Favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (Nov. 29, 1898-Nov. 22, 1963)

C.S. Lewis died on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, so the news of his death was overshadowed, at least in the U.S.

Yet I owe my faith to this prolific faith-filled author. Years after Lewis’ Mere Christianity was published, I can credit that book with allowing me to step out of smug intellectual agnosticism and stoop into the humble love of Jesus. Literally.

I was seeing a counselor. She had given me several books to read, and being a good patient (and a librarian) I had read them all and we had had many good discussions on them. Then she told me I should read Mere Christianity. Uhm…Maybe, I said, uninterested. I’d been on the opposite side of Christians trying to convert me for most of my forty-eight years, and I didn’t want to be part of their group.

Then one morning I was the first one at the public library where I worked. I flipped on the lights and stepped into the office and there on the floor was a copy of Mere Christianity. It had fallen from the desk of the employee who was responsible for readying books for the shelves. Her desk was always piled with books; I would never have noticed it if it hadn’t been on the floor right in front of my foot.

Have you noticed how God so often sends us books at just the right time? from Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis

Reluctantly I bent down and picked it up. I was still standing there looking at it when Jean walked through the door. It was her desk; I held up the book. “I’m supposed to read this book,” I said, “and it fell off your desk right in front of me.” She grinned. “Well just let me paste the pocket in it, and you can be the first one to check it out,” she said. True to her word, she handed it to me that day before she left.

In the next week, as I read through Lewis’ apologetic masterpiece, I was stunned by his way with words, his thought processes, his genius. By the time I had finished it, he had gently rid me of all my prejudices, my fears, my hesitations about Jesus. Two weeks later, I purchased my first Bible to read it and see for myself. In the following years, I read avidly other books by Lewis–everything from his fiction to his collected letters to his philosophically dense tomes.

So, yes, I have quite a few quotes. Allow me to share some. And please, if you have a favorite that isn’t here, share it with me in your comments.

Quotes from Mere Christianity:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Nobody can always have devout feelings; and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.

If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

…this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.

Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…

An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons–marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying that those things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…

The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred…

I am afraid the only $afe rule is to give more than we can $pare. If our giving habits do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too $mall.

Quotes from The Screwtape Letters:

When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.

Quotes from The Chronicles of Narnia:

But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. The Magician’s Nephew

A dozen different things that he might say flashed through Digory’s mind, but he had the sense to say nothing except the exact truth. The Magician’s Nephew

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” Prince Caspian

He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one. The Horse and His Boy

Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country, but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Quotes from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis:

I have been feeling that very much lately: that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us. Thus one comes, late and surprised, to the simplest and earliest Christian lessons!

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

Quotes from The Weight of Glory:

For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

…all of our natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.

Quotes from Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis:

As to wishing it had not happened, one can’t help momentary wishes: guilt begins only when one embraces them. You can’t help their knocking at the door, but one mustn’t ask them into lunch.

Don’t worry if your heart won’t respond; do the best you can. You are certainly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or you wouldn’t have come to where you now are: and the love that matters is His for you–yours for Him may at present exist only in the form of obedience. He will see to the rest.

Quotes from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:

Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior.

But the very last thing I want to do is to unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, the concepts — for him traditional — by which he finds it profitable to represent to himself what is happening when he receives the bread and wine. I could wish that no definitions had ever been felt to be necessary; and, still more, that none had been allowed to make divisions between churches.

We say that we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information.

Quotes from Surprised by Joy:

The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

So today, I am saying thank you to a saint who went before. Thank you Mr. Lewis, for your words, your faith, your intellect, your humor, your letters, your humility. I think you have brought many thousands to a new faith, to a deeper faith, to Jesus. And we all are thankful.

Binge-reading Ishiguro…

If you watched 60 Minutes the other night, you might have seen a disturbing episode on Artificial Intelligence. Anderson Cooper interviewed Yuval Noah Harari, a philosopher and historian of the future (and author of Sapiens) about what technology may bring. You can watch the episode, “The Future of Sapiens” here. As I watched uneasily, I couldn’t help thinking of the two novels by Kazuo Ishiguro that I had just finished: Klara and the Sun (2021), and Never Let Me Go (2005)

I read Klara and the Sun first, based on a glowing NYT book review. I was stunned with the beauty and simplicity of the writing in what is an intricate and complex plot. Set sometime in the near future, Klara is–for lack of a better word–an automaton, or Artificial Friend. These Artificial Friends are marketed toward the older child/young teenager to serve as a friend, companion, or nanny. As technology moves forward, new models of Artificial Friends replace older ones, and stores continually push the new product, the newest model. Klara has already had her chance in the store window and has now been shoved back toward the middle of the store, when the young girl, Josie, and her mother purchase her. Klara’s storekeeper assures the hesitant mother that Klara’s model is actually preferred by many because of their sentience and compassion. Indeed, the humanoid robot Klara seems, at times, more of a compassionate character than the humans she lives with. It is a familiar, yet chilling world, in which the haves give up some of what makes them human in order to have more, and the have-nots face the choice of keeping their humanity at the expense of always being considered less. What would you do, as a parent, to make sure your child succeeds in life? And what does success look like? Indeed, what does being human look like? This is a 5-star read.

