Also posted at rabbitroom.com
The celebration of Advent, I have decided, is a little like living in the twilight zone.
I know this because for a few uncanny hours last week, I actually lived the twilight zone and it was a curiously spiritual experience.
On the flight home from England, we routed through Reykjavik. When we took off from Iceland for the long flight home, it was about five o’ clock in the evening. Our plane soared up into the open, navy bowl of the night. Limpid, inky darkness arced above us, stabbed by a single star. But westward the navy paled to turquoise as a great bonfire of a sunset blazed on the horizon. The sun burned just beyond our sight, but her light leapt over the rim of the earth in a flaming line of burnished orange and gold. I pressed my face against the window as we sped toward that light, out of the shadow, reaching toward the bright horizon.
We were in great darkness but we saw a great light.
Through all the long hours of that journey, we chased it. For awhile we were neck and neck. I thought the night would fade. The black above lightened as we flew onward, the horizon brightened to pure gold and the sky filled with a faint, pearled sheen of blue. I found myself hungering for day, leaning a little forward in my seat, wanting the darkness to finally end. I found the dim, ever-evening oppressive. Perhaps the night could be borne if I did not have such a glorious day in sight, but the light set desire in my bones so that my whole being reached toward the sun I could not quite see. I could not bear to be left in the dark.
I feel the same way in Advent. The coming of Christmastime always makes me restless because the beauty of Christ burns so brightly on its horizon and my whole being reaches toward it. The candles and starry Christmas lights, the fir scents and haunting songs of this season come to me as the bonfire blaze of a great celebration. When I was a child, the mystery at the heart of it all felt very close, close enough almost to hold in my hands. But each year it moves a little farther beyond my grasp. The older I grow, the harder I have to reach after that easy wonder of Christmas. Like the sun on my twilit flight, joy sometimes hovers just beyond my touch. Adulthood has made me aware of the darkness, and of myself as one who walks in darkness. Now I enter the yearly rhythms of decoration, of song and feasting with as much vim as I can muster. I pray the great Advent prayers, I lift up my soul and reach with all that I am toward the light of Christ. But I cannot often grasp it. I cannot even force my own heart to feel the joy I desire. Often, I see the beauties of this season as if from a distance. I honor their promise, and yet, I grieve.
I dwell still in the shadowlands. Here, care and grief, hard work and failure make an evening shadow of life on earth. I see the great hope burning ahead, but it pains me to know that I cannot hold it yet. I move toward it by faith, trying to form my days to reflect the light instead of the darkness. I choose beauty. I practice celebration. But sometimes I feel that I am chasing a day that will never dawn upon me in this world. I know that in Advent we contemplate a promise fulfilled, but here on earth the darkness remains and we wait again through the second advent of the kingdom begun, but not quite come. Amidst the beauties of this season, I find it often hard to bear the now and not yet of Christ.
I thought of this on that strange, twilit flight, for both the Advent season and an old set of troubles and perplexities awaited me at home. For some reason it troubled me that we never caught the daylight. I felt it was an ominous sign. By the time we landed night had taken the world in his strong, cold hands, and day breathed its last over the mountains. I went to sleep that night strangely grieved.
I woke abruptly in the wee small’s, fully alert with the unwelcome wakefulness of jet lag. I felt the darkness as a presence that pressed upon me. I remembered the long, strange journey in the twilight and for a bewildered moment wondered if morning would ever come. I turned on my lamp and sat in my reading chair, cold hands curved round a cup of coffee. Since Advent was soon to begin, I took up my Bible, poor, bent old book, abused in my wanderings, worn by my restless hands. I turned to Luke in search of the Christmas story, assuming that devotion would be a struggle on this particular morning.
