The C.S. Lewis Symposium and the Poet’s Corner dedication at Westminster were events that enriched my mind and challenged my soul in the best sort of way. The symposium was a feast of thought, and the celebration of Lewis’ life at the dedication offered an atmosphere of goodness, truth, and beauty that made me hunger for those things with even more urgency than usual. The whole thing was the kind of festal, outer experience that turns your eye inward at the end and makes you wonder if you have what it takes to live with such vibrancy yourself.
So, I’ve rounded up a list of links, recordings, and posts to give you a taste of those grand events. Be warned. Great goodness and beauty always pose a challenge the the soul. You may not escape unchanged.
So. To begin with the grandest, if you want to listen to the full recording of the service on the great day itself, go here.
For a PDF of the service program (definitely worth a good read, I kept mine for further contemplation) go here.
From the C.S. Lewis symposium the day before, here’s a link to the audio recording of Malcolm Guite’s marvelous talk on imagination in Lewis’ writing: Telling the Truth Through Imaginative Fiction
And another link to Alistair McGrath’s lively talk on Lewis’ grasp of reason: Telling the Truth Through Rational Argument
And here’s a recording of the C.S. Lewis panel discussion that evening, a fascinating conversation that went many different directions: C.S. Lewis Panel Discussion
If you want to read some really lovely blog contemplations on this event, I submit these for your perusal:
C.S. Lewis’ 50th: A Fireside View, by my lovely friend Lancia.
A Report from the C.S. Lewis Memorial Service, by Holly Ordway, chair of the apologetics department at HBU (where they have an emphasis on imaginative apologetics that is rather exciting).
C.S. Lewis’ Memorial Service, by Jeanette Sears, a writer and speaker with a special interest in C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers. (I heard her talk at the C.S. Lewis society a couple of years ago and greatly enjoyed what she had to say.)
Let the posts of Christmas poetry begin! Culling a few favorite Christmas poems to post here is one of my favorite blogging activities. I have some beauties this year. May the words set music to your heart and day.
A Christmas Poem
by Dick Davis
One of the oxen said
“I know him, he is me – a beast
Of burden, used, abused,
Excluded from the feast -
A toiler, one by whom
No task will be refused:
I wish him strength, I give him room.”
One of the shepherds said
“I know him, he is me – a man
Who wakes when others sleep,
Whose watchful eyes will scan
The drifted snow at night
Alert for the lost sheep:
I give this lamb, I wish him sight.”
One of the wise men said
“I know him, he is me – a king
On wisdom’s pilgrimage,
One Plato claimed would bring
The world back to its old
Unclouded golden age:
I wish him truth, I give him gold.”
Mary his mother said
“I know his heart’s need, it is mine -
The chosen child who lives
Lost in his Lord’s design
The self and symbol of
The selfless life he gives:
I give him life, I wish him love.”
From the collection The Covenant (1984).
On our first day in England, we stared down jetlag, checked our luggage at Paddington, and took the Tube to Covent Garden. The air was damp and darkling blue when we emerged from the underground station. The day had reached that hour when Christmas lights glimmer into the shadow, not merely bright, but with a burning depth of light that is a challenge to the coming dark. Sheets of pale blue stars were strung across the streets and a mighty Christmas tree shimmered at the entrance to the open market. As I waited for Joel and Mom to finish something at the (gigantic) Apple store, I leaned against the chill, weathered pillar just outside to savor the light and watch the countless faces mill by. That’s when I saw the man below. He stood just feet away. In the ten minutes that I watched him (surreptitiously, of course) he never took his eyes from the Christmas tree. He stood there, eyes fixed on the lights, a smile gathering about his mouth, entirely in his own wondrous world. He never even noticed when I (very stealthily) snapped his photo.