I had to be on the wait list for Never Let Me Go, but to be honest, it is my favorite of the five I have read so far. (I have not seen the movie–I watched the trailer, immediately after finishing it, and the first scene was not even in the book…so I’m not going to watch it, at least for awhile.) This novel, also set in the near future, raises similar issues–What does it mean to be human? Just because we can use genetic engineering, does it mean we should? I’m not going to give you a plot summary because there would be spoilers. It’s the type of novel that uncovers what is actually happening a little at a time, page by page. To give a plot summary would be to ruin the tense, dystopian atmosphere that Ishiguro has mastered in Never Let Me Go. This is a 5-star read that is hard to put down. Don’t pick it up if you have anything important to do….

In between the two dystopian novels, I read The Remains of the Day. I’m ashamed to say I’d never read it, and it’s one of the few times I saw the movie without reading the book first. I guess Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson persuaded me…The film came out in 1993, so the only thing my aging brain could recall about it was an older English butler who worked for a Nazi sympathizer. I was glad that was all I could remember; for this is a brilliantly nuanced memoir of how we can so easily fool ourselves with our own thoughts and memories.

The aging Mr. Stevens is still the butler in charge of the grand old English manor, Darlington Hall, but the old Lord Darlington has died, and the manor has been purchased by a rich American who really has no idea of how things should be run properly. He suggests that Stevens take a vacation, a road trip, and even provides the roadster. As Stevens travels from Darlington Hall near Oxford to the West Country, he relives his life and his relationships with seeming honesty and (sometimes) painful introspection. I think that this is probably not a book for everyone. It is a quiet, introverted book, and not much happens plot-wise. But the language transported me, a modern American, to a time gone by in England. What follows is a particular paragraph that is likely to let one know if one would enjoy this book.

“But this small episode is as good an illustration as any of the hazards of uttering witticisms. By the very nature of a witticism, one is given very little time to assess its various possible repercussions before one is called to give voice to it, and one gravely risks uttering all manner of unsuitable things if one has not first acquired the necessary skill and experience.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

And if that resonates, here is another:

“One need hardly dwell on the catastrophic possibility of uttering a bantering remark only to discover it wholly inappropriate.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Ah yes, the wholly inappropriate bantering remark… This is a 5-star read, and yes, I’m going to watch the movie again soon.

After the third Ishiguro novel, I was excited to read The Buried Giant. It was billed as an Arthurian fantasy or fable, and I have always been a fan of classic fantasy and myth. The Mists of Avalon, The Last Enchantment...yes, I read them both and loved them, and I think that’s why my expectations were high. I suppose we should be wary of great expectations, for I was actually disappointed in this one, and I’m not sure why. The plot is fine: an aging dragon breathes out the mist over the land that keeps people’s memories foggy. This was Merlin’s last enchantment to keep the Angles and the Saxons at peace. Indeed it has worked all these years, for no one can remember to hold a grudge, but neither can anyone remember their children, or love, or why they live as they do. The aging couple Axl, who was a peacekeeper in Arthur’s court, and his wife, Beatrice (whom he irritatingly calls Princess) set out on a journey to find the son they vaguely remember. On their journey they are joined by a warrior, a young boy, and Sir Gawain–each of them on their own journey to reclaim memory. Each one of them has clarity about the past at different times, but they are all the epitome of the Unreliable Narrator. The reader is never sure if what is remembered is true or mist. Ishiguro himself said he was writing about collective memory and how societies cope with traumatic events by forgetting. Reading this book is like having a conversation with someone who has Alzheimer’s. It’s well-written, but I never felt much empathy for any of the characters. It was as though having their own struggles with memories made them keep everyone–even the reader–at arms length. I give this one three stars.

When We Were Orphans takes the reader back to England in 1923, where we are introduced to Christopher Banks, a young man who has just graduated from Cambridge and is about to embark on his long-dreamed of career as a police detective. And though you might see this billed as a detective novel, it is not. The reader really only hears vaguely about his career and the cases that have made him famous. What we have instead is another theme on our memories and how they often fool us into misinterpreting facts and the world around us. It’s called cognitive bias, and this article by Charlotte Ruhl says that “…it results from our brain’s efforts to simplify the incredibly complex world in which we live.”

The first few sections of the novel take us back and forth between England and young Christopher’s childhood in Shanghai, where he lived with his parents in the International Settlement. (An aside–this novel’s rich details about early twentieth century Shanghai make it worth reading just for the exotic locale.) When he was nine, his father disappeared, and a few months later his mother was kidnapped. Young Christopher is sent back to England where he is sent to boarding school and raised by an aunt (whom we never meet).

