Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

Notes from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 5

On the Easter of the Western churches two Sundays ago (my Eastern Orthodox Church's Easter is still in the future, April 27) I was impressed at how widely observed that day is when, in urban Northern California where I live there is hadly any "publicity" about Easter. Most people don't even get a day off work because of it. But the freeways were wide open, the coffee houses were only lightly patronized, and there was a calmness over all the city that one notices only on major holidays. Why, then, I asked my muse, has Easter escaped the commerical ravages common to Christmas, at which the frenzy builds for two months and then crashes down on the climax of December 24? If this many people alter their behavior for that special day, why hasn't Easter been exploited more in the secular and commercial world?

I wasn't sure, but on a blog I often check into I saw an answer that C.S. Lewis reportedly gave to the same question more than a half century ago. It's because, he allegedly said (I've not encountered it in my reading of him, but it sounds like a Lewis insight) — it's because of Good Friday. There are myriad aspects of Christmas that anyone, believer or not, can celebrate. Birth, the hope for the rising up of a great person, the fun side of Christmas, and all that. But secularists can't celebrate the excution of a savior or messianic figure (which is what Good Friday is about). Much less can those elements celebrate the resurrection of someone they don't accept as divine or even miracle working, much less God incarnate. And again, Lewis has given us the most logical answer.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1953, continued

To Don Giovanni Calabria, March 17, p 307: "They err who say 'the world is turning pagan again.' Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state.

"'Post-Christian man' is not the same as 'pre-Christian man.' He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost."

To Nell Berners-Price, March 20, p 308: "in another way it probably makes it worse, for you have lived into the period when the relationship is really reversed and you were mothering her: and of course, the more we have had to do for people the more we miss them — loving goes deeper than being loved."

Same: "If ever I go to jail (which may happen to anyone now-a-days)...."

To Michael [an American schoolboy], March 21, p 310: "The reason there is so much boiled food here is, of course, that we have so little cooking-fat for roasting or frying."

To Vera Gebbert, March 23, p 310: "I am sure you felt as I did when I heard my first bullet. 'This is War: this is what Homer wrote about. For, all said and done, a woman who has never had a baby and a man who has never been either in a battle or a storm at sea, are, in a sense, rather outside — haven't really 'seen life' — haven't served."

Same, p 311: "there can be no such thing as chance from God's point of view."

To William Kinter, March 28, p 313: "the bus driver in the [Great] Divorce is certainly , and consciously, modelled on the angel at the gates of Dis," in Dante.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, March 31, p 316: "Apropos of horrid little fat baby 'cherubs,' did I mention that Heb. [Hebrew] Kherub is from the same root as Gryphon? That shows what they're really like!"

Footnote 102 on p 316, referring to the book, The Coming of the Lord: A Study in the Creed, by Sister Penelope CSMV, quotes her text: "But when Man comes to his End, he will be finished in the sense of being ready, at last, for the purpose for which he was made." A letter by Lewis above comments on her insight in seeing this.

To Mary Van Deusen, April 6, p 320: "The quite enormous advantage of coming really to believe in forgiveness is well worth the horrors (I agree, they are horrors) of a first confession." He is responding to her request for thoughts about confessing sins to a spiritual father, as Lewis had been doing and she was contemplating.

Same: "I think advice is best kept till it is asked for."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, April 17, p 323: "I'd sooner pray for God's mercy than for His justice on my friends, my enemies, and myself."

To Geoffrey Bles, April 22, p 324: "No author, on general grounds, ever thinks his book appears too soon!"

To Sheldon Vanauken, April 22, p 325: "I feel an amused recognition when you describe those moments at wh. one feels 'How cd. I — I, of all people — ever have come to believe this cock & bull story.' I think they will do us no harm. Aren't they just the reverse side of one's just recognition that the truth is amazing! Our fathers were more familiar with the opposite danger of taking it all for granted: which is probably just as bad."

To I.O. Evans, April 27, p 326, in apologizing for not yet responding to Evans' book sent to him: it "got put on a pile of 'books received' — most of them (I don't include yours) a major plague of my life...."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, May 9, p 326: "nominal Christianity has died out, so that only those who really believe now profess. The old conventional church-going of semi-believers or almost total unbelievers is a thing of the past. Whether the real thing is rarer than it was would be hard to say. Fewer children are brought up to it: but adult conversions are very frequent."

To Ruth Pitter, May 12, p 327: "I had feared that you might be one of those who, like poor Wordsworth, leave their talent behind at conversion and now — oh glory — you came up shining out of the font far better than you were before."

Same, p 328: "As sweet as sin and as innocent as milk."