Home now, as I page through my photos, I feel in great sympathy with this steady-eyed man. I feel that I looked upon England with the same fixed, gentle, happy wonder. My whole trip this time was full of a quiet reveling. Even as I pounded miles down the streets or meadows, shopped, listened, talked, and laughed, the inmost me was simply watching. Day after day, I peered out from within my soul, happy, calm, at rest in the sight of the beauties that crowded my sight. Perhaps the pictures below will beckon you to the same gladsome quiet, the same slowed pulse and easy soul to which they led me. Isn’t the world a lovely place?
If only I knew his name.
I’m not sure what he thinks about that wreath on his head. But he does manage to wear it with dignity.
There’s a reason English roses have the reputation they do.
For some reason, this sight struck my funny bone. All three of us rather chuckled when we stumbled upon it.
…”England’s green and pleasant land…” (Blake)
I feel that this is the kind of door behind which someone like the good Miss Goudge might have lived. Or at least one of her characters. Maybe one of the lovely old ladies from The Dean’s Watch.
”Thou’st made the world to beautiful this year/ My soul is all but out of me…” (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
A tower of teacups. Well, I never.
I reacquainted myself with those sister trees on a reminiscent ramble down the river footpath near my former Oxford flat. No wonder my soul felt so at peace in the evenings when I used to wander.
Breakfast (Joel’s birthday breakfast) at our Oxford B&B. Golden leaves shimmered out the window every morning, a good pot of tea piped hot on the table each day, and the yogurt I love when I’m overseas was my breakfast staple. Rather ideal. But why doesn’t yogurt in America taste as good? I have never figured this out.
The desk of the good C.S. Lewis. I wonder if literary genius can seep into the atmosphere of a home. And does it rub off on visitors?
A side view of The Kilns, Lewis’ home just outside of Oxford. That, I do believe, was his window, and that, I think, was the tiny porch on which he used to set up a telescope and stare at the stars. I keep on discovering more reasons to like him.
I went for a long walk every day. Sometimes twice.
Christmas splendor at Covent Garden.
Westminster by night.
Westminster by day. I spent most of two days with my neck back and my eyes fixed upward.
A golden end to the day of the Lewis dedication and memorial in Westminster Abbey. We walked for miles after the service and saw that sunset right at Trafalgar Square. The we went for a nice big tea. Inspiration, long walks, deep thought, and friendship make us ravenous.
And the tea was all that even we could wish for. (I do hate to admit that we are rather opinionated when it comes to what constitutes a strong cup of tea. So few seem to share our convictions in this area.)
This merry band kept up a rousing round of high-spirited classical pieces, and they even danced in place. The violinist actually clicked her heels once!
One of my favorite ever tea rooms. Freshly discovered. Fully savored.
The West doors to Ely Cathedral, one of the few places on earth I have ever been that felt grand enough to sate my soul. I truly love that place.
The meadow view of King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge. It’s been six years since I spent a summer in Cambridge and I had forgotten the loveliness of that sight, one I saw every day as I walked into town. The inside, though I didn’t see it this time, is its own marvel. And the choir that fills that chapel with song… a wonder. If you enjoy English choral music, you should look up the yearly live broadcast of “Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College. They do it every Christmas Eve. I’ll be tuning in, hot chocolate in hand.
And wishing I was back in England.
I greatly enjoy jet-lagging. At least on the homeward end, because it sets me back in the rhythm of waking when the stars are still out.
On this Thanksgiving morning, I woke at four something and curled myself in my chair to watch the candle flames sway in the inky black of my windows. I opened my Bible to that old, jubilant Psalm 103, which has long put the words of praise in my mouth that I yearned to sing.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
In the long, watchful dark of the hour before dawn, I set my heart to blessing God. I peered back over the landscape of my life in the past year and marked the roads of grace, the houses of kindness, the feasts of joy that met me on my road.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits.
I opened my trusty red notebook and listed out every thing for which I could offer thanks. I strove to remember every grace, to forget none. My pen moved swiftly. My mind leapt ahead of me from memory to bright memory. As if I found each afresh, I remembered love given, adventures taken, quiet moments of wonder discovered, help unexpectedly given, encouragement when I was close to despair. My pen raced.
