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The Inklings

In January 1963 C. S. Lewis clarified what "The Inklings" was all about in a letter to the editor of Encounter:

"I have ben reading John Wain's Sprightly Running, and find there a good many references to myself. Many of them are extremely kind, and all are inoffensive: but there is one passage which I must contradict on merely factual grounds. Whether the matter it deals with is at all worth recording, is doubtful: but if it is to be recorded, let us get it right.

"On page 183 Mr. Wain is talking about a very informal club that used to meet in my rooms, and says he was 'surprised by the alliances it was capable of forming.' He thinks Dorothy Sayers was an ally 'because she was a Christian and liked Dante'; Roger L. Green, 'because he was an authority on fairy tales'; and Roy Campbell, 'because he was a Roman Catholic' and 'anti-socialist.'

"The truth is:
Dorothy Sayers, so far as I know, was not even acquainted w…

Dependence

On 10 December 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to Mary Willis Shelburne:

"One must get over any false shame about accepting necessary help. One never has been 'independent'. Always, in some mode or other, one has lived on others, economically, intellectually, spiritually. Who, after all, is less independent than someone with 'a private income'-- every penny of which has been earned by the skill and labour of others? Poverty merely reveals the helpless dependence which has all the time been our real condition. We are members of one another whether we choose to recognise the fact or not."

Collected Letters, Volume III, 1390

These wise words of C. S. Lewis reminded me today of the words of a poem often quoted by my father. I do not know the name of the author. . . .

One by one He took them from me, all the things I valued most,
until I was empty-handed, every glittering toy was lost.
I walked earth’s highways grieving, in my rags and poverty,
until I heard His voice invi…

Humility

On 1 December 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:

"Yes, God has been v. good to me and allowed my work to reach more people than I would have dared to hope. But I always remember that He can preach thro' any instrument -- Balaam's ass is the example I keep in mind."

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." 1 Peter 5:6

Prayer: Father, help me to always remember that you can use anyone, even an ass, to speak your word to others, and to never forget that what matters most is not the approval of other human beings but your "Well done!" Use me today, dear Lord, to speak your word of grace to those whom I meet, in any way you wish. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Ending a Chapter

On 21 November 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to Mary Van Deusen:

"I think I share, to excess, your feeling about a move. By nature I demand from the arrangements of this world just that permanence which God has expressly refused to give them. It is not merely the nuisance and expense of any big change in one's way of life that I dread. It is also the psychological uprooting and the feeling -- to me, as to you, intensely unwelcome -- of having ended a chapter. One more portion of oneself slipping away into the past! I would like everything to be immemorial -- to have the same old horizons, the same garden, the same smells and sounds, always there, changeless. The old wine is to me always better. That is, I desire the 'abiding city' where I well know it is not and ought not to be found. I suppose all these changes shd. prepare us for the far greater change which has drawn nearer even since I began this letter. We must 'sit light' not only to life itself but to all its…

Going Solo or Seeking Community?

On 8 November 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to "the American Lady", Mary Willis Shelburne:
"Yes, I can well understand how you long for 'a place of your own'. I nominally have one and am nominally master of the house, but things seldom go as I would have chosen. The truth is that the only alternatives are either solitude (with all its miseries and dangers, both moral and physical) or else all the rubs and frustrations of a joint life. The second, even at its worst seems to me far the better." Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1379
"The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.'" Genesis 2:18
Prayer: Thank you Father, that you place the lonely in families. So often we human beings irk one another because we are all fallen, and therefore hard to live with. But let me not live under the illusion that I would be happier left to myself. Help me always to seek the community of others in Christ. Amen.

Encounter with Light, Part VI

17/4/51
Dear Van Auken

My prayers are answered. No: a glimpse is not a vision. But to a man on a mountain road by night, a glimpse of the next three feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon. And there must perhaps always be just enough lack of demonstrative certainty to make free choice possible: for what could we do but accept if the faith were like the multiplication table?

There will be a counter attack on you, you know, so don't be too alarmed when it comes. The enemy will not see you vanish into God's company without an effort to reclaim you. Be busy learning to pray and (if you have made up yr. mind on the denominational question) get confirmed.

Blessings on you and a hundred thousand welcomes. Make use of me in any way you please: and let us pray for each other always.

Yours
C. S. Lewis

To read the rest of Sheldon Vanauken's booklet, visit my web site by clicking on the link: http://www.willvaus.com/encounter_with_light.

