Five Things I’ve learned from C. S. Lewis

UnknownI’ve recently finished reading George Sayer’s wonderful biography on C. S. Lewis entitled Jack. I’ve always been drawn to Lewis’ writings. His fictional stories awaken my reason and imagination, urging me “further up and further in” to the mysteries and wonder of God and this God-bathed world. His nonfiction helps me see more clearly the beauty of Christ and the folly of materialism, idolatry, and false loves.

Now that I understand a bit more about his life, I appreciate him even more. Here are five things, I’ve learned from Lewis that have helped me become a better thinker and a better person:

How to look. Some of Lewis’ most important experiences in life happened when he was a child. They were mystical experiences of the divine that Lewis describes using the word “joy.” The first time it came to him from the memory of a small garden made by his brother out of a biscuit tin. It came again while reading Squirrel Nutkin, by Beatrix Potter. It surfaced as he looked out onto the rolling hills of Ireland’s coast. He valued these experiences of joy more than anything else and desired to experience them again and again. He spent his life in pursuit of joy and eventually found the source of that joy in Christ. This mystical quality set him apart from other boys then as it would today. Our world, we are told is flat—a world made of matter in motion—with no transcendent reality. But Lewis knew better, even at a young age, as he allowed himself to be open to a deeper reality than the primary world of our experience. He has taught me to look at the world differently, to look beyond the mundane and transient to see the supernatural and eternal realities of the Kingdom of God.

How to learn. I am struck with (1) the quality and depth of his relationships with others and (2) his passion to learn and discuss with his friends that which he loved most: books! He was always talking with his friends about the books he was reading, or the books they were reading, or books that they wanted to read. His friends sharpened him intellectually and he sharpened them. Part of his greatness as a scholar and writer was that he was the real specimen. As Sayer describes it, Lewis “loved to acquire, especially from a friend, little scraps of (preferably) out-of-the-way knowledge.”[1] He has taught me to love learning—to open my mind and imagination to truth, goodness, and beauty— and more, how to learn: in the company of friends on a long walk or over a good drink, with a book in hand.

How to love. Lewis kept an exhausting schedule. As his popularity grew, the amount of correspondence grew exponentially. Yet Lewis personally responded to many of these letters, and with his brother’s help, responded to all. He would help all that he could. He lived frugally so he could give money to those really in need; he even married someone (whom he later fell in love with) in order to help her stay in England and avoid her abusive ex-husband. He felt deeply for those in pain, and was quick to help others, even when it was uncomfortable for him (one example: taking kids into his own home during WWII so they could be safely away from the bombings in London). Even as he was dying, he begged for cigarettes and matches, for the sake of his friends: “Better to die cheerfully with the aid of a little tobacco, than to live disagreeably and remorseful without.”[2] He has shown me that productivity is not incompatible with a gracious love and service to others.

How to laugh: Lewis didn’t take himself too seriously. He was quick to laugh at himself and loved to tell stories to others. He would often stay up past midnight talking with friends, drinking, smoking, and sitting by the fire. His life was often difficult—physically, spiritually, and emotionally taxing—yet he seemed to maintain a good sense of humor through it all. And for those moments when the weight of the world was pressing in, Lewis would find refuge and pleasure in reading the Psalms: “The most valuable thing the psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.”[3] Lewis has taught me to laugh more, and to delight in God more. Perhaps, for Lewis, these were two sides of the same coin.

How to long: When his wife of just a few years—Joy Gresham—died of cancer, Lewis was devastated. As he wrestled with God (you can read of his struggles with pain and emotional suffering in A Grief Observed), he came into a deeper faith and greater awareness of His presence. God is the “great iconoclast” who shatters our conceptions of Himself so that we might have more of the real thing. Lewis has taught me to pay attention to my longings—to faithfully follow the dialectic of desire as it leads me, like a kind of Ontological Argument, to the ultimate object of my desire—God Himself.














[1] George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988), 345.

[2] Ibid., 400.

 [3] Ibid., 391.

One Response to Five Things I’ve learned from C. S. Lewis

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