Sunday, November 10, 2013

Aslan is on the Move

“Aslan is a lion--the Lion, the great Lion." 

"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"...

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 C.S. Lewis is both poet and apologist: He is profoundly shaped by imagination and grounded in faith and rational argument. And he, like Aslan, is on the move in a sense into the South Transept of Westminster Abbey later this month.

Oxford novelist, literary critic, and apologist C.S. Lewis died 50  years ago, and his writings resound through the decades to teach and to encourage. Lewis believed that knowledge itself was fundamentally poetic— meaning shaped by the imagination. His was a creative genius using illustrations painted with words to communicate philosophy and truth. His approach to commending and defending the Christian faith still lights the way for us today. 


 "Every year you grow you will find me bigger." Aslan

 Aslan, the lion of Narnia, is often said to be 'on the move' as he communicates powerfully a story of divine seeking and provision.  Lewis's series The Chronicles of Narnia has entertained and educated people of all ages. If one would understand a great truth, distil it to its essence and tell it to a child.

His great strength, many say, was his ability to present Christianity both rationally and imaginatively. His rational approach is seen in The Abolition of Man, Miracles, and Mere Christianity. Those who are say they open-minded, if they truly are, will make room for considering the case for faith Lewis makes by reading carefully these works.  

Surprised by Joy contains more about the atheistic and agnostic viewpoint which he had proudly held as truth before he became a believer in Jesus as the son of God--quite a leap, but not at all an emotional experience as many characterize it today.

“Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”
― C.S. Lewis,
Surprised by Joy

Some of his works are non-theological and are devoted to his scholarly probing of the meaning of words and instructions on careful crafting of literature, as in The Allegory of Love.

Two powerful works that plumb the depth of despair that is an essential part of the human experience are The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed, written twenty years later.

A Grief Observed is his reflection on the process of grieving for his wife who died of cancer after three years of marriage. His journal entries throughout the months following her death honestly describe his anger and bewilderment at God, his observations of his impressions of life without his beloved Joy, or H (for Helen) as he refers to her, and his process of moving in and out of stages of grieving and remembering her. His growth through pain,  his redefinition of his own characterization of God, and his ability to live gratefully for the gift of a rare true love, ring clearly in this work. This work was troubling for some because the intensity of his grief and profound loss caused him to question what he understood about God.

He is not alone. I believe that such a place of questioning comes to most of us: that time when we reckon with the veracity of that which we always thought to be true. 

There comes a time when we need to know what is bedrock and what is a merely a lovely platitude, but will no longer support the weight of a grief-stricken soul.

What is real, and what is shifting sand or a pacifying illusion? 

The death of illusion is not without value. That which is real can clearly be seen when that which was only illusion falls away, crumbled. If we are seeking the revealing of truth, much that is false must fall away.

The faith we hold and that Lewis recounts will withstand the strictest scrutiny, the closest inspection. What we believe matters. Our 'picture of God' underpinning our beliefs is flawed when we apply to it a saccharine coating--sweet but of no nutritive value--or when our cultural understanding shapes God in our own image.

Those who struggle with the claims of Christ but remain open-minded have pursued Lewis's writings, as well as those of G.K. Chesterton from the former days, and contemporary authors Maxie Dunnam, Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller among others who embrace varying points of view in their professing Christ. Each of these has helped shape my understanding.

A memorial to Lewis will be unveiled in Poets Corner in the  South Transept of Westminster Abbey on November 22, 2013, honoring his place in history and memorializing his scholarly  contributions. It is fitting that the public announcement of this event says, "all are welcome to attend."

All are welcome indeed: that is what this search for life and faith and meaning is all about. All are invited to have a seat at the table, a place at the feast. The invitation from the Lord God to each of us is not based upon erudition, nobility, education, perfection, goodness, generosity or any measure or condition other than the contrite heart that can answer 'yes'.


 Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis. And thank you.



