“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.