The title of my talk is C. S. Lewis and the Care of Souls. That might sound like a rather strange talk. As much as Lewis is well known as a writer of fantasy, a writer of popular theology, and a first-rate apologist, I’m convinced that this man is sometimes not recognized for the soul physician that he was. So I’ll be talking about that.
Regarding my sources, you can’t see what I have documented my comments with, but if you should go to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois in the western suburbs of Chicago what you’ll find there is a treasure trove of Lewis materials. I talked to Marjorie Mead (who’s the associate director there) because she knew I was coming and she said, “Welcome everybody at the Desiring God conference to come to Wheaton.” She said, “You don’t have to be a scholar who’s doing research. You don’t have to be attached to Wheaton. Come and see the museum, see the things.”
But I’m drawing today upon virtually thousands of letters that C. S. Lewis wrote as well as numerous oral history interviews that my wife and I did in the 1980s. From the mid eighties to the early nineties, we interviewed many, many people that knew C. S. Lewis well personally. So a lot of what I’m saying today, I’ve drawn from letters that he wrote to people over the years. We heard today that Warren Lewis, his brother, estimated that there were 12,000 people he wrote to, and to some of those people he wrote numerous letters.
A Great Range of Influence
Well, I want to begin by pointing out that, as you know, C. S. Lewis’s range of influence is enormous. It’s very wide ranging. His influence is really nothing short of phenomenal. He published over 30 books when he was alive and when he died, in the years of the wake of his death, people like Walter Hooper began to find his things and bring them together. And more and more books came out. In fact, J. R. R. Tolkien, one of Lewis’s close friends says, “Jack’s the only man I know that wrote more books after he died than he did when he was alive,” because they just kept coming out and they still do.
But the question I want to raise here is, how do we account for his enormous range of influence? Because today Lewis’s books sell much more widely than they did when he was alive. His books are in nearly 50 different languages. They’ve been translated into many languages and there have been movies made about what he wrote. Two movies were made about his relationship with his wife, Joy Davidman. There’ve been stage drama presentations. His influence is enormously wide.
So how do we account for this? You could say, “Well, it’s simple. Lewis had a brilliant mind. He was a genius.” Yes he was. You might say, “He had had the best education money could buy in the English speaking world. He attended Oxford. He’d been tutored by one of the best minds in all of the United Kingdom. He had friends who were brilliant and iron sharpens iron.” But we could go on and on with those assets. And quite a few people in the world have had those things — first-rate minds, well-disciplined and demanding academic environments, friends who are very intelligent and encourage one another. There has to be something more.
Relational Depth with Christ
The first thesis I want to present in what I’m saying this afternoon is this: I believe that C. S. Lewis’s influence was wide when he was alive and it’s growing ever wider today because his relationship with Jesus Christ was so deep. He has a wide range because of the depth of the relationship.
I had a seminary professor years ago who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I think anybody could ever give someone, whether you’re preparing for ministry or doing something else. He said, “Dorsett, never worry about the breadth of your influence. Everything in the culture will have you worrying about that. You focus on the depth of your relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will take care of the breadth the way he wants it to be.” I believe that was Lewis. I believe Lewis instinctively knew that.
Lewis’s depth of ministry must be seen in the context of his commitment to growing spiritually. Just a few weeks before he died, an American named Sherwood Wirt contacted Lewis and asked him a question. Listen to this:
What is your view of the daily discipline of the Christian life, the need for taking time to be alone with God?
He went on to say, in essence:
A lot of Americans are saying that daily devotions to be in prayer to read Scripture is a yolk of legalism. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing that. What do you think, Mr. Lewis? What do you think?
And here’s Lewis’s response. Listen to this. He’s of course referencing Matthew 6:5–6 as his authority:
Why, we have our New Testament regimental orders. I would take it for granted that everyone who becomes a Christian would undertake this practice. It is enjoined on us by our Lord Jesus Christ. And since they are his commands, I believe in following them. It is always just possible that Jesus Christ meant what he said when he told us to go seek the secret place and close the door.