I won’t say I was surprised. I know myself blessed. But as thanks welled up in my heart, I felt undone by the goodness I was remembering. So much grace has been heaped in my hands. I will be honest. I am not prone to gratitude. I am prone to wonder, but my heart is the hungry kind, I am always reaching forward, always a little discontent with where I find myself. I yearn for so much beyond my touch that it is hard for me sometimes to stop long enough to acknowledge what I actually possess. The record of my blessing scratched on the page today was a discipline by which I tethered my restless mind and looked long on the goodness that has kept me in life.
Who heals forgives your iniquities,
Who heals your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
In naming my gratitude, I told the story of my life afresh. From the limited vocabulary of my limited sight, I entered the great language of thanks and found my tale to be rich. As I wrote and prayed, sang within my heart, and lifted my eyes to the light rising out my window, I realized that the giving of thanks is a form of narration, a truth-telling by which I tell the right story of my life. Caught as I am sometimes within my narrow perception of my need or desire, blinded as I am by loneliness, the act of giving of thanks is a way of healing my sight. To remember God’s grace, to name his goodness, to forget none of his benefits is to tell the true story of my life. That is the tale of God’s great mercy. His love has marked every hour, his hands have shaped every day. I don’t always see it, but when I look back with the sharpened vision of thanks, I see the great mercy that lies behind me, the great hope that lies ahead.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
May you remember your own story today, your own bright tale of blessing. May you step beyond the bounds of discouragement into the wider air of thanks. May the memory of God’s goodness lift you into joy. May love surround you. May laughter mark your hours. May feasting fill your belly, and your soul, with the hope of great thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving my beautiful friends!
Cross-posted at itakejoy.com
Six years ago, I was simply a book-loving girl intent upon sharing my favorite stories with the world. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to write a guide to children’s literature. I had been speaking on children’s books for quite awhile, telling parents how great books had shaped my own heart. I felt that the reading culture my parents had cultivated in my childhood was a gift and I wanted other children to know the rich gift of story as well. Write a book about that? Of course!
But I was in over my head. I went from scratching out impromptu booklists and enthusiastic talks on my favorite books to a major research project. I spent months studying publication dates, author histories, and original illustrators. I learned how to pare my wordy self down to a paragraph or two of enthusiastic recommendation per book. I read literacy statistics. But most of what I did was simply read. Right in the middle of my twenties, I went back to explore the picture books and historical fiction, the hero tales and imaginative novels that had shaped my childhood years. For six months, I immersed myself in the land of children’s literature.
I emerged with a book written and a heart ablaze with story. I entered the project intent upon proving the educational benefits of reading. I came out convinced that stories shape not only the brain, but also the soul. I felt almost awestruck to realize how deeply the stories of my childhood had shaped my moral imagination, my interior self, and my idea of what it means to live well. I realized that many of the virtues and standards I hold as an adult began with the richly imagined stories I read in childhood. Not only, I discovered, is childhood reading an educational golden key, it is a source of deep spiritual nourishment that forms the interior of a child to a love of what is true, beautiful, and good.
Stories, I realized, taught me how to live a great story myself.
In the years since the publication of Read for the Heart, I have continued my research, read dozens more children’s books, studied imagination at Oxford and have found that my passion to get great books into the hands of children only grows. But a large part of that is equipping parents to know which books to read and why. The more I study, the more I want parents to understand that a lively imagination is central to a great education and a vibrant soul. I want parents to grasp how a great story embodies the virtues they want their children to learn. I want them to understand that great stories help to form great lives, and then I want to help them know which stories to choose for their children.
So with great delight, I am here to announce the upcoming launch of Storyformed Books.