Encounter with Light, Part V

On a morning with spring in the air, March 29, 1951, Sheldon Vanauken wrote in his Notebook and to C. S. Lewis:

"I choose to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--in Christ, my lord and my God. Christianity has the ring, the feel of unique truth. Of essential truth. By it, life is made full instead of empty, meaningful instead of meaningless. Cosmos becomes beautiful at the Centre, instead of chillingly ugly beneath the lovely pathos of spring. But the emptiness, the meaninglessness, and the ugliness can only be seen, I think, when one has glimpsed the fullness, the meaning, and the beauty. It is when heaven and hell have both been glimpsed that going back is impossible. But to go on seemed impossible, also. A glimpse is not a vision. A choice was necessary: and there is no certainty. One can only choose a side. So I--I now choose my side: I choose beauty; I choose what I love. But choosing to believe is believing. It's all I can do: choose. I confess my do…

Encounter with Light, Part IV

Magdalen College Oxford 23 Dec. 1950 Dear Mr. Van Auken

The contradiction `we must have faith to believe and must believe to have faith' belongs to the same class as those by which the Eleatic philosophers proved that all motion was impossible. And there are many others. You can't swim unless you can support yourself in water & you can't support yourself in water unless you can swim. Or again, in an act of volition (e.g. getting up in the morning) is the very beginning of the act itself voluntary or involuntary? If voluntary then you must have willed it, you were willing it already, it was not really the beginning. If involuntary, then the continuation of the act (being determined by the first movement) is involuntary too. But in spite of this we do swim, & we do get out of bed.
I do not think there is a demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will & honesty of my best & oldest friends. I think all…

Encounter with Light, Part III

Here is the second letter from Sheldon Vanauken to C. S. Lewis:

"My fundamental dilemma is this: I can't believe in Christ unless I have faith, but I can't have faith unless I believe in Christ. This is 'the leap.' If to be a Christian is to have faith (and clearly it is), I can put it thus: I must accept Christ to become a Christian, but I must be a Christian to accept Him. I don't have faith and I don't as yet believe; but everyone seems to say: 'You must have faith to believe.' Where do I get it? Or will you tell me something different? Is there a proof? Can Reason carry one over the gulf . . . without faith?

"Why does God expect so much of us? Why does he require this effort to believe? If He made it clear that He is--as clear as a sunrise or a rock or a baby's cry--wouldn't we be right joyous to choose Him and His Law? Why should the right exercise of our free will contain this fear of intellectual dishonesty?

"I must write f…

Encounter with Light, Part II

Magdalen College Oxford 14/12/50 Dear Mr. Van Awten

My own position at the threshold of Xtianity was exactly the opposite of yours. You wish it were true: I strongly hoped it was not. At least, that was my conscious wish: you may suspect that I had unconscious wishes of quite a different sort and that it was these which finally shoved me in. True: but then I may equally suspect that under your conscious wish that it were true, there lurks a strong unconscious wish that it were not. What this works out to is that all that modern stuff about concealed wishes and wishful thinking, however useful it may be for explaining the origin af an error which you already know to be an error, is perfectly useless in deciding which of two beliefs is the error and which is the truth. For (a.) One never knows all one's wishes, and (b.) In very big questions, such as this, even one's conscious wishes are nearly always engaged on both sides.

What I think you can say with certainty is this: the n…

Encounter with Light

C. S. Lewis



Sheldon Vanauken
In the early 1950's a young agnostic graduate student at Oxford University named Sheldon Vanauken wrote to C. S. Lewis with some very pointed questions about Christian faith. Lewis, as always, wrote back, and the end result was a conversation through correspondence which became very fruitful, not only for the immediate participants, but also for thousands of others who would later read this correspondence through the publication of a booklet by Vanauken entitled: Encounter with Light. Since the content of this booklet is in the public domain, and because the correspondence has proven so spiritually helpful to so many, I plan to pass on here the original letters of Vanauken and Lewis as recorded in Encounter with Light.

Today we start off with Vanauken's first letter to Lewis:

"I write on an impulse--which in the morning may appear so immodest and presumptuous that I shall destroy this. But a few moments ago I felt that I was embarked for a voya…

The Tri-Lemma Revisited

On 28 October 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:
"Socrates did not claim to be Zeus, nor the Buddha to be Bramah, nor Mohammed to be Allah. That sort of claim occurs only in Our Lord and in admitted quacks or lunatics. I agree that we don't 'demand crystal perfection in other men', nor do we find it. But if there is one Man in whom we do find it, and if that one Man also claims to be more than man, what then?"
Collected Letters, Volume III, pp. 1377-1378

Crucifixion--A Slow Death

On 13 September 1962 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:

"The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) 'He must increase, but I must decrease.' This you have realised. But you are expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you shd. be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don't see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way. . . .