That’s the fresh side of Lewis, isn’t it? That just never grows old.
Scripture and Prayer
Well, Lewis certainly worked on the depth of his ministry by reading Scripture. My wife and I had the privilege of discovering a large portion of C. S. Lewis’s library that had been sold off after he died and it had been preserved, bought by an institution, and they couldn’t keep it. And we went and looked at it. A donor gave us the money to have it purchased by the Marian E. Wade Center. Among the things we learned, we learned what books he read a lot of, some of them he had put marginal notes in and written in the end papers.
But we also found among his things Bibles that he had worn out, virtually worn them out. He’d wear out Bibles in English and he’d wear them out in Greek because he could read and write Greek, even Koine Greek, as easily as he could English, which was his language of course. So he was a student of Scripture. He also, as an Anglican, employed the English Book of Common Prayer for daily devotion. So beyond his own regular Bible reading, among the things that happen if you use the lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer is that you read through the whole book of Psalms every month. So he was in the Psalms’ school of prayer every month as well as all of his other Bible reading.
Beyond that, Lewis was a man devoted to prayer. When I wrote the book Seeking the Secret Place on his spiritual formation, I was absolutely astounded at his balanced prayer life. I don’t have time to talk about all this, but he got up early in the morning and got along with the Lord and prayed. And then when term was on at Oxford, he’d go to dean’s prayers, which was morning prayer in the Anglican tradition at a modern college at the university.
He also was involved in corporate prayer frequently, not only in those morning prayer sessions, but he was a churchman. He was committed to the local church. In fact, he said in more than one place, when people said, “Well, I have a relationship with Jesus, but I don’t think going to church is all that important,” Lewis said, “The New Testament knows nothing of individualized Christianity. You’re called to be part of the body of Christ and to give what talent and gift you have to serve the brothers and sisters and then let them serve you with what they have.”
He was into Scripture, and he was into prayer. And he not only prayed a lot, but he prayed for people all over the world. He was very Pauline in this sense. As you read Paul’s epistles, you know Paul had a prayer network. He prayed for the Ephesians, the Thessalonians, the Colossians, and the Philippians. But he also solicited prayer for himself because he knew he needed it. Lewis did the same thing. He corresponded with people in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States, and as far out as India, all over the United Kingdom. And he would say, “I’m praying this for you. Would you pray for me? Please pray for me.” So he has got a prayer network going on.
Confession, Accountability, and Spiritual Intimacy
Lewis also, beginning in 1940, approximately a decade after he had become a believer, began to go almost every week on Fridays to an Anglican monk named Father Walter Adams. And this man became his spiritual director. A lot of people don’t like that phrase. I say, “director,” and people think that’s bad news. It’s a mentor. It was somebody that was discipling him, if you will. And among the things he got from Father Walter Adams was that Lewis learned the importance of confession. It wasn’t that he had to confess to a priest. He knew he didn’t have to do that.
Scripture says, “If you confess your sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), but Adams taught him you need to go to a safe place where nobody’s going to talk about it and confess the sins that you’re committing, confess the temptations you’re wrestling with, and then be held accountable when you come back next week with someone asking you, “Are you getting this done? Have you restored that? Have you ceased from doing this?”
So that began to strengthen the depth of his relationship with the Lord. Adams also taught him something else, and this is really important. He began to teach him that Jesus Christ wants a deeply intimate personal relationship with you, and that can only happen through the precious Holy Spirit. So you need to be open. You need to seek intimacy with the Lord and begin to talk to him in prayer as if he’s sitting right there with you, because he is.
Well, I say these things and I lay them out quickly because this is so important. Without this, I don’t think Lewis could possibly have had the impact he had and have it grow the way it is now because of all the spiritual realities involved.
Consider 2 Chronicles 16:9. You know this text, at least I’m sure most of you do, but I like to think of it this way and I have a feeling that it even applies right here this afternoon:
The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him . . .
