C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

C.S. Lewis MemoirC.S. Lewis. 1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Book.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Memoirs often challenge reviewers because they are not easily summarized. An analytical book often argues a single idea by breaking it down into supporting ideas while a synthesis builds up related ideas to form a conclusion. While a good memoir is more the latter, oftentimes the path through life can be serendipitous in its living and can read more like a mystery in its telling. Thus, even a deep read may not reveal the structure in the author’s mind, leaving the reviewer in a pickle as to what pieces to highlight.

In his memoir, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis writes: “The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less ‘Confessions’ like those of Saint Augustine or Rouseau.” (vvii) This description pegs Lewis’ work as a memoir which differs from an autobiography primarily in having a theme (“my conversion”). The conversion of C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith interests many because Lewis ranks among the most persuasive of Christian apologists of the twentieth century owing to his skill as a fiction writer and vast knowledge of modern and classical languages, and philosophy. While others might resort to penning a memoir out of vanity or desire for reflection, Lewis writes at the urging of his readers (vii).

The Question of Joy

When I purchased Lewis’ book back in 2013 during seminary, I was attracted by the title, Surprise by Joy, and paid no attention at all to the subtitle: The Shape of My Early Life. I hoped for a study of joy, perhaps as a biblical theme, but did not initially identify the book as a memoir. When I began reading in earnest this fall having just completed a memoir of my own, Lewis’ memoir posed an immediate interest. Lewis does not study joy extensively perhaps because his early life displayed so little of it.

Influence of Lewis’ Parents

Lewis begins his journey of faith describing his parents:

“I was born in the winter of 1898 at Belfast, the son of solicitor and of a clergyman’s daughter…The two families from which I spring were as different in temperament as in origin. My father’s people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness. The Hamiltons were a cooler race. Their minds were critical and ironic and they had a talent for happiness in a high degree—went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train.” (3)

One might expect a memoir to start with one’s birthday, not a season of birth—winter, especially in the first sentence. For a man of letters such as Lewis, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. If you think that I am reading too much into this one word, Lewis describes the Lewis family as having “not much talent for happiness”, while his mother’s family posed a “talent for happiness.” Again, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. This is true especially because we soon learn that Lewis’ mother died while he was yet quite young and just before he announces this fact to us he takes great pains to define joy (18).

Lewis’ Experience of Joy

Before defining joy, Lewis takes pains to outline his imaginary life as a child and cites a number of books that aided this interior life. He is especially attracted to “dressed animals” and “knights in armor” that live presumably in “Animal-Land” (13). After discussing three such books, he cautions readers not interested will find nothing further of interest in his memoir because books such as these are his joy (17). He then writes:

“I call it [a desire more desirable than any other satisfaction] Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” (18)

Lewis accordingly finds joy in reading and in his interior life, perhaps, because he experienced such deep grief on the loss of his mother (18-19) and found joy nowhere else in his exterior life. He concludes: “with my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” (21)

Boarding School

With the death of his mother, Lewis’ father became his chief influence and his father sent both Lewis and his brother off to boarding school, which Lewis describes as a concentration camp. Much of his memoir, with the exception of about fifteen pages devoted to his experience as a young British officer in World War One (WWI), focuses on his experiences in a variety of schools. While fascinating to read, in the context of the story of Lewis’ coming to faith, his education functions as a lengthy prelude to his conversion experience—there I was; here I am.

Returning to Faith

After WWI Lewis returned to school at Oxford and began to reassess his worldview as a college atheist. In conversations with a friend, he notes have been persuaded to give up his:

“chronological snobbery, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” (207)

In my own experience, this “chronological snobbery” forms a cornerstone of atheism in our own time because it is hard to accept the divine inspiration the Bible when anything written before the Internet (Millennials) or before the 1960s sexual revolution (Boomers) is considered obsolete. Lewis clearly anticipated this larger problem having named and confronted it already in the 1940s.

