A Grief Observed

I just finished reading “A Grief Observed”, which CS Lewis wrote after his wife Joy Davidson’s death from cancer. The book is unfailingly honest as Lewis struggles to regain his spiritual bearings after his loss. I wanted to read it because I find it difficult to relate to idealised, pain-free lives, lives lived seemingly without fear or struggle. Though I am a faithful believer in Christ, I suffer from anxiety at times. Prayer helps, as does spiritual reading, but there are times when life’s journey is seemingly one dark struggle after another. I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way sometimes, so I wanted to share some of the book’s more beautiful passages with people reading this blog.

Pages 44 to 47 chart Lewis’s slow awakening from his long night of grief, as he says:

Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. And I’d had a very tiring but very healthy twelve hours the day before, and a sounder night’s sleep; and after ten days of low-hung grey skies and motionless warm dampness, the sun was shining and there was a light breeze. And suddenly at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best…It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.

Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, “He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,” when the truth was, “He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.”

…Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain (here Lewis refers to his sense that God deliberately shut the door on his cries for help during his grief), that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead?

…And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

On the other hand, “Knock and it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9 – my reference here from BibleGateway.com). But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also “To him that hath shall be given” (Luke 19:26 – again, my reference here from BibleGateway.com). After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

For all sorts of mistakes are possible when you are dealing with Him. Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) “at her elbow,” demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in – I know how one puts it off – and faced Him. But the message was, “I want to give you something” and instantly she entered into joy.

A passage on page 48 resonated with me because I recall my husband once referring to me, with touching fondness, as “little brother.” Lewis himself comments about his wife:

Yet there was something of the Amazon, something of Penthesileia and Camilla. And you, as well as I, were glad it should be there. You were glad I should recognise it. Solomon calls his bride Sister. Could a woman be a complete wife unless, for a moment, in one particular mood, a man felt almost inclined to call her Brother?

Then there is Lewis’s faith in God’s divine purpose behind the beautiful complexity of his human creatures:

Sometimes, Lord, one is tempted to say that if you wanted us to behave like lilies of the field you might have given us an organisation more like theirs. But that, I suppose, is just your grand experiment. Or no; not an experiment, for you have no need to find things out. Rather your grand enterprise. To make an organism which is also a spirit; to make that terrible oxymoron, a “spiritual animal.” To take a poor primate, a beast with nerve-endings all over it, a breeding animal that wants its mate, and say, “Now get on with it. Become a god.”

The final section of Lewis’s book deals with Joy’s death and his assurance that something more remains for all of us. He comments:

How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back! She said not to me but to the chaplain, “I am at peace with God.” She smiled, but not at me…

He then ends with a phrase that was a mystery to me (I do not speak Italian) until I did some digging on Google:

Poi si torno all’ eterna fontana

According to online sources, this is taken from Dante’s Paradiso XXXI. It means, quite simply and beautifully, “Then she turned back to the eternal fountain.”

Amen to that.

Surprised by Joy

I have been reading CS Lewis’s book “Surprised by Joy” and finding it very interesting and edifying. The book is unabashed in its description of Lewis’s personal life, which is really direct and refreshing. Lewis was one of my favourite childhood authors. I’m happy to say he’s a wonderful read as an adult as well. A beautiful passage ending his book:

But what, in conclusion, of Joy? For that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe…that the old stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever.

But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. “We would be at Jerusalem.”

Not, of course, that I don’t often catch myself stopping to stare at roadside objects of even less importance.

Do animals have souls?

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
(Genesis 2:19)

Anatole France — ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’

I was inspired today to write about animals, as far as I can, from a biblical perspective. A fellow Christian recently told me she believes animals “just end” when they die, that they have no soul as humans do. Is this a biblical response?