Official announcement follows:

C S Lewis Symposium and Commemoration

Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd November 2013
St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey

On the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C S Lewis, Westminster Abbey Institute hosts a series of events marking his career as one of the 20th century's most notable Christian writers and thinkers. As well as celebrating Lewis's remarkable achievements as a writer of fiction, apologetics and scholarship, the series will look at the question of how, in the 21st century, his example may be emulated and his legacy continued.
On Thursday 21st November, Alister McGrath and Malcolm Guite will deliver lectures examining Lewis's philosophical and fictional approaches to communicating the Christian faith.  Michael Ward will chair a panel discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis's various endeavours and taking questions from the conferees. On the panel with be novelist Jeanette Sears, theologian Judith Wolfe, and apologists William Lane Craig, Peter S. Williams, and Michael Ramsden.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What We Need When Life is a Blurr

 Sometimes we move through life on autopilot seeing only what we expect to see. Then something holds our gaze long enough for our brains to tune in to the moment. Part of living fully in the present is to be more aware of our surroundings and grateful for unacknowledged gifts. I find that such an attentiveness helps me daily.

But I do not always do it well...


Was that you, Lord, in the lady with the purple coat?

She wore purple with a red cap shielding her from the rain. Robed in purple, topped with crimson: a royal image, I recalled.

She hobbled clutching her cane in her right hand, pushing a three-wheeled cart with her left, wobbling upright with each step, with her bag swinging as a pendulum from the elbow. She looked right at home leaving the bus station or making her way through an airport terminal but not here—not in my part of town. I waited at the light as she crossed.

We say we are mindful of your Presence among us, Lord, but are we really? We usually see what we expect to see while on our way to work on a busy morning.  Predictable routines leave little time for unexpected sightings of glory.

Then again, you show up at unexpected places. I heard myself ask aloud to no one present, “Was that you, Lord?”

She caught my eye, but did I stop to see if I could help? No. She was a stranger, and I was on my way to somewhere else.

Aren't we always on the way to somewhere else when you break through our day and beckon for our attention? We need you to make it clear, Lord, if we are to step aside and see a great sight. I have this rule, you see, a rule that I do not pick up strangers. I'm afraid of taking them into my car for some perfectly good reasons you would understand. But sometimes we need to set aside our closely-held rules, else we just go on about our business, living by our own rules--kind of like I just did today when I saw her brown skin glistening wet from the morning rain on her purple coat.

This mental conversation filled the space of a glimpse, just the time it takes for the light to glow red then green. But a glimpse is all we have sometimes, is it not?

 Just a brush with glory. 

A brief visitation. 

A few seconds should be enough when we walk closely enough with you to recognize when you have a task for us to relieve suffering, to lighten another's load. But we can be so encumbered with our own cares as I was this morning that we cannot see another's.

We may miss the message.

We may not see you when you show up at times and places we are not expecting.

And I was strongly impressed with the reminder to look for you in the faces of the hurting, the aged, the lonely, the foreigner among us. The glimpse turned me inside out. My little morning sadness about other concerns vanished in a breath--the breath that I took in as I asked aloud, “Was that you, Lord?"

You give us our next breath, and you take it away. You take it away with beauty, nature and music, and you take it away with pain. And in that split second when we inhale silently and take in the sight before us, you remind us you are present. God with us.

So, yes, perhaps that was you, Lord, not transfigured at all but mysteriously present in the realigning of my thoughts and the shuffling of my priorities so that I might see more fully those around me.

Later my friend told me of an auto accident near the highway. An ambulance’s blue lights held waiting cars at bay while an upturned cart sat spinning silently at the edge of the road. I wondered if I had seen her earlier, but I was on my way to somewhere else.

On the way to somewhere else: that’s where much of life happens.

 Lord, speak to our hearts. Interrupt our days of ordinary sights and sounds so that we do not miss an opportunity to serve.

To you O Lord, I lift my soul. Show me your paths and teach me to follow;
guide me by your truth and instruct me.
Psalm 25: 1, 4