Through the Years with C.S. Lewis
reflection by Emilie Griffin
was standing in a bookstore in Manhattan when a title
caught my attention. It was The
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
I had heard of Lewis (his book The Allegory of Love had
been on my college reading list, but I had not read it.) I bought
Screwtape and began to read.
Right away I loved the impish humor and brilliant style, but the
content baffled me. Lewis was the first modern writer who challenged
me about Christian faith. He knocked me off my pins. I was an inquirer
then—a seeker in today’s parlance. Yet up to that point,
what I had read on faith was rather safe and traditional. Lewis,
by contrast, stunned me. He seemed to believe in an invisible realm
that I would have considered medieval. (Hence, unacceptable.) Lewis
helped me span the chasm of the Enlightenment and see
Christianity as a religion for the modern world.
Screwtape Letters began to show me there really is a moral
life, and a realm in which
our actions count. Lewis’s way
of portraying temptation was funny; but it fit perfectly with my
own experience. I hardly knew anything then about Christian teaching
on virtue. Such terms as temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude
would have struck me as hopelessly out of date. Yet as a single
woman in New York City, I was constantly confronted with questions
about righteous living. Suddenly, I saw a clear light shining.
Virtue is real and possible. It can be practiced. It takes courage.
You have to gird yourself for it. For the first time I set aside
that witty saying of Oscar Wilde’s: “I can resist anything
I continued to read Lewis—whatever I could get my hands
completely re-configured the world for me. The books with greatest
impact were Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy,
Mind you, I read everything, but those books counted most with
Christianity is a collection of broadcast talks Lewis gave during
World War II. It covers a wide range of Christian subjects,
everything from the Trinity to personal transformation. To me,
it had the impact a catechism ought to have. It painted a Christian
worldview in ways that were vivid and concrete. I saw how grace
works without fusty theological language.
Surprised by Joy was equally effective. I followed the
young Lewis raising all the great questions about the nature of
the nature of God. I noticed how he fought against the religious
faith of his childhood, until he could somehow re-interpret it
in his own terms. I found out how Lewis’s amazing intellectual
circle at Oxford helped him draw closer to God, to imagine God,
to submit to God, till he came at last with great vigor into authentic
Christian faith. I was really struck by all of this, since I needed
God as much as Lewis did; but I was too proud to accept God out
of sentiment or respect for my elders.
twists in his story echoed my own latent spirituality. When,
for example, Lewis did
not believe in God, he was angry at God
for not existing. He was equally angry at God for making a world.
in ways reminiscent of Lewis, I too accepted Jesus Christ and his
Church. After I had read just about everything else Lewis wrote—the
Space Trilogy, the Narnia stories, The Abolition
of Man, and much
more—I moved on to other writers and set Lewis aside.
Ten years later, I had a second encounter with Lewis. I think of
that time as my second conversion. In my middle thirties (midlife,
perhaps?) I took up the spiritual life in earnest. This was more
than church going. It was a life of regular, dedicated prayer and
reflection. C.S. Lewis was my mentor once again.
My husband William Griffin, an editor at Macmillan, had begun to
reissue many Lewis works for American readers and shape some new
titles, as well, by Lewis scholars and commentators. Our interest
in Lewis led us to join the New York C.S. Lewis Society. I also
had begun to write a book about conversion in which Lewis figured
It was a point in my life when I was deciding
what to do with myself (people do this in their thirties, or maybe
once a decade). And
so I resolved to do just what Lewis did.
holding a very demanding day job (as an English professor at
Oxford), he had written a vast
number of influential books.
(I did not quit my day job. And I started writing books.)
had reveled in Christian friendship. It was one of his joys.
In a circle called the Inklings, he read aloud his own works-in-progress
and encouraged other gifted writers (Tolkien and Charles Williams
come to mind). Lewis also pursued friendship by writing and receiving
letters. Dorothy L. Sayers and Evelyn Underhill were just two of
his correspondents. Inspired by this, I sought out friendships
and brushed up my letter-writing.
Lewis lived the Christian life
fully, including prayer, both petitionary and contemplative.
I think his prayer was mystical, though Lewis
would not have claimed such eminence. Like Lewis, I gave myself
to the life of prayer.
When he finally experienced married love
his joy deepened. After his wife died, Lewis lived through severe
suffering that challenged
his faith. But ultimately he grew even more faithful, and many
people have been comforted and enlightened by the book written
about his pain: A Grief Observed. My own path in marriage
and family life has been different; but he taught me to cherish
the ones I love.
Though I never met Lewis, I find it easy
to imagine him in the middle of things, in conversation with friends,
in argument with foes, on long brisk walks, drinking large cups
of tea or brimming pints of English brew.
have visited his home, "The Kilns," in Headington Quarry,
near Oxford. I have been in the room where he died. I have seen
death certificate, displayed on a table. I have been to the churchyard
and visited his grave.
to me, C.S. Lewis is very much alive. I am often in conversation
with him. And I
bless him for his joyful influence on my life.
copyright ©2005 Emilie