I could easily have flunked out of seminary because of him. For–reflecting perhaps the evangelical poverty of my childhood– it was not until one Finals week in the first year of my graduate studies in Boston that I finally ran across him. And never having read his children’s stories before, after I finished the first one I found myself having to devour all seven of them immediately, even if it did keep me up and keep me from studying for my exams.
Fortunately, the tests turned out okay. In fact, maybe just because Aslan was “on the move” in my life, I found it even easier to parse St.Paul, befog Barth, and conquer church history. Because, just as the Oxford don had discovered for himself, I also began to realize that Christian doctrines are not what really counts about Christianity– rather, they are simply “translations” of the actual story of Jesus, a “true myth” that has become fact.
What’s more, the tales of Narnia soon proved to be only a “gateway” drug to the other equally intoxicating writings of this man. I discovered in him a new approach to apologetics, for instance, almost conversational in tone, one that discarded debate in favor of winsome discourse. To be sure, if I looked carefully, I could see some flaws in his logic here and there. But the trip that he took me on was so overall delightful that I found myself more than willing to simply sail right over whatever abysses there might have been just to stay on board a little longer.
Likewise, his capacity for imagination seemed unlimited to me. From a satirical dialogue between the devil and one of his apprentices, to a science fiction trilogy that actually worked, to the re-telling of an ancient Greek myth, his ability to write across all kinds of genres, spelled out in almost sixty books, fascinated me. And when I actually heard a recording of his voice from one of his radio addresses during the War I knew then that I had found a muse for my own ministry, for he spoke so calmly and cogently that I could not help but be captivated by him.
Oh to be certain, perhaps that was because he told me what I intuitively already knew but had never been able to articulate, namely, that we live at present on the wrong side of the door and cannot mingle with the splendors that await us in our real home. But, he went on to assure me, “all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so–some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
In the meantime, so he wrote,“the load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” Indeed, all day long, he argued, we are in some degree or another inescapably helping each other either to a destination of eternal glory or one of everlasting horror.
As so as he did for millions around the world, Clive Staples Lewis helped me to find the real destination in my life, as well, not only pointing me towards that “weight of glory” that transformed how I hope to treat others, but becoming a touchstone for my thinking through all the decades that have followed, too.
Few noticed when he died fifty years ago on November 22, 1963, for the other news of that same sad day– the dispatches that came out of Dallas detailing the death of a president–quickly captured the attention of the world. But I have a feeling that on that late autumn day C.S. Lewis found a welcome reception in heaven indeed as the door on which he had been knocking all of his life opened at last.
Through his words, Aslan really was “on the move.” Thanks, Mr. Lewis, for sharing him with me.