Hounds of Heaven

Lewis writes using different metaphors about God’s pursuit of his soul. For example, he writes:

“But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seem to me a transcendental Interferer…’This is my business and mine only.’” (172)

and

“And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.” (211)

But for Lewis the metaphor that he highlights most obviously is that of a divine Chess master in two separate chapter titles: check and checkmate (165, 212). What metaphor would appeal to a scholar and intellectual? Lewis writes of returning to faith in 1929, when he was 31 years old (228).

And what does Lewis make of joy? Once having rediscovered his faith, he lost interest and described it merely as a signpost which, having provided direction, posed little further utility (238)

Assessment

C.S. Lewis’ memoir, Surprised by Joy, is a gem that describes his early childhood, falling away from and return to Christian faith. This is a book of special interest to Lewis fans and those interested in Christian memoir.

C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

Also see:

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” in Paperback, Kindle, and EPUB (3)

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” 

CONTACT:

Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 9/28/2017:

Called Along The Way: A Spiritual Memoir by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in both paperback (978-1942199250), Kindle (978-1942199298) on Amazon.com and in EPUB (978-1942199175) on BarnesAndNoble.com or Kobo.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details available at T2Pneuma.com.

 DISCUSSION:

Called Along the Way describes my faith journey from unbeliever to believer, from cultural Christian to active disciple, from disciple to realization of call, and from seminary to early ministry. Unlike Adam and Eve, my story does not begin the Garden of Eden. If you too have struggled with your faith walk, then my story may offer solace. Even in our baby steps of faith, God promises to walk with us.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, volunteer pastor, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

Key words:

Christian memoir, faith, discipleship, pastoral call, personal memoir, autobiography, memoir, federal service, education.

******************

What people are saying… 

Have you ever wondered if the church in America is mortally wounded? Is God really dead as the infamous 1966 Time magazine cover reported? This memoir offers evidence to the contrary.

— Aaron Gordon, Pastor

Stephen opens up his life story for us to delve into, investigate, and learn from. It provides an excellent inside view of how God uses every facet of our lives to mold us and to use us for His glory.

— Nohemi Zerbi Chemical Engineer

Stephen’s spiritual journey is interesting because it has taken place along the pathway of enormous changes in America. 

— Jonathan Jenkins, Pastor

Other paperback books by T2Pneuma Publishers LLC include:

  • A Christian Guide to Spirituality
  • Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad
  • My Travel Through Life
  • Life in Tension

Please mention T2Pneuma.com on social media.

 

 

 

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T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” in Paperback, Kindle, and EPUB (2)

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” 

CONTACT:

Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 9/28/2017:

Called Along The Way: A Spiritual Memoir by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in both paperback (978-1942199250), Kindle (978-1942199298) on Amazon.com and in EPUB (978-1942199175) on BarnesAndNoble.com or Kobo.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details available at T2Pneuma.com.

 DISCUSSION:

Called Along the Way describes my faith journey from unbeliever to believer, from cultural Christian to active disciple, from disciple to realization of call, and from seminary to early ministry. Unlike Adam and Eve, my story does not begin the Garden of Eden. If you too have struggled with your faith walk, then my story may offer solace. Even in our baby steps of faith, God promises to walk with us.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, volunteer pastor, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

Key words:

Christian memoir, faith, discipleship, pastoral call, personal memoir, autobiography, memoir, federal service, education.

******************

What people are saying… 

Have you ever wondered if the church in America is mortally wounded? Is God really dead as the infamous 1966 Time magazine cover reported? This memoir offers evidence to the contrary.

— Aaron Gordon, Pastor

Stephen opens up his life story for us to delve into, investigate, and learn from. It provides an excellent inside view of how God uses every facet of our lives to mold us and to use us for His glory.

— Nohemi Zerbi Chemical Engineer

Stephen’s spiritual journey is interesting because it has taken place along the pathway of enormous changes in America. 

— Jonathan Jenkins, Pastor

Other paperback books by T2Pneuma Publishers LLC include:

  • A Christian Guide to Spirituality
  • Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad
  • My Travel Through Life
  • Life in Tension

Please mention T2Pneuma.com on social media.

