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.

Changing the Season of Darkness into the Season of Light…

When we lived in the city we had a strategy for homeless people or those on the sidewalks with signs. We carried gift cards for Subway and gave them out one or two at a time. It seemed mostly satisfactory, until one day a guy asked how much was it worth. Later that same week I discovered a “cash-in your gift cards here” machine in the local grocery store.

We have since moved to a small town/rural area, and the people with signs aren’t so frequent. I don’t carry gift cards any more, and I rarely have cash with me, so I mostly just feel bad when I see someone with a Need Help sign.

I was thinking this morning of something that happened last fall before 2020 happened: I had made an uncharacteristic stop at Walmart to get Burt’s Bees chapstick. While there, I bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner. As I was leaving the parking lot, there was an older man standing at the curb. I could barely read his sign; all I got was “Need Help, Lost Job…”

I drove by.

I had a twenty dollar bill in my purse and a chicken for dinner. Playing on the car audio system was “More Like You” by Scott Wesley Brown. If you don’t know that song, the chorus goes like this:

More like you, Jesus, More like you, Touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.

At the bottom of the hill, I turned around and drove back to where he was standing. I gave him the twenty dollar bill and prayed that he would use it wisely. I don’t know. I’m not writing this for any praise from you because it wasn’t my first thought to be generous. It wasn’t even my second thought. And for all I know, he went out and bought drugs or whiskey with it. But the story that keeps coming to mind is from C.S. Lewis: he was walking with a friend and he gave a generous amount of money to a street person. The friend gently chided him, saying the standard remark, “You know, he’ll probably just drink it up.” To which Lewis replied, “Well, so would I.” (This is from a biography of Lewis by Owen Barfield — who actually was that friend…)

But there’s another quote that’s not so well known in Letters to an American Lady.  Lewis writes, “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need.”

I’m not suggesting we give money to every homeless person; we all have to figure out  how to live generously and thankfully, and what that means is different for everyone. But the events of this year — from pandemics to hurricanes and wildfires to racial unrest to large scale economic upheaval — have left so many of us feeling overwhelmed by the need. And feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to figure out what I can do.

sunriseToday is the first Sunday in Advent. As we await the light coming in this dark year of dark years, I suggest we choose something to do about it. It could be giving anonymously to someone in need. It could be making a meal for someone who is alone. Maybe every Thursday in Advent, you call someone you’ve been thinking about. Yesterday I read a suggestion–that instead of buying Christmas presents this year, we all donate to food pantries or agencies that are struggling to help people in need. We’re considering this: I’m thinking about making cards to send to family members explaining our strategy. Now, more than ever, is a good time to reconsider our spending habits and instead of spending our money on Cyber Monday, let’s spend it on Giving Tuesday instead…

I’m interested to hear if you have any plans to make this Advent season of 2020 different. To bring joy. To bring light. To this hurting world.

Tikkun Olam: where would i begin?

Just this morning my Bible reading brought me to chapter one of 1 Peter, where two verses jumped out at me: Be holy because He is holy (1:16) and …love one another deeply, from the heart. (1:22) They loomed large because they feel so impossible for me these days. I confess to having difficulty in loving my neighbor–and I use the word neighbor loosely. Kind of like asking Jesus, Who is my neighbor? and getting the reply that you know, but you don’t want to hear… What! Those people who call themselves Christians, yet still voted for Trump? They are my neighbors? Yes. That’s really how I feel… (And that is, realistically, almost half this country???)

My ruminations led me to remember the book  Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha;  so I pulled it from my bookshelf and started paging through it again, a couple of years later, in this time of Covid-19 and anger and racial division and conspiracy theories and chaos.

It didn’t take long to find the chapter I remembered, “Repair.” She writes about a Jewish term, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.”  Tikkun olam calls us to do what we can to sacrificially act for the good of our neighbors, even if those neighbors might be our enemies. Even if those neighbors are belligerent about mask wearing; even if those neighbors have a nasty-language-sign in their yard; even if they somehow think the person in the White House is good for the country. How can I love them when I think what they believe is abhorrent? (For a Jewish discussion on the concept, you might enjoy this article from My Jewish Learning.)

Nikondeha then relates several stories of the Batwa tribe in Rwanda who, when faced with having their harvest of carrots stolen from their neighbors, gave them potatoes too. When they were falsely accused of stealing cabbages, they gave twice as many cabbages back. Can you hear in these stories of one of the most difficult messages from Jesus:

…But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. — Matthew 5:39-40

Perhaps we ignore this instruction because it is just too difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around? There are many difficult “red-letter” passages in the New Testament, but none so absolutely unachievable as this one. Don’t fight back, instead say yes, here, hit me again. Someone is suing you for $5,000? Give them $10,000. Your neighbor’s car just died? Give them your second car that you just finished paying off. Forgive the person who treated you so grievously a few years ago that you haven’t spoken to each other since. Wait; don’t just forgive them, invite them to a luxurious feast at your house…

It’s radical, this concept of tikkun olam. But just think of what needs repairing in this world. More accurately, in our own small worlds–our families and our communities.

I suggest that another reason we ignore the reparations that we need to make is because they are SO HUGE as to be daunting. This is not only Love your Neighbor (which is hard enough!) but this is Love your Enemy. How can we do this? Where could we start? The poet philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Yes, this is the road right outside my door…

Jesus’ version of this thought is recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew–the parable of the mustard seed: “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) ESV

Although probably no one actually stole your carrot or cabbage crops, it is likely that someone stole your political yard sign. Or it is likely that your neighbor (or family member) voted for the other side. I suggest that to repair America, we need to take that first step toward tikkun olam. And the road begins right outside our door…