But Mary stopped me in my tracks. Her story, to my great surprise, met me in the darkness of my own heart and challenged me to understand the coming of light in an entirely new way. I sat there in the dark-before-dawn shadows and the restlessness I felt subsided into wonder as I read the tale of the mother of God. I realized that she was everything I am not. That sturdy-hearted girl had a faith that made an open door so that God could join us in the darkness. She opened her hands to mystery. She let God make her a great promise and then she lived the long, dark days of waiting for its fulfillment. She did not strive and doubt; she believed. Elizabeth’s words (in Luke 1:45) to Mary struck me hard: blessed is she who believed what had been promised to her.
For the rest of those black morning hours, I read everything I could find about Mary, this one brave woman who took God at his word. Her almost matter-of-fact faith is the first thing I saw, a trust that did not waver but asked the pertinent questions, accepted the answers, and believed. But then, her pondering. Twice it is said of Mary that she “treasured these things in her heart,” or ”pondered them.” In the twilight zone of my own faith, I read those words and learned something about light that I had never taken the time to notice.
Idealist that I am, I live hungry. I am always reaching, thinking that the kingdom of God is something I can take in my hands and force to come on earth. I always forget that the kingdom comes first in the heart. Mary reminded me, for she did not look to the outer world to confirm her faith or satisfy her hope. She looked within. A great light had come to dwell within her and she turned her eyes to its beauty. She fixed her inner sight on the presence of God, with us. She turned her eyes from the twilight zone without to the dawn within. Her pondering enabled her to look then, on the outer world, not with the eyes of hungry doubt, but with the eyes of praise.
“My soul magnifies the Lord…”
This year, with Mary’s help, I think I may be learning how to see as well. Day has come. But it has come as a seed planted in my heart, eternal morning buried in the loamy earth of my soul. Not outside, a thing to be chased, but in, a thing to contemplate. Slowly, slowly it grows. Perhaps the work of Advent is just to join Mary, the first one in which the great Light was sown, in “pondering these things.” I am learning not to reach, but to watch. I cannot catch the joy of Christmas any more than I could catch the daylight on that twilit flight. And even if I could, the day would only fade again to night and the festal stuff of Christmas would shrivel in my hungry grip, a broken goodness unable to offer me peace. But when I look upon the celebration of this season from that still, pondering place within my heart, I see the great Love to which this holy day and all its lovely trapping points.
My joy in Christmas is growing again, for morning is indeed within my grasp. It’s just a seed as yet. But it will grow into a day on which the sun will never set. No more fear of the twilight zone for me. I’ll watch and wait. I’ll ponder these things, because I’m with Mary. I believe.
I was rifling through old papers a few days ago and found a note I had written on Christmas Eve almost ten years before.
I recognized it at once and remembered how I had dashed upstairs in the middle of Christmas dinner prep to jot it down. At the time, my family lived in a rental home that often felt too small for the six of us, especially as we were all idealists with feathers badly ruffled by the last few years. I was in between jobs and decisions, my siblings were finishing high school and my parents were working through some tough ministry years. My family is a high stakes bunch, and by that I mean that we live to the zenith. Opinions, dreams, goals, loves, dislikes, we don’t really do things by halves. This makes for a vivid and highly entertaining life, but when confusion is a daily companion, and all the dreamers are uncertain, the high stakes feel perilous. Life was an adventure at that point, but not an easy one. Muscles of heart were formed in those days but they came with a great deal of ache.
How strange then that the words winking up at me from that old scrawled page held only joy. I sat on my floor, several years of old papers in disarray around me, but I was lost to the present. That old Christmas Eve rose before me, caught in my hurried jots, a day in which the taste of grace came to me in vivid burst of insight that chased despair away. When I looked up from my old words, it was with the spark of resolve in my eye. Funny how convicting the words of a younger self can be.
Ten years later, I am in a year when struggle stands a little back and ease comes in his place. But I work just as hard as ever to have a heart that perceives the goodness all around me. I do not suffer from angst of heart so much these days, only too much activity of mind. In reading my own past words, I found an invitation. Somehow, amidst the troubles of that almost forgotten year, I glimpsed the sort of holiness that hides in the everyday. The words of my younger self came to me as a command to stop, here, and now. To listen, to love. To perceive, even for an instant, the sacred as it peeks at us from kitchen feasts or children’s eyes. I think I’m going to go make a cup of tea.
