Friday, June 15, 2018

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Don't be put off by the fact that Screwtape Letters appears to be a conversation between two demons. It is not so much a dialogue between devils as it is a treatise on human frailties and how easily they can become sins. Every letter left me gob-smacked with its insight into how Satan takes legitimate pleasures and twists them ever so slightly to make them ungodly.

Repeatedly Screwtape warns his apprentice not to let his human experience true pleasures because they are real and we want him to be in touch with all that is false. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are on the Enemy's ground... All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. (p. 41)

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by Satan's schemes (as I expected to be), I was reminded over and over by Lewis of God's relentless pursuit of fallen man and His love for him in the midst of that fallenness. In this passage Screwtape warns Wormwood that while afflictions might seem like a good thing from a devil's point of view, they can also, unhappily, be used to make men holy.

Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is absorption of it will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome replicas of Himself - not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. (p. 37)

I could go on quoting indefinitely, but will spare you my over-enthusiastic rambling. I loved Chapter on 14 on false humility. And Chapter 18 on how gluttony can be exemplified not just in an excessive desire for food, but also in an excessive desire to control one's food intake. I loved Chapter 18 on marriage and the idolatry of romantic feelings. What didn't I love? Not much. The only reason I was happy for the book to end was because my brain was on big-idea-overload.

I am glad my C.S. Lewis reading group decided to read just 5 letters per week. One or two letters is the perfect daily dose in order to assimilate these important concepts. I did not expect to love this book so much, but know it will definitely be in my top 5 titles for 2018. If you haven't read this title, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on it. It's one of Lewis' most accessible apologetic works.

A few more quotes:

It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one. (p. 56)

He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. (p. 38)

All extremes except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged. (p. 33)

Blessings,

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friends at Thrush Green

Now that I'm in the tenth book in the Thrush Green series, the townspeople are old friends and I often enjoy sipping a cup of tea while sitting down to "chat" with them. In fact, tea time is so much a part of each book that in this one it is referred to as a "never failing help in times of trouble," a reference to Psalm 46:1 that I didn't find sacrilegious in the least. The ladies of Thrush Green frequently render comfort to one another over a hot drink and a slice of sponge cake.

Although Friends at Thrush Green purports to be about the two retired school teachers (from book nine) returning for a visit, many other townspeople have moments when they take center stage. Violet's struggles with her increasingly senile sister and the new headmaster's ill wife are just two examples.

This was not your run-of-the-mill, nothing-much-happens Thrush Green novel. I enjoyed the many mysteries. Will the persistent Percy Hodges finally find a new wife? Who is the mysterious Teddy and will he win the heart of one of the spinsters? What is Mrs. Lester's baffling illness? Is Bertha just eccentric or is she a certified lunatic?

I loved finding the answers to these questions. And, as always, I loved the gracious way that the folks at Thrush Green dealt with them, especially when the answers were difficult. This is cozy fiction by modern standards even though there are occasional lapses in morality (Nelly Pigott left her husband for another man in an earlier book and there have been a few babies born out of wedlock).

As always, there's the lovely writing: There was something about running water which healed the spirit as surely as sleep did... He sat by its side on a grassy bank, watching the secret life of the water creatures. Flies studded the glistening mud at the edge of the bank and a trio of butterflies played among a patch of nettles. An ancient willow tree stretched a gnarled arm over the water. Purple loosestrife and wild mint stirred in a light breeze, setting free the river smell unforgettable, unforgotten, which brought back to the watcher on the bank a hundred memories of other loved rivers. Charles sat there for almost half an hour, letting the magic work its spell and then he rose to return home. (p. 186)

P.S. These e-books are expensive so see if you can download them from your public library like I do.

