Friday, August 8, 2008

ABOUT A MENTOR, C. S. LEWIS

Back in the early 60’s, before my first daughter, Stephanie, was born, I lived in a town called Electra, Texas, a dusty, barren, former oil boom town that was about as desolate as the Texas plains themselves. As always, when I faced a stark situation, I sought books and read my loneliness away. My godmother in Virginia began to send me the works of C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill; the former, a great Christian apologist; the latter, an Anglican mystic. I became a lifetime fan of C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill. Over forty years later, when I was ordained a deacon and began to preach, I quoted both of these Anglican writers in my sermons.

Recently while I was on vacation in the Smokies, I went into a book warehouse and discovered a book by Douglas Gresham entitled JACK’S LIFE: THE LIFE STORY OF C. S. LEWIS. Gresham, now living in Ireland, is the stepson of C. S. Lewis and wrote this biography to portray the everyday life of the great apologist and scholar – the way Lewis really lived it! I don’t know if I’m glad that I picked up the book or not because it really disturbed me to read that C. S. Lewis lived a pretty miserable existence with an elderly neurotic woman, a tyrant who controlled him for over 30 years. Lewis taught, studied, wrote books, and came home to a welter of household tasks and property duties. He constantly attempted to placate Mrs. Moore who demanded to be the center of Lewis’s attention and was always having accidents within the household that called him to her side. It seems that C .S. Lewis would be reading or studying in his room when he’d suddenly hear a crash and a wail from somewhere in the house. Lewis would run to the scene only to find that the old lady had dropped and broken something and wasn’t hurt, just hysterical. Lewis would calm her, return to his study, and ten minutes later, he’d be summoned to go out and shop for Mrs. Moore or to assume another household task. This scenario went on daily when Lewis was available and, as I said, persisted for 30 years.

Lewis and his family (his brother Warnie, Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen) were always short of money and moved from house to house, flat to flat, for a long time before buying the Kilns where Lewis resided until his death. Mrs. Moore suffered from illness after illness, real and imaginary, and C. S. Lewis was her slave, according to his brother Warnie. Although he was often sick, overworked, exhausted, and depressed during the years of servitude to Mrs. Moore, he endured this situation gracefully. Gradually, his life became better, especially when he joined the literary group called The Inklings, but he certainly did not lead the type of life portrayed in the movie, “Shadowland” – that of an Oxford don protected by his college environment and exempt from the burdens of everyday life that many impoverished people lead. In “Shadowland” he appears to be a scholar who escaped pain and suffering and who wrote about those subjects, as well as the subject of love, without experiencing them. His biographer, Douglas Gresham, says the movie portrayal isn’t strictly true.

The bright spot in this great apologist’s life was, of course, his marriage to Joy Gresham and the three years of happiness they enjoyed together before Joy died of cancer. “Thank God, he had some happiness,” I said when I shut the book on Lewis’s extraordinary suffering. Certainly, Lewis put his Christian duty above all, having promised his buddy Paddy Moore, who was killed in WWI, that he would always take care of his mother, Mrs. Moore, but that promise made him put aside his personal wishes, ambition, and comfort to an exaggerated degree for the sake of Mrs. Moore (who gradually went mad! I speculate that she may have been bi-polar. Her brother had died in a mental institution).

For those readers who appreciate C. S. Lewis’s theological books, as well as his books for children, especially the Narnia Chronicles, JACK’S LIFE is an eye opener regarding his daily life and suffering. C. S. Lewis did find joy and Joy, love and happiness for three years, and then three years after Joy’s death, he died, leaving behind millions of devoted readers. As Gresham wrote: “He faced the darkness that he found in this world and lit for us bright lamps to show us the path…the one place Jack loved which does not shrink is Narnia. Narnia just keeps getting better and bigger as we all go further up and further in.”
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