As The Ruin Falls (CS Lewis)

as the ruin falls

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains. 

by CS Lewis
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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I don’t feel competent or qualified to comment on most any of the poems I’ve shared this month, least of all one by CS Lewis.

But, these two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Like CS Lewis, God worked through the Anglican liturgy profoundly to shape my faith, and there is something for me in about starting worship in confession which focuses my attention on the magnitude of God’s grace. That Lewis starts with a recognition and confession of his own self-centeredness (and imprisonment in it) resonates deeply with me.
  2. “the pains you give me are more precious than all other gains”…. I see this poem as Lewis’ Philippians 3 proclamation: “I consider everything rubbish (crap!) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” For once we start to appreciate what it means to know Him, only then can we bless him as the ruins fall.

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

A few years ago, I started cycling.

And by cycling, I don’t mean the I-need-to-commute kind of cycling I’d done at school and doing college ministry, but the Now-I-will-wear-lycra-pants-and-shoes-that-clip-in type of cycling. To say that the learning curve was steep was putting it mildly. I still blush a little when I think of how many times I came to a stop and, having forgotten to unclip my shoes from my fancy pedals, realized too late I had no free feet to put down and so just keeled over onto the sidewalk. (It’s okay if you laugh. We all did.)

I remember taking my first longer ride out into the country: a 25 mile round trip, with a half-way stop at a cute coffee shop which was welcoming to smelly lycra-clad cyclists. The first two or three miles was gorgeous: an encouraging warm sun just rising, the breeze in my hair, the regular breathing that felt like life in my lungs. But a few miles in, I was suffering. I couldn’t figure out why: the terrain was flat, and I’d gone so much further than that on the stationary bikes in the gym before. Could I really be this unfit? Had my hours of training until now been so ineffective?

I nursed my disappointment quietly over my coffee while my riding pals chattered on, not sure whether I had the stamina to make it back. I gathered up my shards of courage and mounted my bike, prepared to make my excuses about why I couldn’t keep up with the others on the long ride home… but a few miles in was stunned to find that the trip home was going so much better than the way out had gone.

Really? Why? Why had it been so hard, and now it was going more smoothly? If anything, I’d expected the second half to be harder as the sun was higher and I was that much more tired.

I muttered to the much-more-experienced cyclist next to me: “the way home is going a little easier than I expected.” She laughed: “yup. that’s the difference a tail wind will make.”

A wind? I couldn’t feel it. I hadn’t felt it on the way there, and I couldn’t feel it on the way back… all I was aware of was the feel of the breeze as I biked… but as it turned out cycling directly into a 5mph headwind and then cycling back aided by a 5mph makes a huge difference to how much work it takes to bike. In fact, the difference isn’t even linear: it’s an exponential function (here’s a graph if you have a geeky itch that needs scratching). It requires DOUBLE the amount of power to bike at 20mph as it does at 15mph, just with regular wind resistance caused by the fact that we’re moving through air. If you have a 5mph wind against you at 15mph… well, you do the math.

As it turned out, the struggle was that much worse not because I was failing my training in ways I hadn’t even accounted for, but because I was meeting with real, albeit invisible, resistance.

I was chatting with a friend recently who has been feeling deeply discouraged in some areas of her life where she wishes she were just doing better/being stronger. She sounded exhausted, and was filled with self-reproach that the struggle she was going through was just further evidence of spiritual failure: “If I weren’t so evil, this wouldn’t be so hard to overcome,” she lamented.

But as she described her journey, I became more and more convinced that there was something spiritual going on, too. Christian theologians have long described the enemies of the soul as consisting of the world, the flesh and the devil. My friend was accounting for the world and the flesh in her struggle (and those are real), but it had not crossed her mind that there might be more at work there than she was giving it credit for.

The western church, for all its love of CS Lewis, does not have nearly a robust awareness of the spiritual realities of a dark and evil opponent in the life of faith as our older brother in the faith did. The Screwtape Letters are worth revisiting regularly not only for their written genius, but for the stark reminder that there are evil, personal powers at work to distract and discourage us. “We are not unaware of his schemes,” wrote the Apostle Paul. Sadly, that can often not be said of us.

The image of me, discouraged and beating myself up for my weakness on that first long bike ride, came to mind as I talked with her. Just like I sometimes do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the wind into account when biking, so too we do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the enemy into account, as he blows straight into our faces to slow us down and impede our progress.

And exhausted, we collapse and say to ourselves the words the Accuser (that’s what His name means, anyway) hurls at us: failure. weak. evil. quitter. laughable. why do you even bother?

