C.S.Lewis troubles many enlightened Christians; his theology seemed so narrow, so much like the pointy headed 'fundies'. How can we abide him?
(Our first child, Paul, had just been born; I was baby-sitting while Ellie went to buy food or something. I was reading a strange book called Pilgrim's Regress--my first exposure to Jack. [He was about my father's age.] A weird little book, a myth describing one's spiritual journey through life.
That was the first of many lessons in Christianity that I learned from Lewis.)
Like Plato I thought more and more highly of his mythos and had less and less use for his logos. Jack had a third significant genre; call it spiritual autobiography. I can see many parallels with other journeys, particularly my own and friend Jon's, who has outstripped both of us in many ways.
Jack had a hedonistic childhood and youth, atheistic for the most part. He was a hopeless romantic; two primary commitments informed his (pre-Christian) life:
1) his brother Warner became a hopeless alcoholic, but Jack lived with him and supported him for many years, to the end.
2) He suffered intensely in the trench warfare of WWI. He had made a compact with a buddy that if either were killed, the other would look after the friend's family. His buddy was killed, and Jack carefully nurtured a terribly neurotic old woman for many years.
These two commitments were sort of like Jack's religion, if he had any at that time. He spent most of his life at Oxford, so most of his spiritual growth must of necessity be primarily intellectual in mode.
Through his twenties he matured; he flirted with all sorts of weird romantic genres, but all this time God was dealing with him (as he does with us all!!) One day in a railroad station waiting for a train he picked up a 'pocket book' called Phantastes (I much prefer a companion work entitled Lilith, also a wonderful story.), a highly mythopoeic work by a Scottish writer named George MacDonald (he, too, has a wonderful story to tell!)
Comes now the thirties, ah that critical time! His intellect dragged him, kicking and screaming into a form of faith, the Christian faith. He felt like his creative life was over; he had fallen into a black pit [look at Pilgrim's Regress]. But he soon recovered. and some years later he wrote Surprised by Joy (his 'third genre'); this was a more comlete account of his spiritual adventures.
Jack's good friend, Tolkien, tried his damnedist to make a Catholic out of him, but that was no go; their relationship from then on was strained.
But Tolkien and Lewis traveled very similar paths; both had fairly disreputable (by my lights although Ellie emphatically disagrees with me about that) logos and super beautiful mythos: the ring trilogy was Tolkien's real life, and Jack's was his fantasies.
Jack was a slow learner; a real trap for him occured when he became famous as a radio lecturer on the faith. This was during WWII, when the British mind seemed most likely to tend in that direction. So we get Mere Christianity and a dozen other like minded works (none of which I personally thought much of!)
But God was still dealing with him; in his other works I see him moving inexorably away from the narrow theology of the conventional church:
In The Great Divorce he attempted, among other things, to deal with the matter of Hell, and gave it a creditable account. In The Last Battle, from the Narnia series I recall vividly the final scene where the 'golden children' find themselves on a ridge climbing, climbing continuously toward the goal of us all. They look across the chasm to an adjoining ridge where, lo and behold they see their parents, climbing on another path to the same goal (Hallelujah!).
Another path! Oh wow! double wow! That's what Jon and I, and so many others have discovered, glorifying our lives (although unfortunately many have discarded their former path to become tribalists of another tribe).
The biggest wow came with his last book, which he valued more than all of the others. Till We Have Faces is a Christianizing (many would debate that) of the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros. The first 50 or more pages seemed like dull reading to me, but if you persevere you will have an electrifying denouement. Ah Joy indeed.
Throughout his entire life in all its phases Lewis had
always experienced a certain longing for something he could not put his finger on-- always leading him on, always illusive, never found. Eventually he no doubt came to understand the spiritual meaning of this phenomenon: it was what Origen had referred to as "'the wound of love' to describe the intense longing of the soul bride for Christ the bridegroom" (David C Downing, Into the Region of Awe, page 62). Lewis referred to this as joy.
Lewis reported three special joys in his life [no doubt others as well]:) he met Christ and wrote Surprised by Joy; he met a woman named Joy, an American, and had a few years of bliss before bereavement; finally he met the universal God and wrote Till We Have Faces.
Thus, contrary to the general impression people have had of Lewis, he was a mystic; he described mysticism re Julian of Norwich as "wonderful foretastes of the fruition of God vouchsafed to some in their earthly life" (Downing, p. 74.)
I thank God for Jack Lewis and all he has meant to Ellie and me along our spiritual journey. I pray he may also mean much to you, if that's where you're at.