C. S. Lewis: In the Solitude . . . God

C. S. Lewis: In the Solitude . . . God

Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was born in Belfast, in Ulster, Ireland, the second son of Albert James and Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis. His mother was the daughter and great-granddaughter of priests, and his elder brother Warren, or Warnie, was his best chum. As a babe, he was baptized by his mother's father in St. Mark's Church, Dundela. He named himself when he was four years old, taking the name of his own dog, “Jack.”

As a child, Lewis fell in love with the books of Beatrix Potter, often writing and illustrating his own tales of animals in a world of their own. He loved to read and spent hours entirely alone. After his mother died of cancer when he was nine, his father enrolled him in a series of schools. He said of the place where he lived: “The New House is almost a major character in my story. I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, up-stair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books” (Surprised by Joy).

As a teenager, Lewis fell away from his faith, embracing instead Norse and Greek mythology and the wonder of the natural world, and writing epic poetry and operas. In 1916, he received an invitation to study at University College in Oxford. Lewis met many Christian friends along the way, who quietly and thoughtfully answered all of his questions about the God he felt either did not exist, or who was too cruel to love. Faithful Arthur Greeves, the brilliant Nevill Coghill, and the uniquely gifted J. R. R. Tolkien joined the delightful and witty Hugo Dyson to walk with Lewis and show him, in friendship, the steadfastness and true contentment of faith in God.

Lewis began to teach in Oxford in 1925. He held academic positions at Magdalen College in Oxford (1925-1954) and Magdalene College in Cambridge University (1954-1963). He eventually returned to Christianity, having been influenced most by George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings). He vigorously resisted conversion, noting that he was brought into Christianity like a prodigal, “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.”

He described his last struggle: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised by Joy).

After his conversion to belief in God, he converted to Christianity two years later in 1931, following a long discussion during a late-night stroll along Addison's Walk with friends Tolkien and Dyson. He then became a member of the Church of England (Anglican Church), an “ordinary layman.” Lewis’s faith profoundly affected his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.

While Lewis was teaching, he and his friends were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings, meeting weekly at the Eagle and the Child pub to read chapters of their stories to each another. He is best known as the author of The Chronicles of NarniaThe Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. His non-fiction Christian apologetics, including Mere ChristianityMiracles, and The Problem of Pain, have become some of Christianity’s most beloved classics, widely cited by Christians of every denomination. Lewis wrote more than 30 books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages, and have sold millions of copies. They have been popularized on stage, TV, radio, and film.

In 1956, Lewis married American writer Joy Davidman, who died of cancer four years later at the age of 45. Lewis died on 22 November 1963 from kidney failure, one week before his 65th birthday. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis was honored with a memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abby, although his actual burying place is in the quiet cemetery of the Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, just outside of Oxford, near The Kilns, the home he shared with Warnie and, later, Joy too. It is still surrounded by the woods, ponds, gnarled tree trunks, and the achingly beautiful world that filled the silent spaces of Lewis’s inner life.

This month, we celebrate Lewis and his magnificent quest of quiet reflection. God has much to say in the silence. And C. S. Lewis heard.

-Karen O'Dell Bullock
To take a stroll past The Kilns into the woods behind Lewis's home, click here.
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