Remembering C.S. Lewis (1898-1963): A Guide to Life and Learning
Surprised by Joy, the autobiography by C.S. Lewis, was the first serious book I ever read. By serious, I mean, it was the first book I took seriously. It wasn’t an easy book to read either. For the first time with a book I wasn’t assigned in a class, I took notes. I underlined passages. I looked up words I didn’t know. Before the Internet this required having another book by my side. A dictionary, I think it was called.
I don’t even know where I got a copy. All I remember is that I was in college and I was beginning to ask “big questions” about life and faith. A few older people suggested I read something by C.S. Lewis. I learned that this is something many older Christians do when they’re not sure how to answer your questions. It’s a good strategy. Now I use it.
The phrase “it changed my life” is overused. It easily becomes cliché. But I don’t know how else to say it: reading C.S. Lewis changed my life. But here’s the thing… it has less to do with the words he wrote and more to do with what he represented as a person of faith. During the formative years of my life (college), I needed a model for living. Lewis, for me, was my first Christian mentor from afar, a guide for life and learning.
Today, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. I’ve been reflecting this week about all of the things Lewis has taught me. I offer my top three.
First, by reading C.S. Lewis I became a better student. It’s easy to adapt to playing the school game. Most of my schooling life was about doing the least amount of work required to get the grade desired. After reading Lewis, I had a renewed passion for learning. I wanted to know more about how ideas “worked” and where they came from. I began to see the connection of learning and living. Ideas have legs. Lewis taught me that Truth is important and should be taken seriously. And we should be willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. God is, after all, the source of all truth.
Second, by reading C.S. Lewis I learned that it is a possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. Maybe this is obvious to most people, but I had to learn it. I had to gain a vision for it, really. And Lewis was a model for me. After reading Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s story of journeying through atheism to Christianity, I remember thinking: if Lewis can be a Christian, I can be a Christian. Lewis didn’t seem bothered by the supposed challenges to the Christian faith. He took them on, offering engaging and thoughtful replies.
Third, by reading C.S. Lewis I learned that it is possible to be creative and a Christian at the same time. Unfortunately, in some Christian circles I was running in, creativity was often squelched. I don’t know any other way to say it. Some Christians, and some Christian traditions, seem to fear creativity. Not so for Lewis. In fact, he dedicated the latter years of his life to shaping the Christian imagination. The Narnia Chronicles and his The Space Trilogy are obvious examples, but my favorite Lewis book is The Screwtape Letters. A senior devil writes letters to a junior devil about how to keep someone from becoming a Christian. I couldn’t get enough of it. I still can’t. It’s the Lewis book I return to again and again.
There’s much to learn from C.S. Lewis. I didn’t even mention the many ways that his writing helped me answer tough questions about the faith. But it was his story and character that has shaped me the most.