You see, on one level, Lewis wasn’t that special of a person. In many ways, he was no different than you and I. But he really was trying to be a man who said, “Lord, use me.” A hymn that he loved is one of Charles Wesley’s hymns (“O For a Thousand Tongues”), and one of the verses in the hymn says:
My gracious master and my God Assist me to proclaim, Too spread through all the earth abroad The honors of thy name.
Lewis knew, and you know this, that any man or woman who prays that from the bottom of their heart, God will answer that. He will use you in ways that maybe you’ll never see, but he will use you to build his kingdom and bring glory to himself.
I want to add one more item here, and I could go on. Here’s one more item about Lewis’s death, and that is he became radically obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. He read the Scriptures. It’s like that piece I read about how we have our regimental orders about going to the secret place and praying. Why would anybody debate that? So Lewis would go through his new Testament, go through the Gospels and say, “What’s Jesus commanding?” Among the things he commanded was that we share the gospel. We have a Great Commission after all. It’s not a great suggestion. We have orders. And then Lewis learned with this deep dependency on Jesus, and many of you know this, that sometimes when you’re just alone with him talking to him and praying, you sense that hand touching you and there’s a nudge to do something, just a nudge. It’s from God. It’s not unbiblical, and it’s like a call that brooks no refusal.
Lewis heard this, and he told his friend Tolkien about it. I heard from Owen Barfield who was Lewis’s close friend. Lewis had said, “One morning in prayer, I knew the Lord said to me, ‘Jack, I want you to answer every piece of fan mail that comes to you.’” C. S. Lewis said, “The doorway into the kingdom of God is obedience.” So he set out to do that, and lest you think it was just a lot of legalism, it was not at all. He felt he had a call on his life. He had a call on his life to answer the mail.
I found a letter that Lewis wrote to an American man, Mr. McClain, in 1945, and Lewis’s letter to the man begins with this phrase, “I always answer fan mail,” and it’s for this reason that thousands of these letters exist, in which Walter Hooper has edited three massive volumes of these letters, but there’s more stuff that hasn’t even been found yet. Most people aren’t going to sit down for bedside reading and get through three massive volumes of letters, but increasingly there are little collections coming out on different areas where Lewis was a spiritual advisor and a soul physician to people. My friend Marjorie Mead and I at Wheaton, in the 1980s, edited a little book of C. S. Lewis’s letters to children. They’re phenomenal letters. We were talking about that last night, Brian. Lewis was committed to obeying the Lord in the large things and the small things.
Lewis, the Soul Physician
The first thesis was that the depth of Lewis’s ministry explains the breadth of it, but my second thesis is this: I think his writing ministry related to soul care will live on even longer than his fiction and apologetics. I’m no futurist. I’m no prophet, but I can tell you this, I believe that those letters of spiritual care will live on for decades because they talk to the real conditions of real human beings.
Personally, I’ve photocopied some of these letters. I give them out to students. I give them out to men and women in my mentor groups. I give them out to people in our church when there’s a letter there that’ll address a soul issue. You see, Lewis never thought of himself as a soul physician. He never thought of himself as a pastor. He never saw himself as a spiritual director. In fact, he didn’t like to sit down one to one with people to do spiritual talk. But his letters were carefully written and sent to people to address the issues that they were wrestling with.
Sustaining the Weary with a Word
I’m going to tell you about one stack of letters. I’m going to tell you a story about what happened in 1985. My wife and I were in England and we were doing oral history interviews of people who knew Lewis, and we went to see a woman though I’m not going to tell you her name. In the published letters now the new editions have put her name on it, but I used a fictitious name in the book Seeking a Secret Place because I frankly wanted her anonymity protected. I’ll call her Grace, though that wasn’t her name.
My wife and I went to see her. She opened her home to us, gave us tea and cake, and we had a long interview and we had a tape recorder getting things she had to say about her relationship with Lewis. And then she brought out a stack of letters, a huge stack of letters, and she walked over and she handed me the stack of letters. She said, “C. S. Lewis began writing to me in the 1930s when I washed out at Oxford University. I had to leave. I didn’t make it. I didn’t pass the exams.” She said, “I wrote to him, and he began to write to me, and I have letters that go down to the early 1960s.” And here was this stack of letters.