But it helps to know that there is an enemy. It helps to know that the resistance we are feeling is real, and not imagined, and that the fight we are fighting is not just because our faith-muscles are weak but also because we are wrestling against a skilled opponent. Satan is the invisible headwind on our course, and he delights to remain unnamed and unnoticed so that we will lose heart.

But we will not lose heart. Forgetting what is behind, we press on; fueled by faith and reaching forward—ever onward and upward—to complete the race. We learn, as skilled cyclists do, how to keep your head down and cycle close behind others: for these things do a lot to decrease that relentless invisible resistance.

And so, together, we will go the distance. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

My dear Wormwood, about World Vision…

My Dear Wormwood, About World Vision

My dear Wormwood,

It has been a while since our last correspondence, but Headquarters has sent out a fresh batch of directives which require our most immediate and urgent attention. Our Father is particularly delighted at the ways in which the Christians are slinging arrows at each other following the gleeful little rumpus regarding World Vision. Usually it is our task to aim the fiery darts, but it seems at present our bows have been all but snatched from our hands. All we need do is work at twisting the arrows in where they have found purchase.

It is rare that I congratulate you on a job well done, but I must applaud you for your fine work on your patient this week. Where there was disappointment at first, you managed to nudge it towards disdain and even anger in the hours that followed. We count it a victory that you kept your patient reading and engaging online for hours before the Enemy pulled him away for an infuriating moment of prayer and reflection.

It is, of course, the Enemy’s habit to unravel and undo our best efforts at disunity and confusion, but our immediate attention must be to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Collateral damage is key, even if the final battle cannot be won. The longer you can stir feelings of grief and outrage, the better. Put it into his head to feel a pitiful sorrow for himself, for the starving children, for the opportunities lost; and pit his sorrow against the “others” who call themselves Christians. Make frequent use of the words ‘they’ and ‘them’: those sneaky pronouns make such delightful inroads into so-called Christian “community”.

Self-righteous reflection will be our greatest ally here. Do your very best to keep a level of deep disappointment and blame simmering in his chest, but under no circumstances should you let his regret develop into remorse or repentance. Let him be sad, but do not let him wallow near godly sorrow. Have him question the state of the souls of others: it will keep him from soul-searching himself, at least for a time.

Time is of the essence, dear nephew. Do all you can to keep him at his computer, and off his knees. If we cannot dissuade our patients from calling themselves biblical Christians, our best bet is to make critics rather than students of them all. I look forward to your next missive reporting increased levels of frustration and folly all round.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters have long been a favorite of mine. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to beware of our enemy, who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. This week, I have wondered what that prowling lion has made of the World Vision controversy, and I confess I spent too much time online and not on my knees. Writing this was a helpful spiritual exercise for me. I publish it in the hope that it might be for you.

In Which CS Lewis Nails It Again

There is children’s fiction, and then there is Children’s Fiction. The former entertains kids, the latter is for children too, but is deep with riches for adults to enjoy. I think Sesame Street and Toy Story brilliantly catered to both young and old in the movie category. And surely when it comes to books, no-one has done it better than CS Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia.

He was a master story teller, that is for sure – but the more I read of Lewis, the more I see that he was a diligent and careful student of the Scriptures. His depictions of Aslan breathe with the life, language and movement of Jesus in the gospels. His account of Aslan giving the law to Jill at the beginning of Prince Caspian is steeped in the language of Deuteronomy. And most recently, in the wake of reading NT Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, I have marveled once again at his biblical accuracy.

In a world where Christians speak loosely of “heaven” and “flying away to Jesus”, picturing it as a literal pie-in-the-sky blissful existence, C.S. Lewis understood that the real Christian hope for the future is not a fluffy-meringue spiritual existence, but the real-flesh-and-blood heaven-ON-EARTH existence. God fashioned us to live on earth when he created us, and it would seem that His intention is yet to re-create the heavens and the earth, that we may live a life in real bodies on a real earth in the future.

Except this time, it will be perfect. C.S. Lewis understood that, and it led him to worship.

They kept on stopping to look round and look behind them, partly because it was so beautiful but partly also because there was something about it which they could not understand.

“Peter,” said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

“I don’t know,” said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name. Could it be somewhere we once stayed for a holiday when we were very, very small?”

“It would have to have been a jolly good holiday,” said Eustace. “I bet there isn’t a country like this anywhere in our world. Look at the colors! You couldn’t get blue like that blue on those mountains in our world.”

“Is it not Aslan’s country?” said Tirian.