It is Christmas Eve and I stand in our woefully small kitchen, up to my elbows in salad dressing and green peas. Seven-layer salad with brown sugar ham; this has somehow become a family tradition since our sojourn in the South. This year the careful layering has fallen to me. I dot the green peas with bits of red pepper for Christmas color and smother it all in cheese. I am careful to cover each speck of green lest any one bite be bereft of its proper taste.
Absolute equality, in cooking and relationships, is something I have learned from my mother.
I sing as I work, for the old favorite album is trilling away and however trivial the saying may be, work does go faster with song.
Joy sings along on the nook couch, her swift, small hands in industrious flight through steel blue wool as she frantically knits a last minute gift for Matthew, one of the teenage “adopted boys” of our home. She is determined to finish his scarf before Christmas morning, but I see that her fingers are aching as she stands to measure the length of her work around her own neck.
“Do you think this is almost long enough?” she asks, with a slight dramatization of stooped shoulders, “it almost comes to my waist and you know Matthew’s a bit short, how much taller could he really be than me?”
She stretches her legs to their full ten-year-old little girl height. Mom merely raises an eyebrow and Joy sinks back in resignation to keep on at her Christmas mission. I watch her and work away myself, and wonder what the world would do without the many Christmas-hearted souls who make last minute surprises and knit not just physical, but spiritual gifts of well-kept traditions.
How easy it is to miss the beauty woven in the everyday. We three here in the kitchen are the makers of all that our family most loves at Christmas, the good food, the kisses, the gifts and well-set table. For an instant, I see that we are keepers of life’s richness. Year to year, the weavers of joy.
I glance at my mother behind me, her hands coated with flour and the dark specks of garlic and herbs she’s working into the soft dough of our Christmas Eve bread. My eyes are fixed on her hands; I love my mother’s hands. They are deft and sure, taut with a wordless capability that brings order and life to all they touch. Today it is the bread; last night it was my heart.
She gives the loaf its final twist and plops it onto the baking stone. She sighs in relief and I smile. That was the last of that batch; already a toppling pile of plump rolls and intricate knots of cinnamon bread sit on the stove for the morrow. Potato soup simmers in a pot and the ham bastes in the oven. My mother, I realize, is a marvel.
The goodwill of mothers is like the good will of God, I think. I am keenly aware of it’s lack in myself and can only conclude that it is a gift that comes with time or the giving of birth. My mother’s will towards us, her children, is so persistently, so relentlessly good; a will to bless, to delight, whether or not we deserve it.
There is no pressing reason that she should so expend herself today in fancy cooking and the wrapping of countless presents in colored paper. But for some reason, and by a special grace, she does. If she didn’t, I think the world might suddenly cease in kindness and lose its warmth. There are a million mothers behind the smiles and sanity of humankind.
I too have finished my work. The phone rings and Mom runs to answer it upstairs. I lean against the counter and rest my stiff knees. My stomach is groaning with hunger at the wondrous smells nearby, but I have promised myself not a bite until tonight. I close my eyes, I breathe. The scent of freshly cooked garlic and onion is heady stuff and I feel rather woozy in my rare, sweet quiet.
Or maybe I am dizzy with the life of it all.
Here, in this still moment, when my hands and head have stopped their spinning, I suddenly see the rest of the world in its joyous dance. There is music in our work, in the making of our feast and the decking of tables and trees and persons. There’s a rhythm in the click of Joy’s needles and clack of our tongues, in our constant turn from job to job.
I can’t always hear this song, or feel this cadence when I rush and fret, but when I can stop for even a split moment like this, I always catch it, however faint. I suddenly realize that the toes of my soul are tapping to the rhythm of some eternal, daily song.
Today, I think I’ve caught the tune of that song again. My soulish toes are tapping away.
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.