They looked like somebody’s family Bible that they loved or their devotional reading that they used every day. It looked like some Anglican’s prayer book that always used it. Maybe it was like somebody’s copy of My Utmost for His Highest that they’ve used day after day, year after year, incredibly carefully stacked up. And when you looked at it in the paper, you could see where the oil on her fingers had rubbed off and there was discoloration, which showed how she had read these over and over again. And she handed them to me and she said, “You need to take these and have them in the collection because I want to honor the man that helped me so much.”
I looked at my wife and I looked at the letters, and I said, “Grace, I can’t take your letters. They’re too important to you. What I would like is permission to photocopy them. We’ll go tomorrow and photocopy them with your permission, and I’ll give you the originals back.” She wept for joy. Her generosity was, “I’m going to give them to you,” but her prayer must have been, “Lord, help me. I don’t want to give these up because they’re so important to me.”
They were so important because what she said was this, think on this for a moment. She said, “I was going to take my life after I washed out at Oxford. I was on the brink of suicide. If Lewis hadn’t cared to write to me and carefully write to me, I wouldn’t have made it.” She said, “Then I got married and my marriage was very difficult. It never would’ve lasted if he hadn’t patiently read my letters and carefully written back and given me spiritual help on how to get some healing so that I could be a more functional person in this marriage.”
She, in many ways, was a very wounded and troubled soul. She said, “Then I had a daughter who was extremely difficult. I don’t think I could have survived raising her with without having a nervous breakdown if Mr. Lewis hadn’t cared enough for me to write and give me some guidance.” And these letters, just that one collection, were so rich with materials that not only applied to Grace but applied to me and to others in so many ways. He was a soul physician.
Inundated with Letters
Here’s the other thing. Lewis told Owen Barfield, “I don’t know why God has me write all these letters.” He called it the bane of his existence. He said, “This is a burden that really gets oppressive.” By the middle of the 1940s, because of the serialization of The Screwtape Letters, which then came out as a book, letters started pouring in and they kept pouring in and pouring in. By 1945 or 1946, he said he got dozens of letters each week that he had to sit down and, for most of them, handwrite answers with pen and ink. As you might have heard in one of the sessions earlier today, occasionally his brother would take dictation and type a letter for him, but Jack would dictate it and Jack would sign it.
But by the time The Chronicles of Narnia came out, he got many more. Imagine getting 200 to 250 letters a week. He was busy in the academic world. He had demands as a professor. He had publishing obligations and things he wanted to write, and then he was inundated with this mail that he feels he had to respond to. Imagine that. But he did, and that these letters were efficacious and extremely important is witnessed by the fact that they’ve survived. So many people saved them like this woman handing us this enormous stack and saying, “I can’t tell you how God blessed me here.”
Mary and I went through these letters that night, and then we photocopied them the next day. Some of the things were fascinating. This woman became a Christian because of letters Lewis wrote. She wasn’t a believer when she washed out at Oxford. She would ask him questions about the faith, and in one letter, we don’t see what she wrote to him, but we can read between the lines and she had talked to us about it the next day. She filled in what she had written about. She told us that Lewis said to her, “You’re never going to get well until you get to know Jesus Christ, and you’re never going to get to know Jesus Christ until you start reading those Gospels and listening to Jesus.”
And she told us, “I sent him back a letter after I had read through the four Gospels and said, ‘I don’t like him. I’m listening, but I don’t like him. What guy is invited to someone’s house for dinner, and then berates the host in front of his guest. I find him abrasive. I don’t like him.’” And she has this letter that Lewis wrote back. He said, “Jesus is not on trial, you are. Your opinion of Jesus ultimately makes no difference in this world except to you, but his opinion of you does. He’s calling you to be his. But you’re going to have to surrender your pride before you can enter into his kingdom and into this relationship.” This is tough love. This is not what we call today “seeker friendly.” He’s kicking people, saying, “Get moving here.”