To Elsie Snickers, May 18, p 329, lays out the contrast between the liberal, scientific, or humanist and the biblical view of sin. Also, p 331: "I am rather sorry that you have taken Psychology as a subject for your academic course. A continued interest in it on the part of those who have had psychotherapeutic treatment is usually, I think, not a good thing. At least, not until a long interval has elapsed and their personal interst in it, the interest connected with their own case, has quite died away. At least that is how it seems to me."

To Rhonda Bodle, May 20, p 331: "I wonder whether secular education will do us all the harm the secularists hope. Secular teachers will, But Christian teachers in secular schools may, I sometimes think, do more good precisely because they are not allowed to give religious instruction in class. At least I think that, as a child, I shd. have been very allured and impressed by the discovery — which must be made when questions are asked — that the teacher believed firmly in a whole mass of things he wasn't allowed to teach! Let them give us the charm of mystery if they please."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, May 30, p 333: "I suspect there must be something in the very structure of a modern office which creates Dither. Otherwise why does our 'College Office' find full time work for a crowd of people in doing what the President of the College, 100 years ago, did in his spare time without a secretary and without a typewriter? (The more noise, heat, & smell a machine produces the more power is being wasted!")

Note on p 333: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953.

To Mary Van Deusen, June 18, p 335: "It one is asked for advice, then, and then only, one has to have an opinion about the exact rule of life which wd. suit some other Christian. I think the rule is to mind one's own business."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 16, p 338: "It was a kind thought on your part to send on these two little items. Whether it's good for me to hear them is another matter! One of the things that make it easier to believe in Providence is the fact that in all trains, hotels, restaurants and other public places I have only once seen a stranger reading a book of mine, tho' my friends encounter this phenomenon fairly often. Things are really very well arranged."

To Vera Gebbert: "I have no idea what a baby ought to weigh."

To Mary Van Deusen, June 29, p 342: "I wouldn't quite say that 'religious Practices help the search for truth' for that might imply that they have no further use when the truth has been found. I think about the practices what a wise old priest said to me about a 'rule of life' in general — 'It is not a stair but a bannister' (or rail or balustrade — I don't know what you call it in America), i.e. it is, not the thing you ascend by but it is a protective against falling off and a help-up. I think thus we ascent. The stair is God's grace. One's climb from step to step is obedience. Many different kinds of bannisters exist, all legitimate. It is possible to get up without any bannisters, if need be: but no one wd. willingly build a staircase without them because it would be less safe, more laborious, and a little lacking in beauty."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, July 10, p 343: "The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate."

To Roger Lancelyn Green, July 10, p 344: "Adjectives which are a direct command to the reader to feel a certain emotion are of no use."

To Vera Gebbert, July 16, p 345: "I never showed more discretion, I believe, than in cutting that book [The Screwtape Letters] short and never writing a sequel. The very fact that people ask for more proves it was the right length."

Footnote 158 on p 346, explaining a comment by Lewis in a letter to Roger Lancelyn Green: "According to the Roman law of Jus Trium Liberorum, every man who had been a father of three children had particular honours and privileges."

To Mrs. Johnson, July 17, p 348: "I think you in America feel much more anxiety about atomic bombs than we do: because you are further from the danger. If and when a horror turns up, you will then be given Grace to help you. I don't think one is usually given it in advance. 'Give us our daily bread' (not an annuity for life) applies to spiritual gifts too: the little daily support for the daily trial. Life has to be taken day by day & hour by hour."

Same: "I become my own only when I give myself to Another."

Same: "the saints say that visions are unimportant."

Same: "we (Man) have had laid on us the heavy crown of being lords of this planet, and the same contract between the frail, tiny person — the huge ritual goes for us all."

To Mrs. Frank Jones, July 17, p 350: "Like you, we haven't got a [television] set, and don't propose to get one; it is I think a very bad habit to develop. People who have sets seem to do nothing but go into a huddle over them every evening of their lives, instead of being out walking, or in their gardens. And of course, like all things which begin as luxuries, they end up by being necessities; an unofficial cost of living survey was recently held in our midland manufacturing districts, and quite a large percentage of the working class interviewed complained that if prices didn't come down, or wages go up, they would not be able to maintain their payments on their television sets — which have now become part of the worker's basic standard of living. Just think of men drawing perhaps $40 a week, considering an article costing — cash down — perhaps $250, a necessity!"

To Mary Van Deusen, July 23, p 351: "I take it that in every marriage natural love sooner or later, in a high or a low degree, comes up against difficulties (if only the difficulty that the original state of 'being in love' dies a natural death) which force it either to turn into dislike or else to turn into Christian charity. For all our natural feelings are, not resting places, but points d'appui, springboards. One has to go on from there, or fall back from there. The merely human pleasure in being loved must either go bad or become the divine joy of loving."

Same: "I have to guard against making my letters into advertisments, you know!" Referring to his books.

To Mary Willis Shelburne: "How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world's population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year's end?"

A footnote on this says Lewis was referring to his confessor, Fr. Walter Adams.

