Friday, September 30, 2011

Surprised by 'Surprised by Joy'

This week I began to re-read C.S. Lewis' spiritual autobiography - Surprised by Joy. As I go through it, I am re-discovering its insights with pleasure. Do I mean pleasure? Lewis distinguishes carefully between that and joy. Whereas pleasure is merely gratification of some personal desire, joy is more impersonal, transcendent. An aching loss is more joyful than greedy feasting upon something. The longing, rather than possession, is the joyful experience. In this sense it is an other-worldly sensation - a hankering after heaven. 'God has set eternity in their heart,' Eccl 3:11.

Recollections from Lewis' private life make interesting reading. His lonely, cruel childhood is described. Indeed, it is almost suggested in the title, from a Wordsworth sonnet describing the loss of a child, his 'heart's best treasure'. Each discovery Lewis makes on the path to God is described so clearly and rationally, it is almost like I am making the same discovery, reaching the same conclusion, as he does. Does this suggest a good writer or a gullible reader? Lewis touches on a similar theme as he recollects, in his atheist phase, his encounter with the works of G.K. Chesterton.

Another amusing task is to trace pictures from Lewis' fictional work back to their sources in his personal experience. For instance, the old professor from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe might be his tutor in Surrey. The masked mourners in the Pilgrim's Regress seem reminiscent of the stiffly dressed people at his own mother's funeral. The recalcitrant parent in the Screwtape Letters might recall his father, with whom Lewis had trouble engaging.

There are several aspects of this book that I found most encouraging.

  1. The diverse ways in which God draws wandering souls to himself.
  2. Lewis' description of the utter emptiness of self-gratification (particularly of the fleshly kind) for the sake of the act itself.
  3. ...and I'm looking forward to his conversion, on the top deck of an Oxford bus - but I haven't got that far in the story yet!