One time, she also violated one of his rules, and the rule was that you don’t come and see him personally unless he gives you permission. He didn’t like to do one-to-one interviews on these things. He tutored students, but he didn’t want to do soul-doctor stuff. He didn’t see himself as a counselor.
Well, she showed up one afternoon with her daughter, and her daughter was an obstreperous, unruly little wretch, evidently, and she just raised Cain in the house and caused all kinds of problems. Grace told us when we were there, “I wrote back to Lewis and said to him, ‘I’m so sorry that my daughter behaved so wretchedly. However, I was oppressed as a child, and I don’t want her as a young girl growing up thinking women have no right to say anything. I want her to be a leader because I think she’s very intelligent, so I don’t want to discipline her. I’ll oppress her.’” Lewis wrote back a beautiful letter. He said, “I have no doubt your daughter will be a leader someday. She’s clearly very precocious, but nobody can learn to lead until they’ve learned to follow, and you’re going to destroy her opportunity to be a leader because you’ve never taught her to obey and to follow.” He said, “You need to get this thing turned around.”
How many people would do that? How many people would even see it that way? Then at one point, the daughter was having what she called “nervous problems.” She was going to send her somewhere. First, she went to a psychiatrist and then to a clinical psychologist. She asked Lewis what he thought. Lewis said, “I think your daughter’s nervousness is not that big a deal. All kinds of young people have issues. I’d be very careful where I sent her and what I had done because psychiatry and psychoanalysis is like surgery on the soul.” And he said, “You better be certain who that surgeon is. The problem is that a lot of the psychiatrists and psychologists are not Christians, and if you don’t have a Christian, you’re going to have some surgery done on your daughter that could be very destructive. So you need to be very careful and very prayerful about what you do.” It’s fascinating the things that he’d take time to write about that.
No Ordinary People
To the daughter, he wrote letters and sometimes he’d illustrate them to her. In his sermon that was delivered in 1940 at St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, called The Weight of Glory — and this is part of the genius of all these letters — he said, “In God’s economy, there are no ordinary people. Everybody is precious to the Lord. Every soul you encounter, if you could see what they’re going to look like in glory, you’d be tempted to fall down and worship them. Or they’re going to be so hideous in where they’re going at the end of time that you would flee and utter horror.” There are no ordinary people. Everybody is destined to one of these routes or the other, and we have a responsibility to do all we can to help people grow into that Christ-likeness, not into that evil likeness.
So therefore, every piece of mail is important. A little child, 12 years of age from America can write a letter and he would take as much trouble answering that as he would to some man of power in Parliament because there are no ordinary people. You see, you never know who you’re talking to. You never know what God is doing in their lives. “There are no ordinary people,” he said.
Meeting Needs with Ink
Well, Lewis wrote letters not only to the woman I’m calling Grace. He wrote letters to thousands of people — inquirers, seekers after God, recent converts who wanted help in learning how to grow in grace, people that were into sin, others who were struggling with guilt for sin they committed and wrestling with temptations, people that were battling melancholia or spiritual depression, people who had fears in their lives that were enormous, and then people who were utterly afraid to die. Lewis wrote to all of them carefully and laid out carefully things he thought might help them.
One woman in the United States wrote to him, and she wrote to him over the years. In fact, these letters have been preserved in a volume entitled Letters to an American Lady. She was a bit of a hypochondriac, I think, as you read between the lines. And she was always writing Lewis and always seeking guidance on how to deal with this and that. Well, she had some serious problems where she was really suffering physically, and she wrote to Lewis and she said, “The pain is almost unbearable, and furthermore, I’m afraid I’m going to die.” So he wrote back, as a good pastor would, speaking the truth, and he said, “I’m so sorry about your physical pain. I too have suffered pain at times. It’s awful, and I promise to be in prayer for you and ask the Great Physician to heal you.”