"As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I…

The Unforgivable Sin?

Magdalene College,
Cambridge
11 May 62 Dear Mr. Green --

I also once ceased to believe and told others there is no God. In fact you and I both lost our faith and then returned to it. But surely we did not return on our own steam? Surely we were recalled by God? For no man can come, nor come back, to God unless God sends for him. The grace He has thus shown us for a second time is the proof that He has forgiven us. He has not cast us aside even though we, for a time, cast Him aside.

Don't forget that Bunyan, as he himself tells us, thought that he had at one time committed the unforgivable sin. Yet he lived to write the Pilgrim's Progress and to be a great Christian champion.

It has always puzzled me very much that Our Lord should have told us there is an unforgivable sin and yet not told us what it is. If it is a particular act which could be done at a particular time, the warning does not seem to be any use -- like being told that there is a poisonous vegetable but not told …

Faith & Works

As from Magdalene College
Cambridge 6 May 62 Dear Mr Robertson --
On this point as on others the N. T. is highly paradoxical. St. Paul at the outset of an epistle sometimes talks as if the converts whom he is addressing were already wholly new creatures, already in the world of light, their old nature completely crucified. Yet by the end of the same epistle he will be warning the same people to avoid the very grossest vices.

Of himself he speaks as if his reward was perfectly sure: elsewhere he fears lest, having preached to others, he shd. be himself a castaway.

Our Lord Himself sometimes speaks as if all depended on faith, yet in the parable of the sheep and the goats all seems to depend on works: even works done or undone by those who had no idea what they were doing or undoing.

The best I can do about these mysteries is to think that the N. T. gives us a sort of double vision. A. Into our salvation as eternal fact, as it (and all else) is in the timeless vision of God. B. In…

Jesus' Bones Discovered?

A television program aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007 suggesting that the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was discovered in Jerusalem in 1980. Click here to read more about the program: http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/tomb.html

As noted on the Discovery Channel web site:

"Since the 1970s, hundreds of tombs and thousands of ossuaries (limestone bone boxes) have been discovered in the Jerusalem area. These ossuaries served as coffins in first-century Jerusalem.

"One of these tombs was found to contain ten ossuaries. Six of the ossuaries in this tomb have inscriptions on them."

According to the makers of this "documentary" -- every inscription in this particular tomb relates to the Gospels, and in particular, to Jesus' family. But this is where we must begin to question the makers of this "documentary". Taking the names found on the ossuaries in the tomb, one by one, we find:
Matthew was only associated with Jesus as a poss…

The Church & The Bible

On 28 December 1961 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:

"Beware of the argument 'the Church gave the Bible (and therefore the Bible can never give us grounds for criticising the Church)'. It is perfectly possible to accept B on the authority of A and yet regard B as a higher authority than A. It happens when I recommend a book to a pupil. I first sent him to the book, but, having gone to it, he knows (for I've told him) that the author knows more about that subject than I." Collected Letters, Volume III, pp. 1307-1308

"Yet you must go on steadily in those things that you have learned and which you know are true. Remember from what sort of people your knowledge has come, and how from early childhood your mind has been familiar with the holy Scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the di…

Temptation

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

On 13 October 1961 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent about how to handle temptation:

"Of course I have had and still have plenty of temptations. Frequent and regular prayer, and frequent and regular Communions, are a great help, whether they feel at the time as if they were doing you good or whether they don't. I also found great help in monthly confession to a wise old clergyman.

"Perhaps, however, the most important thing is to keep on: not to be discouraged however often one yields to the temptation, but always to pick yourself up again and ask forgiveness. In reviewing your sins don't either exaggerate them or minimise them. Call them by their ordinary names and try to see them as you wd. see the same…

Focus Forward

"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

"We must beware of the Past, mustn't we? I mean that any fixing of the mind on old evils beyond what is absolutely necessary for repenting our own sins and forgiving those of others is certainly useless and usually bad for us. Notice in Dante that the lost souls are entirely concerned with their past. Not so the saved. This is one of the dangers of being, like you and me, old. There's so much past, now, isn't there? And so little else. But we must try very hard not to keep on endlessly chewing the cud. We must look forward more eagerly to sloughing that old skin off forever -- metaphors getting a bit mixed here, but you know what I mean." Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III, p. 1274