“Not like Aslan’s country on top of that mountain beyond the Eastern end of the world,” said Jill. “I’ve been there.”

“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world. Look at those mountains ahead—and the big ice-mountains beyond them. Surely they’re rather like the mountains we used to see from Narnia, the ones up Westward beyond the Waterfall?”

“Yes, so they are,” said Peter. “Only these are bigger.”

“I don’t think those ones are so very like anything in Narnia,” said Lucy. “But look there.” She pointed Southward to their left and everyone stopped and turned to look. “Those hills,” said Lucy, “the nice woody ones and the blue ones behind—aren’t they very like the Southern border of Narnia?”

“Like!” cried Edmund after a moment’s silence. “Why, they’re exactly like. Look, there’s Mount Pire with his forked head, and there’s the pass into Archenland and everything!”

“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more … more … oh, I don’t know …”

“More like the real thing,” said the Lord Digory softly.

Suddenly Farsight the Eagle spread his wings, soared thirty or forty feet up into the air, circled round and then alighted on the ground.

“Kings and Queens,” he cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all—Ettinsmur, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia.”

“But how can it be?” said Peter. “For Aslan told us older ones that we should never return to Narnia, and here we are.”

“Yes,” said Eustace. “And we saw it all destroyed and the sun put out.”

“And it’s all so different,” said Lucy.

“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back into Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream… .”

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, ch. 15.

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One day, we will come home at last, to our real country, where we belong. It will be the land we have been looking for all our lives, though we never knew it till now. The reason we love anything in this world is that sometimes, it looks a little like the one to come.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)

This is Day 29 in the series 31 Days of Belonging. A complete list of posts can be found here, and two further ramblings on the genius of CS Lewis can be found here:
On C.S. Lewis and being a homemaker
Finding Aslan

On Finding Aslan

If ever there was a thrilling way to read the Chronicles of Narnia, it is this: reading it aloud to your children. Snuggled up on the couch, reading it with my years of faith behind me and my daughter’s fresh pair of ears and vivid imagination – it is a wild ride of joy and discovery.

This is not the first time I am reading the Narnia series. Far from it. But this time I am experiencing a new, raw emotion as I read. As we journey through the pages and the drama, with enemies closing in, betrayal all around and the future unclear, I keep finding myself holding my breath: I just can’t wait for the lion to show up.

I find myself aching for Aslan’s arrival. Why does he not come sooner? Can’t he see the children are in trouble? I remember the stories generally well enough to know that he does always turn up, and that in hindsight it was always exactly the right moment – but as we read I find I’m LONGING for it. I’m flipping the pages, desperate for the narrative to declare his arrival.

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My heart literally beats faster when he finally arrives. I am struck once again at how unexpectedly wise, how disarmingly discerning, how powerful, how playful, how loving, how tender, how stern he is. He is breathtaking. I know it isn’t just me, either, because my 5-year old’s face shines with joyous awe when we get to the Aslan parts. She is my little Lucy incarnate, and I love her all the more for it.

My daughter and I were both misty-eyed when we got to the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week, where Aslan tells Lucy that this is their last Narnian goodbye. Lucy is heartbroken:

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Do you know Aslan’s other name in our world?” I asked my daughter.

“Jesus,” she whispered back, all fierceness-and-devotion in her voice.

Reading Narnia with my daughter has made me think long and deep again. By knowing Aslan there for a little, I am to know him better here. This is the very reason Lewis brought us to Narnia.

But why, then, do I long for Aslan in a way that I haven’t longed for Jesus for a while? Why have I not found myself praying Maranatha – COME Lord Jesus as the early church did?

I wondered about this for a while and then forgot about it. And then one evening, while reading through the gospel of Luke with my small group, all of a sudden, I felt the Lion show up. My heart rate literally sped up, because there on the pages of Luke, He had arrived. And I found I had forgotten how unexpectedly wise, how disarmingly discerning, how powerful, how playful, how loving, how tender, how stern he is. Jesus is breathtaking.

I had forgotten. It’s been a while since I’ve read the gospels.

CS Lewis’s Aslan is 100% proof positive that he was a diligent student of the gospels. The Aslan he wrote of was Jesus in every way: the one who grows bigger the more we know him, the one who gave his life for his betrayers, the one who never explains what “could have” have happened but gives grace enough for the next step. He is disarming, delightful, terrifying, hilarious. He is not a tame lion.

There are perhaps more people who have read Narnia than have read one of the gospels in the past 25 years. Friends, if you loved Aslan (even as a child), and you haven’t read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in a while – do yourself a favor:

Read a gospel.

