternity, in the here and now.

Screwtape Letters and The Hobbit

Screwtape advises Wormwood on the modern human mind and how it differs from those of the past in Letter One:

 “At that time the humans…still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.  But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that.  Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.

So how does Bilbo Baggins factor into this?  Well, CS Lewis did dedicate the book to JRR Tolkien when it was first published in the 1940s.  But aside from that…

Malcolm Guite writes in a recent post about running to catch his plane:  “I was obliged to pass through all kinds of searches and high security electronica at various airports. Now I had forgotten I would have to do this and had set off on the adventure, like a certain middle aged hobbit before me, without so much as a pocket handkerchief, but with the usual assortment of bits and pieces in the pockets of the trousers, waistcoat, and old tweed jacket I happened to be wearing when… I dashed for the plane.”

Guite happens to have in his pockets an assortment of pipes and pipe cleaning devices, which render a bit of concern to the security folks.  To Guite, it was a perfect time to reflect on Gollum’s question to Bilbo in The Hobbit (“What has it got…”) and GK Chesterton’s famous essay “What I Found in my Pocket.”  GKC ponders on each sundry item and the eternal possibilities of each.  At the top of the post, he shows a picture of Bilbo running to join the dwarves from Peter Jackson’s upcoming movie.

Having read his post, and thinking about this first post about the Screwtape Letters, I realized that Bilbo had, prior to his mad dash and through the encouragement of Gandalf, been moved into a course of action by a chain of reasoning which would alter his life forever, even if he wasn’t cognizant, and even hostile, to the reasoning and action initially.  Therefore an undercurrent of Screwtape’s first letter exists in Bilbo’s transition.   I argue that this wasn’t purely rational, but more of a poetic reasoning, bordering on instinct, which stirred the deepest core of his being.

We read at the beginning of the Hobbit that Bilbo thinks adventures as “nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things.”  Yet Tolkien takes some time to relate Bilbo’s ancestry, and that deep in Bilbo’s bones there perhaps lay a bit of “Tookishness,”waiting to emerge.  Gandalf, apparently, sees this in Bilbo, and has arranged, without Bilbo’s consent, to have him as part of an adventure with 13 other dwarves.

If this new course of action is to take place, something which would bind Bilbo to his prior action must be forfeit.  Bilbo’s sedentary life revolves around comfort and food.  Thus, when the “throng” of dwarves arrive,” they proceed, quite rightly in this sense, to eat Bilbo out of house and home.  They demand Raspberry jam and apple-tart, mince-pies and cheese, porkpie and salad, red wine, eggs, coffee, cakes, ale. When Gandalf calls out to him to just “bring out the cold chicken and pickles,   Bilbo states “’ [He] Seems to know as much about the inside of my larders as I do myself!’ thought Mr. Baggins, who was feeling positively flummoxed, and was beginning to wonder whether a most wretched adventure had not come right into his house.”

Which it had, of course, but before Bilbo can even consider going on said adventure, the food supplies of his comfortable home are rapidly depleted.  It is almost as though Gandalf is subtly setting up a transition from the comfortable and ample provisions of dear old Hobbiton, to meals which “didn’t come as often as  Bilbo would have liked them (Ch. 2).”

The plainly physical obstacle or desire removed, Bilbo then experiences a poetic epiphany which showcases Bilbo’s change of path and reasoning.  He hears of strange and wondrous things as the dwarves begin to tell of past adventures:

“As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up–probably lighting a wood-fire–and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

He got up trembling.  He had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away.”

I love that last part.  Here the core of his being is stirred to new heights, and he wants to hide.  But the spell has been cast: he is looking at things in a new way.  Far from “a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing around in his head, (Screwtape)” Bilbo experiences clearly a single focused desire far beyond his humble hobbit home, seeing, perhaps for the first time in his mind’s eye, caves, mountains, waterfalls, and dragons.  There is poetic reckoning here.

