Paul Prather: C.S. Lewis speaks to me in a new way at this point in my spiritual journey

Contributing columnist,Paul PratherApril 26, 2014 

Early in my spiritual journey, in my 20s, I stumbled across the apologetics of C. S. Lewis and devoured everything I could find of his work: The Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, A Grief Observed, The Problem of Pain.

And other than the New Testament itself, nothing ever illuminated my thinking about faith as much as his Mere Christianity.

I'm far from alone in my gratitude for that particular book, in which Lewis uses natural law to explain and promote orthodox Christian religion.

In 2000, Christianity Today asked more than 100 writers and church leaders to pick the best religious books of the 20th century. Mere Christianity easily captured the No. 1 spot, out-polling Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, among scores of other classics.

Not long ago, I decided to revisit Mere Christianity.

I downloaded a recorded, unabridged version to my smart phone so I could listen to it as I walked on the treadmill.

You know what?

It left me kind of disappointed.

I still admired Lewis' elegant prose, gentle wit and sharp, systematic thinking. But I found that Mere Christianity's arguments no longer electrified my soul.

This isn't a criticism of Lewis or the book.

It's an observation about spiritual traveling. Our journey, because it's a journey, takes us to different places at different times.

The scriptures, pastors, and authors that provide us solace or insight at one station along the road might not supply equal nourishment when we reach another station.

I'm no longer 20-something and struggling to decide what type of Christian to become. I've been a pastor for more than 30 years. I'm gray-headed and half bald. I've done lots of other reading during the past several decades.

I'm just not in the same place I was in 1978 or thereabouts when I first encountered Mere Christianity. The place I'm in today isn't superior to that former one, and I'm neither superior to Lewis (that's for certain) nor even to the person I was then.

I'm just in a different location. And that's OK. We get our spiritual bellies filled and our thirsts quenched at each stop — but not always with the same food and drink.

I should add that while researching this column, I visited the website goodreads, which among other things offers 122 pages of quotes from Lewis.

Back when I was gobbling up his writings like a starving pilgrim, the book of his that least appealed to me was A Grief Observed, his ruminations on grief after his wife's death from cancer. I'd never even been married then, much less lost a wife.

Re-reading excerpts from A Grief Observed, I found myself moist-eyed at their pungent candor and truth. Here's an example:

"Getting over it so soon? ... To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has 'got over it.' But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again."

Yes, I thought, that's exactly what losing a spouse feels like.

Finally, on an unrelated note, if you're in the habit of collecting and categorizing my columns (and if you are, you need a more interesting life), then file this entry under Pundit Eats Crow.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on why I don't go to movies about the Bible or that tell contemporary Christian stories. I never like them. I find them superficial.

Then, bored one night, I decided to see a movie. The only film playing locally that started when I could get to the theater was Heaven Is for Real, based on the true tale of a Nebraska minister whose 4-year-old son had a near-death experience.

Grimacing, I plunked down my cash.

It turned out to be a thought-provoking movie. Not a great movie, but how many movies of any genre are great? Still, I'm glad I went.

Heaven Is for Real stars Greg Kinnear, who's always excellent, as the Rev. Todd Burpo. What I liked best is that Burpo, his wife and his congregation's members are portrayed as three-dimensional human beings, not religious automatons.

They're churchgoers with faith but also doubts, money problems and spiritual blind spots. Even though they're Christians, they find it hard to deal with a kid who claims to have visited the heaven they profess to believe in.

Who knows? Maybe the next stop on my journey will transform me into a fan of Christian films.

Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can e-mail him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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