alt Letters to an American Lady by C. S. Lewis, edited by Clyde S. Kilby (Eerdmans, 1967)

Whoever this American lady was—she is known, but preferred to remain anonymous—she was more prescient than most of us, having had the sense to save much if not all of her voluminous correspondence with C. S. Lewis between the years of 1950 and 1963. Lewis apparently did not return the favor, so the conversation is one-sided, though his responses give enough clues to make sense of them all. She also had the sense to donate the letters to the Wheaton College library, which made them available for this compilation.

There is nothing here than contradicts anything about the character of Lewis as revealed in his own published works, but the nature of the medium provides a different perspective, hence the large number of sticky notes bristling from this small (128 pages) publication.

I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes. I would even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity: how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than with a wretched, liberalising, occidentalised specimen of the same categories. (pp. 11-12)

Why does our [college office] find full time work for a crowd of people in doing what the President of the College, 100 years ago, did in his spare time without a secretary and without a typewriter? (p. 16)

Did the reviewers mean "writes like a woman" to be dispraise? Are the poems of Sappho or, if it comes to that, the Magnificat, to be belittled on the same ground?

How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing ... it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world's population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year's end?

I too think there is lots to be said for being no longer young; and I do most heartily agree that it is just as well to be past the age when one expects or desires to attract the other sex. It's natural enough in our species, as in others, that the young birds should show off their plumage—in the mating season. But the trouble in the modern world is that there's a tendency to rush all the birds on to that age as soon as possible and then keep them there as late as possible, thus losing all the real value of the other parts of life in a senseless, pitiful attempt to prolong what, after all, is neither its wisest, its happiest, nor most innocent period. I suspect merely commercial motives are behind it all: for it is at the showing-off age that birds of both sexes have least sales-resistance! (pp. 19-20, emphasis mine)

Even those tribulations which fall upon us by necessity, if embraced for Christ's sake, become as meritorious as voluntary sufferings and every missed meal can be converted into a fast if taken in the right way. (p. 20)

I'm a panic-y person about money myself (which is a most shameful confession and a thing dead against Our Lord's words) and poverty frightens me more than anything else except large spiders and the tops of cliffs. (p. 21)

The above is especially interesting in light of the fact that Lewis was as hopeless with finances as he was brilliant in his own fields, and it appears that only the merciful intervention of his friends (and his willingness to let them take over the books) kept poverty from coming upon him "like a robber, and want like an armed man." It's also worth noting that though his income was no doubt substantial, he gave away about two-thirds of it.

Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage but also a weakness we must ask Him to pardon. (p. 23)

Fear is horrid, but there's no reason to be ashamed of it. Our Lord was afraid (dreadfully so) in Gethsemane. I always cling to that as a very comforting fact. (p. 41)

The following quotation is out of order. It was actually marked by the last of my sticky notes. But it's not a happy way to end a post, and it seems to fit well here. I know full well what he means: When some terrible thing has happened, and sleep has given you a most blessed forgetfulness, and at first wakening you are still briefly in that blissful state, but then the tsunami of memory and reality strike and you drown all over again.

The dreadful thing, as you know, is the waking each morning—the moment at which it all flows back on one. (p. 88)

The only reason I'm not sick of all the stuff about [some unnamed issue that was in the news] is that I don't read it. I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They're nearly all lies, and one has to wade through such reams of verbiage and "write up" to find out even what they're saying. (p. 47, emphasis mine)

I can only imagine what he would say bout television and Internet news.

It's now 11:25. Not a stroke of my own work done and all the cream of the day gone. (p. 48)

Someone who understands my feelings about the morning hours!

The only thing one can usually change in one's situation is oneself. And yet one can't change that either—only ask Our Lord to do so, keeping on meanwhile with one's sacraments, prayers, and ordinary rule of life. One mustn't fuss too much about one's state. (p. 48)

The review is of course a tissue of muddles and direct falsehoods—I don't say "lies" because the people who write such things are not really capable of lying. I mean, to lie = to say what you know to be untrue. But to know this, and to have the very ideas of truth and falsehood in your head, presupposes a clarity of mind which they haven't got. To call them liars would be as undeserved a compliment as to say that a dog was bad at arithmetic. (p. 51)

The complexity—the close texture—of all the great events in the Christian year impresses me more and more. Each is a window opening on the total mystery. (p. 54)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 4:43 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 417 times
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
Add comment

(Comments may be delayed by moderation.)