And in the end, after a bit of a freak-out (“Lightning, Lightning!”) and some negotiation via his “business manner,” off Bilbo goes, albeit late, to join Thorin and the dwarf party.

“To the end of his days Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking stick or any money, or anything that he usually took when he went out; leaving his second breakfast half-finished and quite unwashed-up, pushing his keys into Gandalf’s hands, and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him down the lane, past the great Mill, across The Water, and then on for a mile or more.”

But we as readers recognize and remember, however, for we too join Bilbo on his adventure, just waiting for that narrative moment when he finally agrees, and the story may truly begin.

What a contrast from Screwtape’s patient, the “sound atheist,” which he uses as an example to Wormwood to point out the necessity of keeping people mired in “real” life, a life devoid of an untold myriad of potentialities!

“I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defense by argument, I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch.”

Screwtape’s patient is unable, or unwilling to “believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before [his] eyes.” Screwtape shows him a newsboy selling the paper, and a bus passing by, and convinces his patient of remaining sedentary in his comfortable “real life.” His life remains ordinary, and ultimately, ignorant.

What might have happened, someone may posit, if Bilbo had decided not to go?

No story.  No adventure.  No stirring of the Tookish poetic inside his soul.

And what of us?  What incompatible philosophies and distractions do we allow to dance about in our heads?  I declare myself the worst of this lot.  Whether thinking about the next errand, mucking about online, worrying and fretting about minor things, letting my mind drift during conversations instead of being in the moment, the willingness to turn on the TV and allow wave after wave of insignificant advertisements and talking head point of views interrupt whatever peace of mind and sense of adventure the Lord desperately desires to plant in my soul.  And then I wonder why I am so stressed out.

Rather, with Grace offered, let me listen to the possible Took inside me, who so often looks out the window onto a glorious day and sighs, citing responsibilities and restrictions and distractions rather than immersing in contemplation, and the possible adventure which lies ahead.

Devils Among Us

   I’ve long held The Screwtape Letters as my favorite book by C.S. Lewis.  Originally a serial run in The Guardian in the early 1940s, it was published as a novel in 1942.  Lewis writes 31 letters in the guise of Screwtape, a senior demon in the “lower-archy” of Hell to a junior tempter, his nephew Wormwood.  Screwtape instructs his pupil on the cleverest and most effective tools of temptation to lure a “patient” (unnamed) into the house of “Our Father Below,” where the soul of the young man may be devoured.  It is a brilliant bit of satire which is ultimately a twisted, penetrating insight into human nature.

In his inimitable way, Lewis uses Screwtape to clear the chaff off misrepresentations of the Christian faith, both from within the faith and from modern secular notions of religion and spirituality.  There is an edge to Lewis’s writing in this text which he uses to drive his points home rather bluntly which in other books, such as Mere Christianity or Chronicles of Narnia, he tempers with more charity.  Indeed, this seemed to have an effect on him, for he states that The Screwtape Letters were the hardest for him to write:

Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment . . . though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded.

One approaches modern adaptations of great works, especially those near and dear to the heart, with some amount of trepidation, and The Screwtape Letters are no exception.  However, the following mentioned have preserved the tone and intelligence of Lewis’s writing, provide a good homage to Jack’s work, and are a whole lot of fun to enjoy in their own right:

Focus on the Family: The Screwtape Letters Dramatization with Full Cast, starring Andy Serkis as Screwtape.

I’m really having fun with this one at the moment.  The creativity put into this production is staggering.  The Letters are primarily acted out as dialogue between Screwtape and Wormwood, and incorporate recreations of situational examples Lewis put into the text.  Wormwood gets a speaking role here, as do other demons such as Slumtrimpet and Toadpipe.  We hear the patient, here named John Hamilton, engaged in his spiritual struggles, often with Screwtape and Wormwood making commentary, almost like a sporting event.  What the drama adds to The Screwtape Letters is just that: drama.  There is a compressed sense of urgency given to the work as a whole, with the listener eager for the climax- will Wormwood succeed or not?