He continued, “But fear of dying? You’ve given your life to Christ. What do you have to fear? In fact, it might be an opportunity for you to shed this tent that is so burdensome and painful.” You see, there was encouragement here, but also positive encouragement on another line, not playing into her pity party, but saying, “Wake up.” It’s so rich. He wouldn’t dodge tough issues, in all kinds of things.
There was one man that wrote to him. My wife said, “Be careful that you even mention this topic,” but I think I should, given the culture we live in. A man wrote to him and said, “Do you think masturbation is sin?” I’ve copied this letter and given it to hundreds of men. Lewis said, “Well, we’ve come a long way from believing that it’s going to cause all kinds of physical or mental problems.” He said, “But I’ll tell you there’s a huge problem,” and let me just summarize what he said in a very long letter.
He said, “The Lord is calling us to get outside of ourselves. In fact, the great sin, the sin of pride, is that we want to get absorbed with ourselves and make everything about us. The problem with self-sexual stimulation is that the man gets himself in a phony world that doesn’t exist, where he has a harem of women fawning over him, telling him how wonderful he is, and there’s not one demand on him to offer anything. Consequently, what’s happened is that this guy is getting himself in a prison of his own design. He’s being imprisoned further into himself. So the problem with this act is that it’s driving you further into yourself. Jesus wants to get you out of yourself to become your true self and your relationship with him.”
I think that’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. And he took time to write about these things to people because he knew it was important and he cared.
A Constant Encourager
I’ve read through so many of Lewis’s Letters, and I’m not bragging about that. I was paid to do that for a number of years. Imagine getting paid to search for Lewis’s letters and to read them and write about him. I mean, it was a grand thing, something I was very grateful for. But Lewis was effective in these letter writings, and they still speak so loudly to us because he treated each person that wrote to him with dignity, as I said, “there are no ordinary people.”
But he also was always an encourager, despite the tough love and the Jeremiah, Amos-like, prophetic talk to people about things. Ultimately, he was always building people up. He was an encourager.
Believing All Things
Third, and certainly related to it, Lewis was always hopeful. Regardless of who you were, how much bondage you were in, how many people you had messed up, Lewis had such a high view of Jesus Christ that he saw every broken person as hopeful. It wasn’t that he was anthropocentric and said, “You can do it with a little self-help. Let’s have the right kind of attitude,” and cheer them on. He said, “Jesus Christ will never ask you to do something that he won’t help you do. Jesus Christ’s Spirit is alive, and he’ll come into you. If he calls you to break out of this, if he calls you to do this, like answer the mail or whatever it is, he will help you do it.” He said, “This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13).” It was not prosperity theology. It was a Christ-centered, gospel message.
He also was very helpful in his letters because he was honest about himself. He would point to some of the garbage cans in his life. He didn’t take the lid off and take everything out for everybody to look at, but he was willing to be honest when somebody wrote saying, “I’m battling temptation. It’s just overwhelming me.” He would say, “I know all about that.”
In one letter, he said, “If you slip and fall, don’t panic. Get up and walk home. We’re like little children coming home from school. We slip and fall into the mud. We’re covered with dirt. We arrive at the house and the loving mother is there to meet us at the door. ‘Come on in. The hot bath is drawn. Clean clothes are laid out for you. A towel is in the drying cupboard. Let’s get cleaned up and get on with the evening.’” What a beautiful image. When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
These letters are replete with these things. He didn’t say, “Gee, I can’t imagine anybody doing that,” or, “I can’t imagine this and that.” But he always pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. He always pointed to Christ.
Excerpts from Lewis’s Letters
Let me read to you something. I want to read to you some pieces from a couple of letters. One woman in the United States in New Jersey wrote and said, “We have a reading group and we read your things.” You can tell by what Lewis writes that that’s what they’re doing. And he wrote letters to her over the years and she was a very well-meaning person. She thought she was encouraging C. S. Lewis by reporting that her friends are reading his works and attempting to emulate him. And that letter elicited this response. He said, “Sister, I am shocked to hear that your friends are thinking of following me. I wanted them to follow Jesus Christ. They’ll get over this confusion, I think.”
