Preparing for Easter: 50 Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis just released on February 14 in the lead up to Lent, which begins March 1. I’m grateful to be the editor of this collection. I recently sat down to interview with All About Jack, a podcast hosted and managed by William O’Flaherty. Below are a few of my responses in hopes it will be helpful as you consider adding this book to your library. I also encourage you to hear the full interview and many others about Lewis at the web address above.
Why another book of collected selections? For three good reasons I think.
First, it’s to be an Oswald Chambers type guide into the most holy season of Lent. The readings are purposed to draw us into the crucified Christ. The start is themed around our position with Christ, then we turn to God’s descent to save, our forgiveness in him, taking up our cross, the hope of glory, the reality of suffering, and finally the call to follow him to the cross. When we get to Easter day we know afresh that the resurrection changes everything. You won’t see those subtitles for each week in the book. They were just for planning purposes – to uncover Lewis’s thoughts and also to map out the Scripture readings that come from both the Gospels and Psalms.
Second, it’s realizing anew the attendance to daily devotion taking into account with Scripture at the core and a collection of secondary readings from a strong defender of the faith. The grouping is artificial though. That’s obvious I suppose. It’s not a collection Lewis ever thought would be made nor one linked to the particular Scripture I’ve laid out, though on occasion it matches up… but I think that makes the readings more thoughtful in a way because it’s another layer for a private devotion – to draw is further up and in, as he says.
Thirdly, it’s an introduction to Lewis. The reader will be exposed to a breadth of his canon from the expected Mere Christianity to his letters to his academic work of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century to even his pre conversion work of his Narrative poems. It’s a good starting point, perhaps.
As to some excerpts from the book, let me share a few.
I think as we look at the first reading, for example, from The Four Loves, it’s a call to move toward God in what Lewis labels a nearness of approach. We are and always will be made in the image of God and God loves us no more or less always as a result. That’s this nearness to God. But the nearness to approach is ours, in some degree, to find. – “Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God,” Lewis says. “For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?” and more: “What is near Him by likeness is never, by that fact alone, going to be any nearer. But nearness of approach is, by definition, increasing nearness. And whereas the likeness is given to us—and can be received with or without thanks, can be used or abused—the approach, however initiated and supported by Grace, is something we must do.”
On Friday of Week 2, the reading is from On Stories where Lewis reminds us that myth suspends our belief to believe again. He starts off talking about Tolkien and story making and then we come upon this, which I really like: “The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’. The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. …By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly. I do not think he could have done it in any other way.” The reading for that day – just to give you a taste of this is Ps. 34:1-14 which talks about extolling the Lord and boasting in the Lord alone. John 1:1-14 is the passage about the word become flesh and making its dwelling among men. You see, it’s not a one for one but it all fits and I hope we all grow as a result of this pilgrimage of Lent.
Let me note that Lewis was Anglican. The church calendar, and Lent, especially, were important to him, as far as we know. The church calendar helps keep the chaos of a changing messed up world at bay and in the hands of a grander plan. This quote from an April 1, 1952 letter is not about Lent specifically but about church generally. I think, however, it supports the point I’m making:
The advantage of a fixed form of service is that we know what is coming. Ex tempore public prayer has this difficulty: we don’t know whether we can mentally join in it until we’ve heard it — it might be phoney or heretical. We are therefore called upon to carry on a critical and a devotional activity at the same moment: two things hardly compatible. In a fixed form we ought to have “gone through the motions” before in our private prayers: the rigid form really sets our devotions free. I also find the more rigid it is, the easier it is to keep one’s thoughts from straying. Also it prevents getting too completely eaten up by whatever happens to be the preoccupation of the moment (i.e. War, an election, or what not). The permanent shape of Christianity shows through. I don’t see how the ex tempore method can help becoming provincial and I think it has a great tendency to direct attention to the minister rather than to God.
As to a few other passages, I love that we have several lesser known passages from Lewis like Friday of the third week from English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. The point is about how we view God changes everything, but it’s through tis excerpt that is more academic than that, you might say. He’s addressing Protestantism and of that “new” kind of conversion (or the recovery of what is more like the conversion of the first disciples) he says, “The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from nightmare into ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness. Never again can he ‘crow from the dunghill of desert’. All the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place.” One of the readings that day is from Romans 8: 26-39 about the profound security found in Christ and that nothing can separate us from him.
It was a tedious process to take the canon of Lewis and bring it to bear in a book of daily readings. The difficulty was always where to start and stop, especially when it came to more challenging texts that almost hit the editing floor just for the sake of that kind of smaller packaging into a daily reading. For example, “Launcelot” which was titled “See the far off country, then go and believe” but simply changed to “Launcelot” in the final edit. But it’s so interesting and healthy to see this type of excerpt in the book because it’s written well and really does engage our imagination:
Listen: there are two sorts of the unseen,
Two countries each from each removed as far
As the black dungeons of this castle are
From this green mountain and this golden sun.
And of the first, I say, we do not know;
But the other is beneath, where to and fro
Through echoing vaults continually chaos vast
Works in the cellarage of the soul, and things exiled…
And it ends:
Wherever beauty called me into lonely places,
Where dark Remembrance haunts me with eternal smart,
Remembrance, the unmerciful, the well of love,
Recalling the far dances, the far-distant faces,
Whispering me ‘What does this—and this—remind you of?’
How can I cease from knocking or forget to watch—’
You don’t have to know what’s going on in the story or even who Launcelot is to appreciate what Lewis is uncovering for us.
I hope this encourages you to get a copy of Preparing for Easter: 50 Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis and use it this Lenten season as you draw closer to Jesus.