Surprised by Joy is the book C.S. Lewis wrote about his religious development. Searching for joy. He writes about being a kid, and finding joy in certain books he read – it is very C.S. Lewis, and at times it was really touching. C.S. Lewis is at his nonfiction best in this book – he’s not talking about the ways in which other Christians fail to measure up. He’s talking about himself, just himself only, and the changes he went through in himself that led him to his current beliefs. Look what he says people seemed to be saying, when they talked about other religions – it made me smile:
The accepted position seemed to be that religions were normally a mere farrago of nonsense, though our own, by a fortunate exception, was exactly true.
And this, which rang so true with me:
What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing. You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.
However, the two passages that I found really moving were the ones where he was actually talking about his conversion to Christianity. I liked it because he spoke eloquently about how he kept making decisions, meeting people, reading authors, making changes, that led him inevitably to the conclusions he eventually reached. Not because I think Christianity is the natural inevitable conclusion of any right-thinking person – I very, very much do not – but because it seems to have been so much the right thing for C.S. Lewis himself.
The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable.
And I got a little teary when I read this:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
Things like this that shine with sincerity are the reason that I keep forgiving C.S. Lewis when he acts like a jerk. I mean, you know, this, and the fact that his Narnia books lie permanently at the center of my imagination. In addition, he says nice things about G.K. Chesterton, and I love, love, love G.K. Chesterton. I have never reviewed any of his books here, because it would be pointless – I would just keep on putting block quotes around large sections of things he said that delighted me, and I would never be able to say anything about him myself. Due to his unrelentingly brilliant way with words.