I pulled C S Lewis’s book Surprised by Joy off the shelf a while ago, and have reread it over the last few days. Inside the front cover I noted the purchase date, January 1981, which must have been when, as an 18 year old I first read it. Strange now to realise that was only 26 years after Lewis had written the book, a gap which must have seemed an age at 18, and yet that reading was 34 years ago. I’m almost as old now as Lewis was when he wrote the book.
It is intended – or promoted – as spiritual autobiography, and yet as straight autobiography of an Edwardian childhood that it is most satisfying to me, for what Lewis chooses to say about himself. I’m one of those who, like Lewis, typically find the subject’s early years most fascinating in a work of biography or autobiography. Those experiences shape us, in ways that we are often barely aware of for many years – for some people, perhaps ever. For Lewis, the loss of his mother at young age upended what balance there might have been. Public school had its effect as well. And I come away struck that, despite his Ulster upbringing, the home rule debates etc made no impact – perhaps a reflection of his advice to the young to stay away from reading newspapers.
Reading the book as a parent, it is a reminder of how easily Christian faith and practice can be taken for granted, and not actively nurtured in the next generation. And if the risk 100 years ago was taking for granted a conventional practice that was still widespread, now it is about how easily the temptations and opportunities of the world can pull our children away. Being counter-cultural, as the practice of faith must be today, takes courage, and a long obedience. The wide road is easier. And what choices, what courage, my children see in my faith and practice?
The Holy Spirit does not willingness let us go, and we give thanks that, for all the byways, Lewis was brought back to faith, to be in his age such a powerful apologist for the gospel and God’s kingdom. Today, for all the increased array of media, it would be for anyone like him to find a place to stand in the public square. Lewis himself, in today’s Britain, would probably risk prosecution for his simple, non-condemnatory, description of homosexual practice as a vice.