 

 

 

Continue Reading

T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” in Paperback, Kindle, and EPUB

T2Pneuma Releases “Called Along The Way” in Paperback, Kindle, and EPUB.

CONTACT: Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 9/28/2017: Called Along The Way: A Spiritual Memoir by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in both paperback (978-1942199250), Kindle (978-1942199298) on Amazon.com and in EPUB (978-1942199175) on BarnesAndNoble.com or Kobo.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details available at T2Pneuma.com.

 DISCUSSION:

Called Along the Way describes my faith journey from unbeliever to believer, from cultural Christian to active disciple, from disciple to realization of call, and from seminary to early ministry. Unlike Adam and Eve, my story does not begin the Garden of Eden. If you too have struggled with your faith walk, then my story may offer solace. Even in our baby steps of faith, God promises to walk with us.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, volunteer pastor, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

Key words: Christian memoir, faith, discipleship, pastoral call, personal memoir, autobiography, memoir, federal service, education.

******************

What people are saying… 

Have you ever wondered if the church in America is mortally wounded? Is God really dead as the infamous 1966 Time magazine cover reported? This memoir offers evidence to the contrary.

— Aaron Gordon, Pastor

Stephen opens up his life story for us to delve into, investigate, and learn from. It provides an excellent inside view of how God uses every facet of our lives to mold us and to use us for His glory.

— Nohemi Zerbi Chemical Engineer

Stephen’s spiritual journey is interesting because it has taken place along the pathway of enormous changes in America. 

— Jonathan Jenkins, Pastor

Other paperback books by T2Pneuma Publishers LLC include:

  • A Christian Guide to Spirituality
  • Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad
  • My Travel Through Life
  • Life in Tension

Please mention T2Pneuma.com on social media.

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Christian Memoir: Looking Back

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christian Memoir: Looking Back

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the ironies of life is that we are naturally strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that we dare not pull back for fear of what might lie beyond. This fear cloaks our shadow side in mystery. It also limits our potential, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable in the presence of others, and welcome God more fully into our life. My purpose in composing a Christian memoir is to lift this veil.

Role of Time

We experience life through the experience of time. The Greeks experienced time in two primary dimensions. The first dimension, chronos time (χρόνος), is measured in equal units: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and centuries. The second dimension, chairos time (καιρός), is a decision moment or crisis[1]. When we look at our wristwatches or calendar, we experience chronos time. When we crash our car or meet God, we experience chairos time. We normally think and move through chronos time. We normally feel and remember chairos time. This book is organized around chronos time, but the memories that fill it are mostly kairos moments.

I remember my early years in vignettes. These vignettes appear like electronic photographs without a time and date stamp. The stories that I tell about those vignettes are mostly the spin that came later reflecting on them. For this reason, these vignettes are best expressed in poetic form. Here we find kairos moments of a child who has not yet learned the discipline of chronos time. Objective thought, which requires some distance between the object and the thought, is also mostly absent and unlearned. Chairos time is chaotic, messy, embarassing. In a word, it is subjective. If the subject is your dark side, then you expect to find dark things. Honesty in this terriority is aspirational. Poetry helps overcome obvious tensions.

Caveats

One area where I cannot be entirely straightforward is in revealing personal details about the people around me. I can sign onto the journey of self-revelation. I cannot presume that my family and friends share my objectives in this respect. Their roles in this narrative will either be cloaked or absent. Please understand. This autobiography is not an exposé.

Four Big Questions

In my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, I examined four questions in the context of the traditional teaching of the church:

1. Who is God?
2. Who are we?
3. What do we do about it?
4. How do we know?

The objective in that text was especially to explore the first question: Who is God? My second book, Life in Tension, likewise has that focus. This book focuses on the second question: Who are we? While this book focuses on my history, I am, in part, a stand in for the reader. It is my hope that in telling my own story that I will also help you tell yours.

[1] Both words appear in the Greek in this verse: “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)

[2] My thanks to Kreeft (2007) for highlighting these four questions.

REFERENCES

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2014. A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine’s Press.

 

Also see:

Preface 

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Continue Reading