The highlight of the work is Andy Serkis’s portrayal of Screwtape.  There is a gruff swagger to his voice, a chilling, calculated bravado with bears witness to many successes in his career.  The very way Serkis breathes enhances his character and message.  Like his work in Lord of the Rings as Gollum, hearing Serkis’s vocals is like watching a physical feat mastered by a gymnast.

The Screwtape Letters starring Max Mclean, an FPA Theater Production

I will catch the production coming to Tampa at the end of October.  Max Mclean has won accolades bringing the role of Screwtape onstage in this critically acclaimed show.

 As One Devil to Another by Richard Platt

“This is the book I’d never thought I’d see,” writes Walter Hooper in the preface, “It reads as if C.S. Lewis himself had written it.”

High applause from Lewis’s personal secretary and biographer.  Platt uses the original working title of The Screwtape Letters to construct a more current depiction of demonic temptation.  In this work, the demon Slashreap corresponds with a young tempter named Scardagger, a recent graduate of the Tempter’s Academy.  He is assigned to a young woman in England, who is pursuing graduate study in English literature.  Platt weaves a wonderful narrative around this young woman while at the same time giving Lewisian treatment to issues of our time, both universal and specific: Technology, Sexuality, Love, Ambition, and Faith, among others.  Platt inserts a bit of Lewis hero-worship in his text- the “client” (rather than “patient”) takes a stroll with a significant other down Addison’s Walk, a clear allusion to a path around Magdalen College which C.S. Lewis used to walk with J.R.R. Tolkien, and was the location where Lewis, in conversation with Tolkien, made a major step toward his belief in Christ.

The relationship between Slashreap and Scardagger provides the grist for the book’s climax, which is both amusing and twisted.

I have neglected to mention two fantastic audiobooks on The Screwtape Letters.  The most famous, and rare, is the John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) reading from 1999.    The other is by Joss Ackland,   who portrayed C.S. Lewis in the BBC version of Into the Shadowlands.  Both are highly recommended, but Ackland’s will be easier to find (and pay for!).

We’ll go back to the original source in the next post and take a letter or two for reflection and insight.  Until then, remember Lewis’s caveat on demons:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.  The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but ill-disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall learn it from me.”

Here Comes Spring

Jumping around YouTube tonight, an odd way to keep Saturday Vigil for Easter.  The Resurrection celebration is around the corner.   I come across a brilliant guitarist by the name of Phil Keaggy doing a pretty amazing cover of “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison.

I had, prior to my YouTube excursions, been mulling over some old Oxford photos of the Kilns from my trip in 2009 and 2010.

C.S. Lewis.  George Harrison.  “Here Comes the Sun.”  Why am I all of a sudden thinking of…..of course, Narnia.

Here are the lyrics:

Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s all right.

Little darlin’, it’s been a long cold lonely winter.
Little darlin’, it feels like years since it’s been here.
Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s all right.

Little darlin’, the smiles returning to their faces,
Little darlin’, it seems like years since it’s been here.
Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s all right.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

Little darlin’, I feel that ice is slowly melting.
Little darlin’, it seems like years since it’s been here.
Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s all right.

In Narnian terms, the “ice slowly melting” refers to the coming of Aslan and the coming defeat of the White Witch.  Indications of this begin in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the White Witch, with Edmund and a Dwarf in tow, speed through the frozen tundra of Narnia in her sledge, out to find Peter, Susan, and Lucy.  Only at one point, the sledge has troubling moving, because Edmund begins to hear

“A strange, sweet, rustling, chattering noise…It was the noise of rushing water.  All round them though out of sight, there were streams….And his heart have a great leap when he realized that the frost was over.”

