There a loads of really great things CS Lewis wrote about his idea of ‘joy’/sehnsucht before 1960. I would like to think he thought they were still ‘truthful’ despite feeling that his faith, pre-A Grief Observed, was a mere “house of cards” that had proved somewhat superficial.
Those words in Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy brought me into the Christian faith, I don’t wish to think they were found to be weak or niave beginnings by their creator (he was, after all, a very intelligent man). Ideally I would like to find that his views didn’t even change slightly!
I personally like to imagine the same things he said about sehnsucht coming via books and music can also be said of fantasy and sci-fi films!
Yes and the general sense that he saw his previous faith as weak and untested. At the end he gains a stronger, more potent belief- but, as an avid reader of his books, I must say I have begun, thereby, taking the things he said after 1960 (the year of his wife’s death) as being more reliable…this is such a shame, and I must stop, because his previous writings did so much to begin, shape, encourage and inspire my faith. His final works were great but I want to return to finding the ‘older’ ones as relevent and believable…and I want to feel that he didn’t see his lovely ideas on sehnsucht as being outmoded via the fact that he had gained more experience of the woes (and, in fairness, joys) of life.
Could it also be that there is a certain witness to the strength of his later faith because he remained as such even though his “feelings” weren’t as “joyful,” so to speak? Like the book of Hebrews says, in Christian maturity, you can’t always expect to just suckle on the sweetness of milk, but must graduate to solid foods. Perhaps?
Lutheran’s have been known to say that “sickness is the best preacher” so in that sense A Grief Observed rang true for me.
It’s also a conforming book for those that are close to despair as well - is there a chance that you’ve been fortunate enough to not have seen such in your life? If so, perhaps when the time comes, keep this book in mind and it may make more sense then.
I’ve collected Lewis for nigh on to 50 years, and roughly 35 years ago did a paper on GRIEF, in grad school, of which I recall no details at all. Nor do I know of any direct reference made to sehnsucht, post Joy’s death, in his writings, including the collected letters edited by Walter Hooper. But I have no reason to suppose his view of that changed, occasioned by the experiences he wrote of in GRIEF. Lewis had not lost his faith, he had found it, and his understanding of it, tested, and perhaps deepened . As he wrote a few weeks before his death, to a RC nun and medieval literary scholar, GRIEF “ends with faith, but raises all the blackest doubts en route” (Lewis, COLLECTED LETTERS, ed. Hooper, Vol III, p. 1460). I am aware of nothing he wrote that expressed any change in his ideas on sehnsucht, or, indeed, any mention of it in the last few years of his life, as I said. Save for one tangential allusion, in the last para of LETTERS TO MALCOM, chap. 17. “Joy is the serious business of Heaven”.
Thanks. Been on Wikipedia and it seems that the last book he edited was ‘They Asked For A Paper’ which contains his old war time sermon ‘Weight of Glory’. Being that it was mostly about sehnsucht, I think he MUST have continued believing in his notion of it; why, after all, would he serve it to the public if he thought it was all lies?
I was wondering about that bit in Letters To Malcom…I was thinking on the part about pleasures being like sunbeams from the Sun/God. I was then pondering over whether this part shows Lewis still saw Earth’s goods as ‘shadows’ or ‘echoes’ of the greatest desirable- God and that God not only contains goodness and joy as a character trait or attribute but, rather, IS joy, is the focus of all longing and that, to see him, would be to experience the ‘white heat’ of His pleasure? Or maybe I’m running away with myself!
I think you read him correctly. He had a Platonic strain, of course, and kept it to the end.
THEY ASKED FOR A PAPER also includes the expanded version of “Transposition”, which is directly pertinent to that idea of Heaven, as something of which earth is a pale reflection. I can’t find my copy of that collection (which is worrisome; I’ve lost Lewis before), but according to the excerpt from the addendum which Hooper included in his C.S. LEWIS: COMPANION AND GUIDE (pp.108-109), it speaks directly to the point you raise above. The addition is post Joy’s death. I don’t think you need worry overly about the works written prior to that.
After reading AGO and Lewis’ other works, I always got the impression that his wife’s death came like a dose of cold reality into all his musings and ponderings about faith and “the joy that surpasses all knowledge.” It’s that feeling in the pit of your gut that everything that sustained you is a lie and that there is nothing that is going to save you from your deepest sorrow–feeling abandoned by God.
I think most of us go through such a time in our lives. Lewis had it twice, first with his mother’s death and then Joy’s death. The first instance drove him into the bare comforts of atheism. And I think he feared, more than anything, the return to those feelings of loss and being alone in the universe. Lewis post Joy’s death had to be a different person from before, even more so than after his mother’s death, I think. Because it brought home to him as an adult that after he had yielded to joy, he didn’t want to lose it again. Anyway, that’s my take on it, for what it’s worth.
Our faith can be in something that is true and that true faith can be articulated in wonderfully deep, and profound words. But that doesn’t necessarily immunize us to feeling it’s all a house of cards when tragedy strikes. That feeling doesn’t take away from the fact that those things are true. It simply means that it often takes tragedy for us to really understand and embrace that which we have been professing for years and years.
I have never felt compelled to dismiss any of Lewis’ prior writings because of that. I don’t think Lewis felt that way. Tragedy can bring to our attention that we have not fully internalized all that we have been going on and on about.
It’s somewhat similar to the story of St. Thomas Aquinas seeing a foretaste of heaven and then declaring that all his writing was as so much straw before the glory of God (and consequently not writing another word after that). That’s a profound message for us of the great glory that awaits us. But the Church does not throw away the Summa or otherwise disregard it. It is still very much a foundational text for understanding and articulating Catholic teaching.
But even the best writings that we have to offer do not compare with the infinite God in His totality. If they did, then God wouldn’t be infinite and wouldn’t be all that glorious.