Same, p 352: "I do most heartily agree that it is just as well to be past the age when one expects or desires to attract the other sex."

To Mrs. Emily McLay, p 354: "Whatever St. Paul may have meant [in references to election, predestination], we must not reject the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. XXV. 30-46). There, you see there is nothing about Predestination or even about Faith — all depends on works. But how this is to be reconciled with St. Paul's teaching, or with other sayings of Our Lord, I frankly confess I don't know. Even St. Peter you know admits that he was stumped by the Pauline epistles (II Peter III. 16-17)."

Same, p 355: "The real inter-relation between God's omnipotence and Man's freedom is something we can't find out. Looking at the Sheep & the Goats every man can be quite sure that every kind act he does will be accepted by Christ. Yet, equally, we all do feel sure that all the good in us comes from Grace. We have to leave it at that."

Footnote 172 quotes John Calvin, in the Institutes, in part: "Our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle . . . everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled."

Footnote 173 quotes Luther on the problem of election: "Do you doubt whether you are elected to salvation? Then say your prayers, man, and you may conclude that you are."

To Mrs. Emily McLay, August 8, p 356: "Your experience in listening to those philosphers gives you the technique one needs for dealing with the dark places in the Bible. When one of the philosophers, one whom you know on other grounds to be a sane and decent man, said something you didn't understand, you did not at once conclude that he had gone off his head. You assumed you'd missed the point.

"Same here. The two things one must NOT do are (a) To believe, on the strength of Scripture or on any other evidence, that God is in any way evil. (In Him is no darkness at all.) (b) To wipe off the slate any passage which seems to show that He is. Behind that apparently shocking passage, be sure, there lurks some great truth which you don't understand. If one ever does come to understand it, one will see that [He] is good and just and gracious in ways we never dreamed of. Till then, it must be just left on one side."

To Don Giovanni Calabria, August 10, p 358, says he is going on vacation "to Ireland, my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperatre climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

"There indeed both yours and ours 'know not by what Spirit they are led.' They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

"I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics. For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power. Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which 'covers a multitude of sins.'"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, August 10, p 358: "every missed meal can be converted into a fast if taken in the right way."

Same, p 359: "of course independence, the state of being indebted to no one, is eternally impossible. Who, after all, is more totally dependent than what we call the man 'of independent means.'"

Same: "I'm a panic-y person about money myself (which is a most shameful confession and a thing dead against Our Lord's words) and poverty frightens me more than anything else except large spiders and the tops of cliffs."

To Mary Van Deusen, September 14, p 360: "I am just back from Donegal (which was heavenly)."

To Phyllida, September 14, p 362: "I don't think age matters so much as people think. Parts of me are still 12 and I think other parts were already 50 when I was 12: so I don't feel it v. odd that they grow up in Narnia while they are children in England."

To Roger Lancelyn Green, September 15, p 363: "Just back from Donegal (which was as near heaven as you can get in Thulcandra)." Thulcandra is the name of earth in the language of the planets in Lewis's science fiction novels.

To Don Giovanni Calabria, September 15, p 364, thanks the Italian monk for sending him a book "entitled The Renewal of All Things in Christ."

Same, p 365: "the apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith...."

Same, "the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adultress. For faith perfects nature but faith lost corrupts nature. Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light but also the natural light which pagans possessed."

To Nell Berners-Price, October 3, p 368: "I had a lovely time over there: the best part in Donegal, all Atlantic breakers and golden sand and peat and heather and donkeys and mountains and (what is most unusual there) a heat wave and cloudless skies. Walks were much interrupted by blackberries: so big and juicy, and sweet that you just couldn't pass without picking them. Some funny hotels, though. One has often found bathrooms with no hot water but I found one with no cold! You've no idea how tired one gets waiting for a bath to cool. In fact, with all the steam round you, it really means having a Turkish bath before the ordinary one!"

To I.O. Evans, October 25, p 373: "You will hardly believe the following but we had it offered in the college entrance exam: 'In any controversy half the people generally side with the majority and half with the minority.'"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 6, p 375: "But then when the need comes He carries out in us His otherwise impossible instructions. In fact He always has to do all the things — all the prayers, all the virtues. No new doctrine, but newly come home to me."

To Vera Gebbert, November 7, p 376: "Yes, babies (tho' I know yours is quite unlike all other babies!) do look like Sir W. I wonder why? 'Trailing clouds of glory,' I suppose." A footnote to this says Winston Churchill had remarked to someone who told him people said her baby looked like him, "All babies look like me."