Then the grass begins to show.  And the trees “shook off their robes of snow.”  And the birds begin to sing, and sunlight filters down.  Flowers push up from the soil.  Until it is finally said:

“This is no thaw,” said the Dwarf, suddenly stopping.  “This is Spring.  What are we to do?  Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you!  This is Aslan’s doing.”

Here Comes the Sun, indeed.  And it is all right.  Notice that last line in Harrison’s lyrics. “It’s all right.”  Well, yeah, of course it’s all right, isn’t it?   I mean, who wants to endure the freezing cold for yet another year, or perhaps in Narnian terms, another hundred?  But I think the line fits for some us on this Easter Eve.  Change, even good change, even the Best and Final Change, this shift from Death to Life, leaves some of us, remarkably but predictably, longing for the old frozen paths.  We got used to the snow and the cold over the long Narnian years.  We got used to huddling by a tiny fire for warmth, in the comfort of our solitary rooms.  Shoveling the drive was a bore, but at least it kept our minds preoccupied.  Now things are disrupted.  A great and cataclysmic force has entered our world.  We are invited, but cling to our coats, long used to having the old wine skins draped over our souls.

So here’s to it being the best “all right” in our Christian life.  And to those of us who pray “I believe, help thou my unbelief,” I also pray that we have the courage to wake up- I mean really wake up- tomorrow, to accept the Spring given us.  Because here it comes.

Wandering Tree 2011 Review: A Dialogue with C.S. Lewis

Note: Less a review and more of a reflection.  Much thanks to an unknowing Bruce Edwards, who wrote a much more informed and coherent Lewis dialogue here, from which this piece gets its inspiration.  Happy New Year to all!  

The roar of laughter rang from the small cabin as I tramped into the forest clearing, stamping my feet for warmth.  The windows were lit from the dancing light of a roaring fire in the hearth.  Smoke wafted from the chimney, as if the house itself were enjoying a pipe along with the inhabitants inside.  My fear of freezing overtook my shyness, and I knocked on the door.

A balding man in a worn tweed jacket, smoking a Woodbine, answered.  His face lit up with assumed recognizance, competing in welcomed warmth with the fire within, and he boomed a glad tiding:

“Hullo there, Mr. Pyne- er, Wanderingtree.  We’ve been having a lovely soak in your forest these past few days.  Come in, and pull up a chair, for heaven’s sake, you’ll freeze out there.  You know, at least know about, Tollers, Charles, and Warnie, I take it?”

“I do, sir.”

“Jack.”

“Mr. Lewis, for now, I think.  Sorry.  It’s been a hell of a walk.”

“The road is always long and hard, when you don’t stop for rest and perspective,”  Tolkien muttered through the pipe in his mouth.  He turned back to Charles Williams and continued his discourse with him.

Lewis took my arm and steered me toward an armchair.  He smiled knowingly.  “Been immersed in my books and still not taking the hint, eh?”

“I suppose.  I mean, what a terrific year, though.”

“The boy.”

“Rowan, yes.  Rowan William Pyne, born April 23rd.  Holy Saturday, in fact.”

“Congratulations.  And the girl.”

“Isabelle!  Yes, my niece was just born a few weeks ago on December 7th.”

“Wife, house, and job.”

“All present and accounted for.  No complaints, really.”

“And yet,” Here Lewis looked me dead in the eye.

I faltered.  What word really summed it up for me, both in spite of and also incorporating the blessings I’ve received this year?

“Er, rushed.  Yes, rushed.  I feel I’ve rushed past everything.  People, places.  I can’t remember all of it, really.  Stopped writing the blog for a while.  Been reading like a fiend, however.”

The room was warm.  I removed my sweatshirt, tossing it onto the empty dining room chair on which Lewis had flung my jacket.  Lewis took this moment to light another cigarette.  Laughter and the pouring of ales from casks into heavy tankards by Williams and Tolkien.  Lewis took two and gave one to me, taking a long pull at his own.  He smacked his lips.

