(My posts will likely become increasingly breathless over the next few days as I slide into Finals. Someone suggested that I should do Chesterton for my C post, but I already did him last year)
It is really hard to overestimate the influence of C.S. Lewis – to this day he remains the most well known, and most feted popular Christian writer. And that he was able to attain such an “ecumenical” readership, from Catholics all the way to Evangelicals, is indeed something of an accomplishment.
The one theme of his which I think has affected me the most is his writing on what he called ‘joy’ – that sort of otherworldly longing which can never quite be quenched. Here’s a passage from his essay, ‘The Weight of Glory’:
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it wit certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we ave not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.
Perhaps, indeed, the desire is illusory – the Christian must live with that thought. Or perhaps the so-called disenchanted world is, as Lewis describes it, a great enchantment. Our story is either the Divine Comedy or the Human Tragedy. We cannot be certain which one it is, and yet we cannot live our lives in a state of suspension. We must chose, bravely and wisely.