In the same spirit of encouraging people to look at Jesus and stay focused on him, one of the last letters Lewis wrote before he died was to a little girl in the United States. We don’t know what she asked, but he wrote a tender letter to this little girl, and he was a very sick man at this point. He said, “If you continue to love Jesus Christ, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.” Isn’t that precious? I tell you, he had a raging fever. He had a terrible infection, and he was still doing that.
About 25 years after C. S. Lewis died, I talked to a few of his friends and acquaintances doing oral history interviews and asked them if they were aware that Lewis felt burdened by all the letters he had to write, and they all agreed he did. Clyde Kilby, who directed the C. S. Lewis collection at Wheaton and founded it, said one of Lewis’s acquaintances and an early student talked to him and helped him see. He said, “There’s no shred of evidence on Lewis’s part that he thought his letters might eventually be published. He had no sense that they would take their place on shelves beside his other books.” But as he wrote to an English girl in the late 1940’s, he said to her, “The important part of spiritual life is keeping on doing what Jesus requires, even when you don’t understand why.” Lewis didn’t understand why he had to write all that mail, but he knew he was supposed to and he did it.
A Word on the Supper
He wrote to a little girl, and he was the godfather to this little girl, and she happened to be in the Anglican tradition and was going to be confirmed and have her first communion on a given Sunday. She wrote and asked him if he would come to her first communion, and he was not able to go because he had to take care of this woman who became a surrogate mother to him, Mrs. Moore. And he said, “I can’t get away and come down to London on Sunday, but I’m going to do two things that a godfather does,” and it was obvious what he meant. He sent some money and said, “Your mother will show you what to do with this.” And then he said this, “When you take your first communion, you already know this is an important thing . . .” See, in that tradition, it wasn’t just a memorial. It was you that really met Christ. As Lewis said in Letters to Malcolm, “Holy communion is like a hand from a hidden country reaching out and touching you. Christ’s presence is there.”
So Lewis said to the little girl, “When you go to receive your first communion and you take the elements, you might expect to feel something. Maybe God will grant you that, and should that happen, praise him and thank him. But you might not feel anything, and if you don’t, that’s okay. That’s his will for you right now. But the important thing is that you keep taking communion regularly because Jesus commanded it. He said, ‘Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
And then he concluded this portion of the letter with these words, “After I surrendered to Christ and went back into the church and became a communicating member of the Anglican church again (that means he started receiving communion again), I don’t think I felt anything for five years, maybe longer. I didn’t feel anything. I was just going through the motions.” But he said, “I went forward in faith, but now I look back and I realize that because I obeyed him, he was strengthening my soul and transforming me to be a little bit more in his likeness.” How many people would take that time to write to a little girl? You might say, “Well, that was his goddaughter.” Yes, but he wrote the same kinds of things to other people.
Meager Offerings to a Great God
To end my talk now, and I’m down to less than a minute, Lewis’s writings will live on for a long time because of the depth of his relationship with Jesus. He attempted to practice what he preached. He answered the mail, despite his inability to see wider purposes. He practiced faithfulness in the most mundane things, offering up small things as a few letters each day afforded him an opportunity, I think, to give over his meager loathes and fishes to Jesus Christ, like that little boy in the Gospels. But unlike the lad with the bits of food, Jack Lewis did not live to see the Lord multiply his gifts, but gifts they were.
Nevertheless, these small offerings to each soul who wrote to him were multiplied into some of his most important books. With posthumous publication of many letters among them, Letters to an American Lady, Letters to Children, Letters to Don Giovanni Calabria, a volume that Paul Ford brought together called Yours, Jack, and more eclectic collections edited by Warren Lewis and Walter Hooper, a growing public throughout the world in nearly 50 languages now have access to some of Lewis’s most important spiritual counsel. And for many of us, certainly for me, C. S. Lewis continues to be a soul physician to me and to many people I’m around.