“Yes, and I do appreciated the attention to my books- by the by, more MacDonald in your diet, I think, but I do like this man Brian Jacques.  Coarse and gentle at the same time, like a swaggering pirate bending down to pet a puppy.  Been meaning to have a pint with him since he has arrived.  But to the point, of course: down with my pen, and up with your own.  ‘Ink is the great cure for all human ills’ I think I said long ago, with some naiveté but some truth as well.  What stopped you?

“Nothing to…”

“Balderdash and rubbish, my boy!”

“Well, then, not enough time to…”

“Equal parts trash and buffoonery!  Didn’t my demon Screwtape teach you anything in his wicked way?  ‘Humans live in time…therefore…attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to…the Present.  For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…in it alone freedom and actuality are offered.’”

“So when I rush past things and don’t stop to value or appreciate…”

“Then you live in the Future, that thing ‘least like eternity.  Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.’”

“Hmmm…”

“Let me guess: Christmas slipped away from you this year almost as if it never occurred?  Even though you were with family?”

“How did you know?”

“The Incarnation remained in the manger.  You kept chasing the star.  Poor show, my friend, it needs to stop.”

“New Year’s resolution time, then?” I asked jokingly.

Lewis grimaced.  “Every morning,” he said, “and not with the morose face of the perpetual penitent.  He offers the morning star, you know.  And the repair, if you let it, is always constant.”

I leaned back and stared into the fire, which had started to burn low, with idle, comfortable clicks, snaps and sparks.  Williams and Tolkien still conversed animatedly, with Lewis now joining their laughter.  Snow fell into view from the window, framed by the dancing lights and shadows of the room.  More people entered the cabin, more than I thought possible- new friends and old, family living and dead.  Hugs, cries of greeting, and glasses filled and raised.  A call for a game, where followed jocular competition.  The beginnings of a poorly sung song.  More laughter.

I took a deep breath.  Then another.  Lewis beamed.

“More of that next year, my boy, understand?  Well, good New Year to you.”

To you too, Jack.

Rapture: In Other Words, Impatience and Distraction

I would be lying if I said the recent silliness of Harold Camping’s Rapture predictions and the subsequent commentary which followed before and after had not caused an interior restlessness and conflict within me.  Not that for one moment I believed any of Camping’s nonsense, but the fact that I am Christian put me, unfortunately, under the big tent of Christianity which Camping chose to turn into a circus.  And, I felt, once the circus lights went out and the event was over, there would be a lot of crap to clean up.

Predictions like Camping’s do not adhere to orthodox Christianity, as N.T. Wright explains here.    Rather, “end of times” scenarios follow more the politics of distraction and impatience than Christian doctrine.  One only has to point to words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew (“No one, not even the son, knows the day or hour…”) to render Camping’s predictions moot.

However, I, like many Christians, found myself defending my faith as a whole, for many chose to paint the entirety of Christianity with Camping’s brush.  My unfortunate fascination with comments left on various news stories, such as I find on CNN.com or NPR.org, found this tendency in abundance.  Many were vitriolic dismissals of faith in the “invisible man in the sky,” or at its worst, a secular call for the eradication of all religions (at which I wondered what the implementation of their plan would be like should they have their way).  A shared agreement with the ridiculousness of Camping’s assertions was secondary to a general bashing of religion.

On both sides, as mentioned before, this event followed more the politics of distractions and impatience than Christian doctrine.  Our sound bite culture thrives on the new gossip, the new product, and the new conflict; distractions are embedded into our culture.  Why settle for what you have now?  Here’s what’s next.  Yesterday was old news, and this story is just breaking.  And what better stories are there than the odd, the weird, the sensational?  Therefore, it is no surprise that the news jumped on this fringe group.