Looking back can be dangerous, in sport and in life. Looking back to s…

Deeper Meaning in Narnia

As from Magdalene College,
Cambridge
5 March 1961 Dear Anne -- What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense, plain enough. Read the earlier book in the series called The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself 'Supposing there really were a world like Narnia, and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong, and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?' The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there, as he became a Man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) The lion is supposed to be the King of beasts: (b) Christ is called 'The Lion of Judah' in the Bibl…

The Interim State

On 5 August 1960 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:

"I believe in the resurrection, and also (rather less confidently) in the natural immortality of the soul. But the state of the dead till the resurrection is unimaginable. Are they in the same time that we live in at all. And if not, is there any sense in asking what they are 'now'?" Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1177

It should not be surprising that C. S. Lewis found the state of the blessed dead until the resurrection to be unimaginable. After all, the Bible doesn't say much about it.

Certainly the presence of the souls of the blessed dead with Christ is assured by such verses as these:

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for …

Grief

Many of the thoughts which later appeared in Lewis's published chronicle of grief first appeared in his letters. On 25 July 1960, just twelve days after his wife's death, Lewis wrote to Katharine Farrer:

"I'm learning a good many things about grief wh. the novelists and poets never told me. It has as many different facets as love or anger or any other passion. In the lulls -- between the peaks -- there is something in it v. like fidgety boredom: like just 'hanging about waiting' -- tho' what the deuce one thinks one is waiting for I don't know." Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1175

The great comfort in grief, perhaps the only real comfort, is that we have a God who once condescended to truly experience our grief with us. For we read that at the grave of his friend Lazarus: "Jesus wept." John 11:35

C. S. Lewis's Welsh Roots

In the opening paragraph of his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis wrote, "My father belonged to the first generation of his family that reached professional station. His grandfather had been a Welsh farmer."

A number of weeks ago a man by the name of Grahame Davies, a Welsh poet and author, contacted me by e-mail seeking information about the Welsh roots of C. S. Lewis. I was able to put him on to someone with the right information and Grahame was thus able to photograph what we believe to have been the Welsh farm of C. S. Lewis's great grandfather. The farm is called "Ty Issa" and it is near Caergwrle, Wales. Interestingly enough, "Ty Issa" was also the name of Lewis's grandfather's home in Belfast.

Loneliness

The day after his wife's death C. S. Lewis wrote to Peter Bide: "Joy died at 10 o'clock last night in the Radcliffe. I was alone with her at the moment, but she was not conscious. I had never seen the moment of natural death before. It was far less dreadful than I had expected -- indeed there's nothing to it. . . .

"I can't understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis. A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell. . . .

"One doesn't realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied." Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1169

"The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" Genesis 2:18

The Patience of Job?

On 14 June 1960, just one month before his wife's death, C. S. Lewis wrote to Peter Bide, the priest who had performed Lewis's death-bed wedding ceremony and who had layed hands on Joy for healing. Bide's own wife had just been diagnosed with cancer. Lewis wrote:

"Joy says (do you agree?) that we needn't be too afraid of questionings and expostulations: it was the impatience of Job not the theodicies of Elihu that were pleasing to God. Does He like us to 'stand up to Him' a bit? Certainly He cannot like mere flattery -- resentment masquerading as submission thru' fear.

"How impossible it wd. be now to face it without rage if God Himself had not shared the horrors of the world He made!"Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1161

The phrase, the patience of Job, is based upon a poor translation of James 5:11. A better translation reads as follows: "As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's persever…

Hell

On 7 May 1960 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent who asked what he meant by the term "eternal death" as used in Mere Christianity, Book II, chapter 1, p. 37 note. Lewis replied:

"'Eternal death' was a bit vague. I meant final ruin, or rejection -- the scrap-heap. Whether that scrap-heap is annihilation or some kind of decayed consciousness is a point I won't dogmatise on. Our Lord's words usually stress the negative side of it, not what the lost souls get but what they miss. Perhaps we had best leave it at that." Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 1149.

Jesus once told this story,

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also …

Christ's Descent into Hell

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison . . ." 1 Peter 3:18-19

On 28 April, 1960 C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:

"The N. T. always speaks of Christ not as one who taught, or demonstrated, the possibility of a glorious after life but as one who first created the possibility -- the Pioneer, the First Fruits, the Man who forced the door. This of course links up with Peter 1.III 20 about preaching to the spirits in prison and explains why Our Lord 'descended into Hell' (=Sheol or Hades). It looks v. much as if, till His resurrection, the fate of the dead actually was a shadowy half-life -- mere ghosthood. The medieval authors delighted to picture what they called 'the harrowing of Hell', Christ descending and knocking on those eternal doors and bringing out those whom H…