Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Sunday Meditation

The magical thing about quotations is that they can mean whatever you want them to.  We read a phrase that someone wiser once put to pen and we find our own truth in it; we make it applicable to our own situation and glean from it what we need for comfort. It's a testament to how flexible words are that they can be so easily contorted to our own purposes without losing any of their original meaning.

However, being aware of the original intention of a quotation doesn't stifle its possibilities, and I think that an appreciation of the context in which one was written can actually enhance rather than limit its wider relevance. So, since I'm feeling a bit contemplative on this Sunday morning, let's talk about a line that's been floating about the internets since before the term "lifestyle blogger" was coined.

Did you know that C.S. Lewis was one of the great Christian apologists of the 20th century?  Born in Belfast in 1898, Lewis became disillusioned with Christianity as a teenager but then, after serving in World War I and studying literature and classic philosophy at Oxford, re-embraced the faith.  As a professor at Magdalen College, he joined a collective of intellectuals known as the Inklings - which included JRR Tolkien, who influenced Lewis' integration into the Church of England - and went on to publish dozens of books, most of which dealt with religious issues in one way or another.  In 1941, when England was threatened with the inhumanity of war, Lewis gave a series of radio addresses that spoke to the central issues of Christianity; they were later complied into a three-volume work titled Mere Christianity.  And, although C.S. Lewis denied that his famous Narnia series was a direct allegory to the real world, many readers and experts understand Aslan to represent Jesus and interpret strong biblical themes throughout the books.

I began writing this post with the intention of telling you that the quotation above was about dying and that the "better things" to which C.S. Lewis refers are in heaven.  It would certainly fit with his identity as a Christian writer and philosopher who had experienced quite a bit of death, wouldn't it?  But I couldn't actually find the context to this quotation anywhere online; I couldn't find the work from which it was taken or even an academic website attributing the line to C.S. Lewis.  It's entirely possible that he never wrote this at all, or that it's a distillation of a few things he wrote in different places.  But I still think the intro to this post, above the graphic, is valid.  In fact, my point may be even more appropriate if the quotation isn't actually from C.S. Lewis.  But as I searched for this line or any like it, I came across the end of The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series.  The story starts when Jill and Eustace are jolted into Narnia from England while on a train, and finishes when they meet Aslan in a glorious place.  He greets them and their companions:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used to call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Isn't that beautiful?  I don't believe in the theology with which Lewis suffuses these books - and, honestly, I'm not even sure if I believe that anything happens to us after death - but I think it's full of hope and love and promise.  What a wonderful thing to remember when we see that quotation wandering around the blogosphere, don't you think?

Updated: Georgia left me the correct link to this quotation in the comments below - it is C.S. Lewis, and it's from a letter he wrote to comfort a dying woman.  Thank you, Georgia!



15 comments:

  1. Georgia ChristakisJune 9, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    This quote is from a private letter C.S. Lewis wrote to a dying friend or acquaintance...here is where I found the source of the quote. The confusing bit is that it has been signed 'yours, Jack.' http://books.google.com/books?id=BCc6Aq5JaJoC&pg=PA1430&dq=There+are+far,+far+better+things+ahead+than+any+we+leave+behind.&as_brr=0&cd=1#v=onepage&q=There%20are%20far%2C%20far%20better%20things%20ahead%20than%20any%20we%20leave%20behind.&f=false

    But the book is called The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis? What do you think?


    hope that link works.

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  2. ah! thank you - I had a sneaking suspicion that you or Kate Harvey might know :)

    I did learn that C.S. Lewis decided when he was little that he wanted to be called Jack, after the dog he had as a child, so that explains that, but I was searching for the wrong words, it seems!



    thank you thank you - I'll amend the post to include this.

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  3. I love C.S. Lewis - he fits right in with Soren Kierkegaard and his divergent views on religion and the church - are you familiar with him :). Loved this post - nice break from assignments! ;)


    xxx
    Jenna

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  4. I absolutely love this post. I'm with you 100%. I'm not sure how to put it into words, but it warmed me today.

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  5. you still have to tell me more about your MA! I'm definitely interested if this is the kind of thing you work on - too cool :)

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  6. My degree is in Industrial/Organisational Psychology, but as a component of it we have to cover meta theory, which is basically the philosophy of life and science. :) So we have to cover ontologies, epistemologies, psychological schools of thought, varying views of the psyche and being human & humane and all of that fun stuff. Did you also cover similar in your degree? You seem know much more than I do! As tedious as it is to learn, I feel like it's good to know and think about. In the end, this course requires us to produce our own 30 page philosophical stance.

    xxx
    Jenna

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  7. oh good - I was afraid it might be morbid but it actually made me glow inside, so I'm glad it did to you too.

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  8. haha well I have no idea what some of those words mean so clearly I have a lot to learn about it! We had to take two year-long courses as undergrads that covered the cannon of Western philosophical, political, and literary thought - that's what got me started - and then I studied a lot of medieval Christian writings afterwards and as a grad student. I know a little about a lot of things but I'd love to know more about it all!

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  9. Georgia ChristakisJune 9, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    No problem. Love his works, can't wait to finish The Horse and His Boy (yep, still stuck on that one...)

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  10. Such a beautiful post, as I went to a Christian high school we did do some studying about his works but I feel as an adult I can now appreciate them much better.

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  12. Just saw this comment, how flattered I am that you thought of me :) I didn't know it was from the letter Georgia linked to, but I had a thought that it might be from A Severe Mercy, which includes letters written by C.S. Lewis to a friend in the middle of conversion to Christianity and, later, some of the letters are written to this friend's dying wife. It just sounds similar to some of the things he wrote in those letters, especially the ones to the wife. Clearly, this was Lewis' way of comforting dying people, and it's just beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

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  13. I'm such a fan of your first paragraph in general. A beautiful post in general.

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  14. Sounds so interesting! Ontology is a fancy word for one's view of reality and the nature of the world and epistemology is a fancy word for what constitutes true knowledge and what one's role should be as the knower. I had also never heard of them before this year so don't be too impressed! Once it's done I can send you my stance if you'd like, and if you're really interested I can send you our group assignments with all of the various ontologies, epistemologies, psychological schools, etc in them. It's tedious, but it gives a nice overview if it's something you're interested in :) Although really, I don't blame you if you're not! ;)


    xxx
    Jenna

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  15. I AM interested and I'd love to read! I did know about epistemology - it's BIG in early medieval Christianity and the word is connected to "epistle" as in the apostolic letters in the New Testament :) But I'd never heard of ontology before and I wonder if that's because it's maybe often discouraged in strict religious doctrine? as in, one isn't supposed to have a view of reality/the world because the scriptures tell you what reality/the world is. does that make sense?

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