In the realm of Christianity, talk of Rapture and End Times distracts us from who we are called to be in Christ, in the here and now.  CS Lewis uses his demon Screwtape to drive this point home in letter 15 of The Screwtape Letters:

“He [God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.  We do.  His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.  But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future- haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth- ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by doing so we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other- dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes who end he will not live to see.  We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

This is the position Camping and other end-time theorists put themselves in when divining supposed Rapture scenarios.  Does it not also follow that a notion of impatience is built into this as well?  In my Anglican tradition, we are called within the liturgy of the holy Eucharist to proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.”  We live in anticipation of a new creation initiated by Jesus in his death and resurrection.  Wright notes in After You Believe that this is not a waiting room mentality but a “call[ing] to be genuine, image-bearing, God-reflecting human beings.  That works out in a million ways, not least in a passion for justice and an eagerness to create and celebrate beauty.”  Wright also notes that this anticipation is not one of destruction for “the vision of Revelation 5 is not a vision of the ultimate end…but of the heavenly dimension of the present earthly reality.”  What we see in Camping’s world-view, then, is less a joyful anticipation of this reality than a forced demand for some event of finality, a drawing up of borders and walls rather than a participation in the infusion of God’s love into the world.  The latter allows God to work as He will, and to join Him in that work, the former is an impatient stomping of a child not getting his way.  A metaphysical tantrum, if you will.

Small wonder then that the culture as a whole gets impatient as well.  “This is what you say you stand for, but what we see is something completely different.”  A valid and truthful observation and the honest vitriol are usually pointed to this hypocrisy.

Our gospel reading today from John redirects the Christian to what should be the focus of his/her faith: Christ himself.  “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.  Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do.”  And what works are we talking about here?

Heal.

Love.

Give life.

Feed the poor.

Reach out.

Bless.

Judge Not.

Tell stories.

Offer yourself.

Give thanks.

Raise up.

We announce the kingdom in these ways.

I get caught up in theoretical arguments and theological debates, mostly as an observer.  And this week was no exception.  However, as one of my fellow congregants as Ascension Church stated, “You always look for something redemptive out of crazy.”

Situations like Camping’s false predictions force us as Christians to ask “What are we really all about?’ or more to the point “WHO should we really be about?”  Because God works through, regardless.  And my attention was thankfully redirected back to this.

Someone asked a nun this week on her blog what she thought about all this Rapture talk, with the impending end of the world on Saturday.  She gave a prompt, Spirit-inspired reply:

“Ask me about it on Monday.”

Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis Book Review by Transpositions

Over at Transpositions guest authors are offering their  Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis Book Review: Introduction.  Of particular interest to me is an analysis of Lewis as literary critic, as his scholarship colored his philosophy of education.  Lewis offers a countercultural, metaphysical understanding of literature which goes against modern interpretations of the function of literature.  The more I read into this, the more I recognize the stark contrast of his understanding to contemporary scholars.  In my role as a teacher of British Literature, I find Lewis is, quite frankly, both an illumination and a a relief, though I must put in more study in order to articulate this countercultural relevance.  To wit: I am required to lay down a curriculum of literature which endeavours to create an appreciation of literature of the past and form a culturally literate student body.  When my seniors graduate, they then enter an undergraduate realm where this cultural literacy is undermined and slowly torn down.  Critical thinking and appreciation gives way to political manipulation and a theoretical watering down of literature to the point where the question is less “What is literature?’  to “What?” The underpinnings of a purposeless posit of literature gives way to a purposeless study of literature.

This is an uncharitable, broad brush stroke on a perceived divide between secondary and undergraduate education, but I really think Lewis’ ideas hold some key to this.  More later, but in the meantime, enjoy the erudite minds of Transpositions.

Whimsical Imagination and a New Addition to the Forest

The following article over at Transpositions interweaves C.S. Lewis, George Macdonald, GK Chesterton, and Lewis Carroll.  The article is really jumpstarting some observations I’ve making on the connection between theology and Pixar.  More on that later, perhaps…

Whimsical Imagination.

Oh, and by the by…something special arrived on Easter weekend at my house:

Rowan William Pyne