A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis.

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I’m continuing my way through the CS Lewis box set (Christian writings) that I got for Christmas. So far I have enjoyed The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters. I’d say Screwtape is the best of them all, but all of these books exhibit the geniues of CS Lewis.

In this book, originally published under a different name, Lewis gives us insight, over the some period of time.into his thoughts and feelings after his wife died from cancer. He goes from abondoning God, to returning to his faith, and it is a pretty remarkable journey. He always has so many insights that I would not otherwise think of if I did not read his books.

I have a ton of dog ears through this book, and will include some of the more interesting ones here:

  • From the Forward, written by Madeleine L’Engle:

    It is helpful indeed that Lewis, who has been such a such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaime. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, or own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are a part of the soul’s growth.

  • I had yet to learn that all human relationships end in pain. It is the price that our imperfection has allowed Satan to extract from us for the privilege of love.

  • Only a real risk tests the reaility of faith. Apparently, the faith — I thought it faith — which enables me to pray for the other dead has seemed strong only because I have never really cared, not desparately, whether they exist or not. Yet I thought I did.

  • Unless…you can believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ … But that is all unscriptural… There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the spirtualists bait their hooks!

  • And just something I saw with word selection… He wrote how something would “blossom or (fester).” It’s just one little example of how I think he has always had a way with words that I haven’t. Granted, 99% of my writing is technical, so such word choice is often not an option.
  • For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was H. not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always holding these in solution, my trusty comrage, my friend, my shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have had good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more.

  • I have discovered passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.

  • And then on questioning God… I really liked this.

    When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘no answer’. It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate gaze. As though He shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child, you don’t understand.”

    Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All non-sense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile. Is a yellow square round? Probably half the questions we ask — half our great theological and metaphysical problems, are like that [to God].

  • Somewhat lacking context, but should not be that hard to figure out…

    His love and His knowledge are not distinct from one another, nor from Him. We could almsot say He sees because he loves, and therefore loves although He sees.

  • The book ends with “Poi si torno all’ eterna fontana.” After searching around a bit, I found this is from Dante, and means “then she turned back to the Eternal Fountain. And I found this explaination, at this link.

    They are spoken of Beatrice, when, in one of the final cantos of the Paradiso, she finally and forever turns away from the poet, whom she has guided to heaven, toward the glory of God. It is Lewis’ literary way of confessing his faith in the fact that there, in the presence of God, his wife, whose departure in death has been such a desolation to him, is now lost in the rapture of God.

  • And finally:

    “The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. Either way, we’re for it.”

  • To conclude, another highly recommended CS Lewis book!

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7 thoughts on “A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis.

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « 2sparrows

  2. Pingback: A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis: Quotes & Thoughts « James Carter Dawkins's Blog

  3. Julie

    Who are you? I found your translation of the last line of “A Grief Observed” and thank you for your explanation – “his wife, whose departure in death has been such a desolation to him, is now lost in the rapture of God.
    My husband is too gone into the rapture. “A Grief Observed” is more than a good read. It touches on what seems to be an unbearable, unending sadness in the hearts of those who are left behind. To read it is to find at least the solace of a written explanation of what it is to lose your life, your love, your heart. It gave to me at least a moment of feeling less alone.

    Reply
  4. Timothy Hall

    I can still feel the impact of the latin ending quote. I do not know if I fully understand it or appreciate it as of yet. I will try. There was one other short sentence that I found very powerful: Praise Him as the Giver as He gave me her as a gift. I was given a wonderful woman as a wife. She fought cancer for many years and each year was a gift – She was another gift given. I was so blessed.

    Reply
    1. seanb724 Post author

      For some reason that reminds of one of my favorite quotes, from the movie Good Will Hunting:

      So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.

      Reply

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