The following article has been helpful in understanding God’s perspective on animals (as has reading the chapter “Animal Pain” in CS Lewis’s book “The Problem of Pain”):

http://christianity.about.com/od/whatdoesthebiblesay/f/animalsinheaven.htm

God prohibited the killing of man (“You shall not murder,” Exodus 20:13) but he placed no such restriction on the killing of animals. Man is made in God’s image, so man must not kill one of his own kind. Animals, it would seem, are different from man. If they do have a “soul” that survives death, it is different from man’s. It does not need redemption. Christ died to save the souls of human beings, not animals.

Even so, the prophet Isaiah says God will include animals in the new heavens and new earth:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock:
and dust shall be the serpent’s meat.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,
saith the Lord.
(Isaiah 65:25)

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the Apostle John’s vision of heaven also included animals, showing Christ and the armies of heaven riding “upon white horses.” (Revelation 19:14, KJV)

Most of us can’t picture a paradise of unspeakable beauty without flowers, trees, and animals. Would it be heaven for an avid birdwatcher if there are no birds? Would a fisherman want to spend eternity with no fish? And would it be heaven for a cowboy without horses?

While theologians may be stubborn in classifying animals’ “souls” as inferior to those of humans, those learned scholars must admit that descriptions of heaven in the Bible are sketchy at best. The Bible does not give a definitive answer on the question of whether we will see our pets in heaven, but it does say, “… with God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, KJV)

My little cat Buster is an important part of my life and I feel he has grown tamer, more human-like, with the passing years. Others have described Buster as he is today as “mellow”, “polite” and “innocent” whereas in times past he used to roam the neighbourhood looking for fights. He nows taps my husband and I gently with his paw whenever he wants our attention: whether it be for food, pats or play. He asks us for food in a polite tone, accepting with a sigh of good grace the reply “No” when we deem he’s had enough. And he screams with sheer delight when my husband wrestles him with the special padded glove he wears to protect his hand and arm from Buster’s sharp little claws.

I believe Buster is a gift from God. You probably feel the same way about your pet. And if you do not it may be, like the lady I go to church with who says animals are soulless, that your conscience has not yet been awakened in this area of life. Perhaps allergies or other issues prevent you drawing closer to those animals you have as pets, so there is still an emotional and spiritual wall between you.

CS Lewis wrote eloquently on the issue of animal “immortality” in the world. Some interesting passages:

Man is to be understood only in his relation to God. The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God…I am now going to suggest – though with great readiness to be set right by real theologians – that there may be a sense, corresponding, though not identical, with these, in which those beasts that attain a real self are IN their masters. That is to say, you must not think of a beast by itself, and call that a personality and then inquire whether God will raise and bless THAT. You must take the whole context IN which the beast acquires its selfhood…That whole context may be regarded as a ‘body’ in the Pauline…sense; and how much of that ‘body’ may be raised along with the goodman and the goodwife, who can predict?…And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.

Comforting Bible passages revealing God’s love for animals:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
(Matthew 10:29)

O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.
(Psalm 36:6)

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast:
but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
(Proverbs 12:10)

The Ten Commandments reveal God’s care for animals. The Fourth Commandment states that even the cows are to rest on the Sabbath day:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
(Exodus 20:8-11)

We can learn spiritual lessons from animals:

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee;
and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
8 or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee:
and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
9 Who knoweth not in all these
that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
10 In whose hand is the soul of every living thing,
and the breath of all mankind.
(Job 12:7-10)

Thank you to http://www.in-memory-of-pets.com/index.php for the verses quoted above.

Helpful insights from “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis

While reading CS Lewis’s great Christian classic, “Mere Christianity”, the Spirit of the Lord emphasized the following to me. You can love God with everything you have and your neighbour as yourself NOT by trying to manufacture feelings. Christian love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. Act as if you loved God and your fellow man and presently you will find affection follows.

The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

Another helpful insight from this book is that beliefs aren’t automatically maintained. They must be held in the mind and maintained by prayer, regular reading of the Word of God, and church attendance.

Praise God for these edifying passages of wisdom. I hope you found them as comforting and useful as I did.