On Sunday I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis again. I’ve read it once each year since I bough it in December of ’08 in Wichita, KS.
I don’t know why I keep going back to it. The first time I read it, I was shocked. I’d read a good bit of Lewis before, but this unmitigated emotion and frustration on display made me wriggle in my bed as I read it that first night. I can remember feeling the cool outside, even though our heat worked fine. That’s how cool it gets in Wichita in December.
Lewis’ books are like that, you remember the world around as read him, as he most likely remembered the world around him as he wrote.
And I needed some wisdom. We had moved our family up there just 6 months earlier and the pastor had already left. We felt unsettled. And I found myself wanting to read outside of the neo-Reformed world I was in. And I needed to read someone who wrote well.
About a week earlier I had gone into Eighth Day Books and plundered the C.S. Lewis shelf. Surprised by Joy was the highlight. I savored that one. I read that one every year too. But that one I read every year intentionally, whereas A Grief Observed has been accidental.
Last night I sat outside in the dark with Billie Holiday and my pipe and asked myself why I keep coming back to this little book. It’s a painful read. His grief is full-tilt and in your face in a way none of his others work are or could be.
I guess it’s because of the honesty. C.S. Lewis is one of the most beloved Christian public figures there is. Liberals and conservatives alike, love him. And here is he is for all the world to see, struggling with the loss of his wife, in full view of everyone.
I keep using the word “full.” And that’s what this book is. For it to be so small, there is a fullness within. The full range of emotions. The full chest of one who breathes deep a rare air of honesty with himself and the rest of us. So full of wisdom.
This little book is a strange help. I’ve not lost my wife to cancer. Nor my parents. Or anyone close, yet. But grief and hurt and the feelings of helplessness and loneliness are not foreign to any of us. And he never feeds us a gospel-hyphenated sugar pill. Only red meat.
Could a pastor have written these things? I doubt it. The expectations are too great. I’m sure he had to deal with those too. But he could ask the questions and stagger alone in the darkness, drunk of grief, without the baggage of a reverend. And none of his answers are all that preachy. There is no sentimental spirituality. Even a former pastor like myself would have not been able to resist a sermon before it was all over.
Isn’t it strange that Lewis is so popular and yet not a pastor. More pastoral than just about anyone, really. Sure, he preached a few times. But he was not a Reverend. He was just a Literature Professor, who believed.
We need more of these. More voices, not trained in the phrases of the pulpit. more voices, full to the brim with the warmth of words. Am I the only one who settles into Lewis the way others settle into soft blankets on a cold windy night full of stars?
This is no denigration of pastors. I am more than thankful for their work. But I want more writers who are writers and readers and lovers and dreamers and seers of all the little details of life that can get lost in the big visions.
Pastors are professionally spiritual. Their doubts must be reined in. They can talk about their struggles with sin, especially if they are of the masculine sort. But the ones in the pew can doubt out loud. Well, at least C.S. Lewis can.
Maybe the attraction of Lewis’s Grief is that it’s familiar. I’ve never been there but it has all the telltale signs of my own weakness and wondering. None of us would be able to express it like Lewis but the hell he traversed in the wake of Joy’s death is a path we will make our way upon one day soon. We’ll probably be angry and question and keep grasping at the rope expecting its end to show up any moment. I’m just glad to know someone so sane as Lewis has gone on ahead of me and lived to tell of it.