Watch this 3 minute video by NT Wright if you need an incentive. And if I can offer one tip while reading, it would be this: don’t read it waiting for the “take away nugget”. Read it as if you were one of the crowd, one of the Pevensie children, meeting him for the first time.

And I’ll eat my hat if, while reading the gospels, you don’t find that the Lion shows up.

On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

On CS Lewis, homemakers and the Ultimate Career

I recently stumbled upon a quote that made this stay-at-home-mama’s heart leap:

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

-C.S. Lewis

I read it, and read it, and read it again. Then I let my eyes savor who had penned those words. I mean really, if C.S. Lewis said it – it HAS to be true! I posted the quote on Facebook and the it garnered ‘likes’ by-the-minute. Clearly I am not the only one needed to hear exactly this today.

domestic bliss

Modern Homemakers of 2013?

Why did it strike such a chord? I think the reason it leaped out at me was that, at first, I read it to mean this: “a stay at home Mom has the most valuable and important career.”

Now as a stay-at-home Mom, I am in SORE NEED OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Every single day is one spent being busy, busy, busy. The hours are long. The work is never done. There are hours and hours of laundry and refereeing and fort-building and sandwiches being made and then rejected. Each day involves about thirty forays under the dining table to retrieve Something Sticky. Every day involves multiple trips to the bathroom to rinse Something Sticky (sadly, often underpants). And yet at the end of each day I look at the fruit of my labor, and most days this is what I come up with:

Nothing.

At the end of the day, judging by the physical evidence around me, I see zero dollars earned, zero surface areas cleaned, and judging by the whining and sass, zero character development in my children either.

Yet, in my heart, I know that this is worthwhile. I know that I need to take the long-view. I just need to be encouraged and reminded that This Is Worth It, and My Time At Home Makes A Difference. Because the physical evidence to refute that piles up daily in my sink. Amidst the daily grind of parenting there is also the colossal mental battle of discouragement and fear that needs to be fought.

So when C.S. Lewis, that great author of things wise and pithy, writes something which seems to say that this, THIS, my underpaid, undervalued, underwhelming and very-sticky existence – is the Ultimate Career – I feel validated and worthy again, even if just for a moment.

A little internet sleuthing revealed the original source for the quote, which appears to have been someone’s precis of something he wrote in a “letter to Mrs Ashton” in 1955:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

What a wonderful man to have corresponded with. Mrs Ashton’s heart was, no doubt, warmed as mine was to read his words.

However, as I’ve been mulling over this quote today, a thought has occurred to me, and now that I have read the original quote I think I need to tweak my initial understanding of Lewis’ words.

By “ultimate” career, he did not solely mean ultimate as in “highest, greatest and unsurpassed.” He was not saying that homemaking is the most fabulous career, the best one, the one-that-can’t-be-beat. Lovely as it sounds, it would be hard to accept his encouragement as truly true if that was what he meant. There is a pile of dishes in my sink to refute that claim, after all.

Rather, by “ultimate”, I think he means “the last, the furthest, ending a process or series. The final or total. The fundamental.” I think he means by “ultimate” what in Greek is meant by the word ‘telos’ – it’s the final goal. It’s the career to which all other careers point.

Reading it like that, I think, means that Lewis’ words of encouragement stretch their warmth and wisdom beyond the realm of the stay-at-home mama, and in fact speak to us all, for:

.. You, working mama, work not to selfishly advance your career, but to provide for your home. To make a place which is warm and safe and in which your family that you love can thrive. Your career is also in service of the ultimate goal: you are using your skills as best you can to make your house a HOME.

.. and You, working daddy, work ultimately not for prestige or money or selfish advancement, but to provide for your FAMILY. You too, are working towards the ultimate career – to provide for your home. You work at “work”, but ultimately, you are working for your home.

… and yes You too, stay at home mama or stay at home daddy, are working in the ultimate career: using your strengths, gifts, time, service to make your house a HOME. And that Sisyphean task is valuable.

CS Lewis’ words are encouraging to me as I face my sticky-floor, but not in the sense that my career as a stay-at-home is “different from other careers and most highly esteemed”. Rather, today his words are encouraging to me because they remind me that my career as a SAHM is, in fact, the same as other careers, in that we are all ultimately seeking to make a HOME.

And that goal of creating happy homes, which “prepares for being happy in our own real home hereafter”,

(whether done directly by floor-and-butt-wipers like me,)

(or indirectly by engineers-like my husband,)

(or indirectly by my brave and wonderful working-mama friends,)

…..is a goal worthy of encouragement.
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