Friday, November 22, 2013

A Day of Thanksgiving

We gathered at Westminster Abbey, a thousand of us, to remember and give thanks for C.S. Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his death -- an end of life date that he shares with JFK and Aldous Huxley.  Friends and scholars of Lewis months ago successfully advocated with the administration of the Abbey for the dedication of a memorial stone in Poets' Corner in honor of Lewis and his prolific and transformative writings.  They agreed that the 50th anniversary of his death would be an appropriate day to do this. So there we were, privately assembled in the cavernous hall to worship and give thanks for this man who brought the faith into the lives and hearts of thousands, perhaps millions, including our own.

Tears filled my eyes as his last ever student read from the Old Testament, his stepson read from The Last Battle and his "loyal to the end" literary secretary, Walter Hooper, laid flowers upon the marker.  All the people who knew Lewis most intimately were there and graced the celebration. 

I am not sure I have ever been in a moment and space where more thanksgiving has been offered and felt. Each person there showed forth a deep sense of humility before the legacy of this great man and his work.  We were all there to say thanks.  But not just thanks, but a deeper gratitude as if to say, "You changed my life and you never knew it." 

No one would have been more surprised over what we were doing than Lewis himself.  The quiet reflective gaze I saw in Walter Hooper's face was what I imagine we would see in Lewis if he had been around for the festivities. 

I came away with the deep sense of "I am not worthy."  It is what I truly feel. I am not worthy of the joy and peace I found in reading and writing about so many of Lewis books, and I am not worthy to have attended such a profound event. 

Thanks be to God.

Lewis at the Abbey

At the beginning of the day I took the chance to visit the National Gallery.  What a joy to pause before the works of Pissaro, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh.  I was particularly struck by Van Gogh's "A Wheatfield with Cypresses" painted shortly before his death.
We spent most of the day attending the C.S. Lewis Symposium at St. Margaret's Church next to Westminster Abbey. Two Lewis scholars, Alistair McGrath and Malcolm Guite, presented talks on the legacy of Lewis. Very well done.  McGrath spoke of Lewis' work as an apologist for the faith and how he told the truth by showing the truth through story and symbol.  Guite focused on Lewis' ability to bring together reason and imagination using Lewis' poem "Reason" as a guide and illustration.
We broke for a Service of Choral Evensong in the Abbey and then returned to St. Margaret's for a panel discussion on the life and work of Lewis.
All in all, a great way to prepare for today's service to dedicate the memorial to Lewis in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Day in Oxford

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to return to Oxford and to visit many of C.S. Lewis' favorite "places".  I put places in quotations because one of the great senses I experienced yesterday was how much Lewis was a person of "place".  Lewis inhabited his places to the fullest.  Many remark how "untraveled" Lewis was -- he never left the British Isles with the exception of a trip to the front lines of WWI early in life and a trip to Greece late in life.  With those exceptions he remained home.  He loved his places.  Once he got to Oxford as a student, he never really left.  He almost gave up a professorship at Cambridge out of fear of having to move from his home in Oxford.

Inside of Oxford he was happy to go to the same old places -- Eagle and Child, The White Horse, his home, etc. He was content to make the walk from his college rooms to the Kilns and remain in either place to do his reading and his letter writing.  The acreage around his home was as much as he needed for his time in nature except when he took his walking tours with friends.  He never learned to drive.  He was content with the space he had been given.  He never felt the need to go to the world; he was happy, through his books, for the world to come to him.

As we toured the Kilns yesterday our group remarked at how small his home was compared to the places where we live.  Each room was humble, warm and intimate.  Most bedrooms had room for little more than a single bed and a desk.  Part of that was the times, but what more does one need?  For Lewis-- a place to sit and read and a place to write -- this was as much a "place" as one needed.  Each room, each place, by his full habitation, became a sacred place. 

It led me to wonder -- how well do I inhabit the places of my world?  Am I content to fill out those few places within my daily life?  Or must I always be on the go, skimming just the surface of each place I glance upon?  I fear it is the latter.  I understand that part of it is personality -- some are wanderlusts and others are homebodies, but are we at risk of losing our sense of the sacred by running from pillar to post?

Where are the sacred places of your life?  Where does your soul take rest, either in solitude or with friends?  Where are the familiar and intimate places? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Did God answer Jesus' prayer?

This is a question with which I have been struggling a long time.  When in Luke's Gospel we hear Jesus on the cross praying to the Father, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," do you think the Father granted the Son's request? Do you think it was in the will of the Father for the Son to ask the question, and do you think that the Father was more than eager to comply?  How you come out on those questions has, I think, profound implications for what we think about God and the mission of the Church. 

You see, I think it was in the will of the Father for the Son to ask that question. In fact I wonder if the whole mission of Christ was leading to that very moment and that very prayer.  It had to come to that -- the profound blindness and ignorance of humanity strapping the Redeemer to the executioner's posts, humanity's ultimate rejection of God -- and in that very moment, the second person of the Trinity pleading within the Godhead for the Creator to reconcile himself to the fallen creation.  There was nothing anybody could do about it -- because we didn't have it inside ourselves to do it.  "Father, forgive them for they have no idea what they are doing!  Father, forgive them because they are clueless!  Father, forgive them because they just can't see and they are never going to get around to asking for it themselves."  God wills them reconciled.  God says "Yes" even when we say "No".

God is not captive to our human whim!  God is not beholden to our capriciousness.  God is not kept in the waiting room until we make up our minds!  To think so is to empty the cross of its power and love!  To think that God binds himself to the random events and experiences of human life that can turn us in our ignorance away from God, is to end up with a rather impotent God who has put human beings in control. 

I think it's the point that Paul gets around to when he writes, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation."   The decisive victory has been won and what remains is announcing the good news.  Whether people believe it or not, does not affect the outcome.  Christ is risen and there is nothing any of us can do about it.  We are forgiven whether we like it or not. 

Karl Barth put it this way:  "I fear that much of the weakness of our Christian witness comes from this fact that we dare not frankly confess the grandeur of God, the victory of Christ, the superiority of the Spirit." 

Wow -- this is some news!  Something to believe in!  Something that gives you a reason to live!  Because if God did not grant the Son's request -- then I  .... well, I just don't want to go there. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Promises to Keep

I had the chance to lose myself in the collected letters of C.S. Lewis.  It's easy to do.  It's a three-volume collection amounting to around 3500 pages.  3500 pages of letters!   Hundreds and hundreds of people wrote to Lewis, most of whom he never laid eyes on, and pretty much each person received a note back in reponse.   Today I read through a collection of 26 letters Lewis wrote over the course of nine years to a young school girl from Sarasota  who had regular questions about the Narnia Chronicles and a host of other issues around writing and stories.  What an example of fidelity!!!  It's almost like a promise Lewis made to himself: if you cared enough to write to him, he would care enough to write to you.   What a wonderful illustration of covenant. 

Perhaps our Christian witness is most profound in the promises we keep.  Sure, there is much to say, and many acts to perform, but I wonder if we are most like Christ in the loyalty we have to the people Christ puts along our path. 

It's not a bad inventory to take -- to whom have I made promises, and how am I doing keeping them?