Twenty-some years later, after Christopher has established himself as a renowned detective, he returns to Shanghai, in the midst of the Sino-Japanese war (ca. 1937) to solve the disappearance of his parents. His return to China begins the dreamlike episodes of the book, for up until now, the reader has assumed that everything Christopher has told us is true. And it is true according to his memory, but his memory is also that of a nine-year-old boy who has experienced great trauma. I’m not a literary critic; I’m not even an ex-English major who sees the symbolism for the light at the end of the dock; but when Christopher returns to Shanghai, he is transported back to that nine-year-old life and refuses to see the changes and the differences to this new city at war. What makes him think that his parents are still alive after all these years? And the truth, when it comes out, might be even stranger… This is a 5-star read, too.

I think next I will read An Artist of the Floating World. Does anyone have any suggestions? My suggestion to you is to pick up one of his books. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, and he isn’t called Sir Kazuo Ishiguro for no reason.

All We Need Is Love…

All of March, all of April, all of May so far, posts have been swirling around in my head and then rejected. Too serious, too stupid, too sad, too banal, too ubiquitous, too churchy, too inappropriate, too depressing, too inconsequential… So instead I wrote an inconsequential post on baking dessert, and an inconsequential post on our bathroom remodel. (I confess that the beautiful new bathroom isn’t inconsequential to me!)

I kept thinking of the Lennon-McCartney line, Nothing you can say that’s not been said… but it turns out that isn’t the right lyric. It is close to a line from “All You Need Is Love” and that’s the lyric we all need to hear right now. “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need…” So have a listen to the song, while you’re reading my words that have all been said before.

This stuff we’re going through is scary. We’ve probably all read enough dystopian novels that start simply enough with oh, say, all the grass dying from a disease (No Blade of Grass, by John Christopher) or  women no longer being able to give birth so humanity is dying out (The Children of Men by P. D. James) or climate change causing  social structures to break down (The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler) or a viral pandemic that starts in one small area and spreads worldwide (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; The Stand by Stephen King; )… It’s easy to look at what’s happening now and say, What if… Okay, yes. Too depressing.

I myself have been having trouble reading, concentrating. The librarian! So if dystopian novels are too depressing,  I told myself, read something light. So I chose 14 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, but all that did was remind me of the ten days in Scotland that is not happening. Non-fiction, I brainstormed, and soon after I was reminded that The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher was on my life to-read-list, but it had always been pushed to the bottom because I didn’t think I had time. Duh! There are no events on my calendar, and I’ve got time. I’m reading it now on my kindle and thoroughly enjoying it.

Since we’re on the topic of song lyrics, how about John Prine’s song, Spanish Pipedream: Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, move to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try to find Jesus, on your own…)

Garden for Joy

Plant a little garden: We’ve already covered that in this post, but just in case you didn’t read it, go out and plant something. On your patio. In your back yard. In your front yard. Grow cosmos. Or lantana. Grow yellow tomatoes. Or seven different varieties of basil. Grow a lemon tree…

Turn off the Television: I admit to wanting to blow mine up.  24-7 broadcasting of Covid-19 statistics and scares is not good for anyone’s mental health…Neither is 24-7 broadcasting on the current president’s stupidity. Sorry. I just had to throw that in there because that has me as depressed as the virus statistics. So turn off the news, turn off the president, turn off the divisiveness. Play games, go for a walk, make homemade ice cream, order pizza delivery for a friend.

Try to find Jesus: Now is the time. Do you need hope? Do you need comfort? Do you need the ability to get rid of the belief that you are in control? Take comfort in what Jesus told his disciples: So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring fears of its own… There are you-tube church services abounding right now, and you don’t have to actually walk into a church. I remember how daunting that was when I was finally ready to take that step. It took me a month to get up the courage.

Pray: “Prayer and meditation are highly effective in lowering our reactivity to traumatic and negative events,” says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage, family and addictions therapist. “They are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves.

Giving comfort to someone else brings comfort to you: Find something to do for someone who is worse off than you. Donate your time. Donate your talent. Donate your money. We were going to donate our stimulus check, but we haven’t received it yet. That’s okay; it’s giving us plenty of time to decide how to donate it…

So yes, all of this advice is everywhere. And frankly, I’m tired of those sappy commercials of “We’re all in this together”. I appreciate the sentiment; it is true. And I’d rather see one of those commercials than the tv news of protesters dressed in camo carrying guns. I admit to being a child of the sixties: I want to walk up and put daisies in their gun barrels.

I took this picture today when I was outside decorating my house for spring. These ajuga and lilies of the valley are growing together and cooperating beautifully in the same space. Even though they are different colors; even though they are different species. When will humans learn from them? In truth, some of the most beautiful landscapes are those with incredible variety. With all that is going on the world, we are being called to rise above the division, the noise, the ugliness and reach out in love to someone who might be different from us.

Take one step forward today. Be kind and love on someone. Be kind to yourself. Pray. Be grateful for what you do have. Love isn’t love till you give it away