Saturday, March 03, 2007
Surprised by Joy
Over the last few weeks, reading C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy has offered some helpful insights into one Christian thinker's development. The book is a philosophical life story of the writer's early years, and so it is at times funny and insightful and at others stiflingly erudite. The author traces his development from a child whose life was filled with imaginative play and a love of books, particularly stories of Norse gods, into a Christian whose life is marked by mature understanding of God's identity and holiness. The last two chapters are particularly strong in describing a philosophical conversion, not one based on emotion or outward trials. Lewis simply narrates a free choice, or as nearly a free choice as he allows himself to admit, to follow God after first recognizing that he exists. I am vastly oversimplifying the philosophical and emotional bases of Lewis' conversion (for despite his protestations to the contrary, he did find an emotional connection to God in the presence of Joy), but it is a joy itself to see someone so steadfastly describe the process of conversion as an outgrowth of philosophical and literary questions. I particularly enjoyed a few lines: "It matters more that Heaven should exist than that we should ever get there"; "Total surrender is the first step toward the fruition of [enjoying art and nature]. Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all"; and a quote or paraphrase from Johnson, "Where courage is not, no other virtue can survive except by accident." It felt good to get connected to these lines of thought, derived from an Oxford don's knowledge of English writing and his own experience. Still, I got a little lost in the name-dropping and connecting with other people's writing. Overall, the book is a good read with plenty to chew on, and it may appeal even to non-Christians. The only fault is an assumption that readers know more than we tend to know in this contemporary timeframe.