Same, p 377: "How wrong you are when you think that streamlined planes and trains wd. attract me to America. What I want to see there is yourself and 3 or 4 other good friends, after New England, the Rip Van Winkle Mts., Nantucket, the Huckleberry Finn country, the Rockies, Yellowstone Park, and a sub-Artic winter. And I shd. never come if I couldn't manage to come by sea instead of air: preferably on a cargo boat that took weeks on the voyage. I'm a rustic animal and a maritime animal: no good at great cities, big hotels, or all that....I'd love to see a bear, a snow-shoe, and a real forest."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, November 27, p 378: "Sleep is a jade who scorns her suitors but woos her scorners."

Same: "The news that you had been almost miraculously guarded from that sin and spared that pain and hence the good hope that we shall all find the like mercy when our bad times come, has strengthened me much. God bless you."

To Mary Van Deusen, November 28, p 379: "We must distinguish in God, and even in ourselves, absolute will from relative will. No one absolutely wills to have a tooth out, but many will to have a tooth out rather than to go on with toothache. Surely in the same way God never absolutely wills the least suffering for any creature, but may will it rather than some alternative: i.e. He willed the crucifixion rather than that Man shd. go unredeemed (and so it was not, in all senses, His will that the cup shd. pass from His Son)."

To Mrs. D. Jessup, December 1, p 380: "All Christians are called to abandon the 'World' (sense ii) in spirit, i.e. to reject as strongly as they possibly can its standards, motives, and prizes. But some are called to 'come out of it' as far as possible by renouncing private property, marriage, their professions etc: others have to remain 'in it' but not 'of it.'"

Same, p 381: "In so far as she accuses me of 'worldliness' she is right: but if by 'earthiness' she means my tendency to 'come down to brass tacks' and try to deal with the ordinary petty sins & virtues of secular & domestic life, she is wrong. That is a thing that ought to be done and has not yet been done enough."

To Vera Gebbert, December 1, p 381, "behindhand," though striking me as a coined word, is in the dictionary with a normal definition, "in arrears."

A footnote on p 383 explains the influence that a young son had on the publisher of Tolkien's The Hobbit.

To Katharine Farrer, December 4, p 384: "I too have got The Fellowship of the Ring and have gluttonously read two chapters instead of saving it all for the week-end. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it really succeeded (in selling, I mean)? It would inaugurate a new age. Dare we hope?"

A footnote to this letter describes Mrs. Farrer's objection to Lewis's characterizing God as not male, but "masculine," and quotes from That Hideous Strength, where Ransom says, "What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it." This is an extension (or a flipping) of the NT teaching that the whole church is the bride of Christ.

To J.R.R. Tolkien, December 7, p 385, after praising The Lord of the Rings, reports that he has written a "blurb" endorsing the book, but warns: "Even if he and you approve my words, think twice before using them: I am certainly a much, and perhaps an increasingly, hated man whose name might do you more harm than good."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, December 16, p 387: "I have got my huge 16th c. volume for the Oxford History of English Literature nearly off my chest now, and feel inclined never to do any work again as long as I live."

Same: he refers to a book by Kathleen Nott, The Emperor's Clothes, "described on the jacket as 'An attack on the dogmatic orthodoxy of T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, and others." He says that, as "an Ulster Scot" he was disinclined to part with the money to buy a copy of it.

To Ruth Pitter, December 21, p 390, closes with "God bless the house, as we say in Ireland."

To Joy Gresham, December 22, p 392, referring to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End: "It is a strange comment on our age that such a book lies hid in a hideous paper-backed edition, wholly unnoticed by the cognoscenti, while any 'realistic' drivel about some neurotic in a London flat — something that needs no real invention at all, something that any educated man could write if he chose, may get seriously reviewed and mentioned in serious books — as if it really mattered. I wonder how long this tyranny will last? Twenty years ago I felt no doubt that I should live to see it all break up and great literature return: but here I am, losing teeth and hair, and still no break in the clouds."

To Vera Gebbert, December 23, p 395, "In Scots, a 'kerfuffle'?" Disturbance.

To Mary Van Deusen, December 28, p 397: "a habit of reading is a great source of happiness"

To Phyllis Elinor Sandeman, December 31, p 398: "I first met this 'cold blast on the naked heath' at about 9, when my mother died, and there has never really been any sense of security and snugness since. That is, I've not quite succeeded in growing up on that point: there is still too much of "Mammy's little lost boy' about me."

Same: "it is sometimes helpful to think of oneself as a picture wh. He is painting."

Same, p 399: "I wd. have come to Christianity much less reluctantly if it had not involved the Church."

Same: "All earthly loves go through some fire before they can inherit the Kingdom."

Same: "We shan't find faith by looking for comfort."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

Apparently I tend to brag too much about my home state of Ohio. One day I told a long-suffering friend, "You know, the first man in powered flight was from Ohio. The first man to orbit the earth was from Ohio. And the first man on the moon was from Ohio."

"Sounds like a lot of people are trying to get out of Ohio," he observed.

Thought for today

I become my own only when I give myself to Another.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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