Storyformed will be a publishing imprint of Whole Heart Ministries, dedicated to offering quality literature and imaginative resources to families as well as creating an online community around the love of great children’s books. I hope to provide families with a wealth of stories, ideas, and resources as they jump into the reading world. Storyformed Books will include:
- Storyformed.com: A website crammed with literary resources for parents. There will be multiple booklists and book reviews, links to resources on reading and imagination, quotes, and a blog with guest posts by authors and parents who are passionate about bringing great stories to kids.
- Storyformed Books: This publishing imprint of WholeHeart Ministries will be focused on publishing great stories (old and new) as well as providing information and essays on the realm of the imagination. I’ll be publishing three lines of books:
- Storyformed Classics: For years, we Clarksons have collected antique and out-of-print stories. There are hundreds of beautiful stories that have simply been forgotten. Now, we intend to put them to good use by culling the absolute best and republishing them for a modern audience. The Storyformed Classics collection will include an author biography and reading guide with each story.
- Storyformed Books: I have a few stories up my sleeve. In the next couple of years, I’ll be publishing a series of children’s stories, as well as seeking out new, unpublished fiction from other authors.
- Storyformed Ideas: This will be a series of essay collections by authors who thought deeply about story and imagination and the impact those bear on the formation of a child’s heart. These will include thoughts from authors old (George MacDonald, Charlotte Mason) and new (myself and other current writers), and will provide the philosophical foundation for the storyformed life.
The official launch of Storyformed Books will take place sometime around the first of the year. I’ll be speaking about “The Storyformed Life” at the MomHeart conferences this year, as well as launching it all with the release of my own book: Storyformed: The Tale of a Girl and the Books Who Loved Her. Keep an eye out here for more information as we move nearer to the launch date. We’re hoping to have some special giveaways and events at that time. Meanwhile, read on!
Because great stories form great lives.
“Come, let us worship God, wonderful in his saints!”
So ended Michael Ward’s introduction in our program today for the C.S. Lewis memorial service. And that is exactly what we did. I read those words as I sat in my straight wooden chair beneath the rainbow filtered light of the soaring stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey. The organ hummed the opening music amidst the swish and whisper of the gathering congregation. I watched almost a thousand people filter in to celebrate the life of C.S. Lewis. Wielder of words, weaver of stories, and humble-hearted friend, Lewis wrote and spoke from the Love that was the light by which he saw the world. In honoring his life today, we blessed the beautiful God who was the heart and Joy of it all.
Come, Holy Spirit, and send the heavenly radiance of your light. Come, Father of the poor; come giver of gifts; come, light of all hearts. Amen. This was the opening prayer. I have a thousand things I want to write later on. I thought hard about reason and imagination once more as I listened to Alistair McGrath and Malcolm Guite speak on Lewis’ ideas on those topics yesterday. But tonight, as I write this short post, I’m basking in the way that the life of Lewis, an author I love, one of the first people I hope to meet in heaven, showed us the life of God. There was such joy in the air today, such a taste of the life that will someday come.
The Dean’s prayer: Almighty God, Father of lights and author of all goodness: we give thee humble praise for the life and work of thy servant C.S. Lewis, and beseech thee that, as he has helped us to look to a world beyond this world and to hopes better than our own, we may come with him to the fulness of everlasting joy which thou has prepared for them that truly love thee, in the heavenly courts of they Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one held back… And soon they found themselves all walking together – and a great, bright procession it was – up towards the mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be seen. But there was no snow on those mountains: there were forests and green slopes and sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls, one above the other, going up for ever… The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty…” -part of the excerpt from The Last Battle, read aloud by Douglas Gresham.
I felt I got a little “further up and further in” today. Lewis is the one who calls us that way, and I think “roar” would be a good way to describe it, as he does the voice of the unicorn, Jewel. Every aspect of his life was a shout and a song calling us further into the great Reality he apprehended in imagination and described with his powerful reason. God bless C.S. Lewis. I remember him with thanks today. And I’m ready to follow him deep into the mountains and life of God.