Blessings,

Friday, June 1, 2018

Quote on Divine Humility by C.S. Lewis

I've seen the theme of divine humility mentioned in several of C.S. Lewis' works, but never spelled out so clearly as in The Problem of Pain:

It is a poor thing to strike our colors to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up "our own" when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is "nothing better" now to be had. The same humility is shown by all those divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of scripture. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts. (p. 97)

Astonishing, to say the least!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ten Year Blogiversary

My tenth year of blogging came and went, and I finally have time to make note of it. I rarely read my stats because they are not what motivate me to blog, but on my fifth blogiversary I enjoyed a look at my most viewed posts. Five years later I see that the same titles (Code Name NimrodThe Horse and His Boy Aesop's Fables, Two Towers and Wednesday Wars) still lead the way.

But a few other posts have attracted attention. My Recommended Librivox Recordings has had several thousand views. My dabbling in Georgette Heyer's novels and my comments on Profanity in Books and Culture have evoked quite a few views and comments. And one of my next most popular posts was a review of a YouTube video: Why Beauty Matters.

I love how these titles show the spectrum of my tastes from children's lit, to literary classics, to WWII memoirs, to books about why faith should make a difference to culture. I am grateful to all who read my blog and who occasionally leave comments. Here's to another ten years of great reading and sharing!

Blessings,

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

When my blogging friend Carol formed the C.S. Lewis Reading Project, I jumped at the chance to finally re-read some of Lewis' apologetic works. Last month we read The Problem of Pain and I've struggled for weeks to try to write an overview. The book is too complex to capture in a few paragraphs since Lewis does much more than try to explain human suffering. In fact, my most important takeaways had to do with what it means to be human and how human flourishing is impossible without a right relationship to our Creator.

Just as the members of the Trinity live in perfect, mutual, self-giving love, so mankind can only find real joy when living in selfless unity with God. Rejection of God's sovereign authority over His creatures brought sin and suffering into the world - and ultimately, according to Lewis, results in Hell.

Some suffering comes as a result of rebellion: From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. . . . What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor "ordinary life," but simply and solely Hell. . . . That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality. (152)

Some suffering comes as a way of refining us into holier people: To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God; because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us loveable. . . . What we would here call "happiness" is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy. (48)

Creatures are not separate from their Creator. The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it their nature is fulfilled and their happiness is attained: a broken bone in the universe has been set, the anguish is over. God wills our good, and our good is to love Him; and to love Him we must know Him, and become more like Him. We are bidden to "put on Christ," to become like God. That is , whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. (52-53)

I loaned this to a friend who was struggling after several miscarriages, but it was too academic and she got lost in the introductory chapter discussion of the "Numinous." My pastor preached a wonderful (less technical) sermon on suffering in April; he quotes C.S. Lewis frequently. I would encourage you to read the book AND listen to his message.

Blessings,

Friday, May 11, 2018

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie

After reading a heavy C.S. Lewis title, I needed something light, yet not too fluffy. Listening to Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee was just the ticket. My husband and I have watched all of the David Suchet Poirot series so this story was not unfamiliar to me (but I can never remember the killer). In Christie's novels, however, knowing “whodunit” is only part of the fun. The rest of the pleasure comes from Poirot’s quirkiness, the gentle jabs at British snobbery, and the interesting chemistry between characters.

In this novel, a wealthy scientist is murdered and everyone in the house is a suspect. The ditzy Miss Avery, the ultra-modern Barbara, and the Italian houseguest are just a few of the possible culprits. I listened to John Moffatt’s narration and he was absolutely marvelous with all the voices; he captured the relationship between Poirot and Hastings especially well.

Because of my familiarity with the BBC series, it felt as if an old friend walked in when Inspector Japp finally makes his appearance near the end of the book. Several characters make reference to earlier cases concerning Lord Edgeware and the Affair at Styles, which are like inside jokes to Christie fans.

There is an interesting interchange between Barbara and Colonel Hastings (Poirot's sidekick) when she calls him a darling, old-fashioned thing for believing in decency and truth-telling. Hastings, clueless as always, can’t understand why she thinks that is worth commenting on. I enjoyed this sly way of showing that modern is not always better. Truth does matter. Particularly when it comes to finding the killer.

I listened to this for free on YouTube.  A pleasant, cozy mystery!

P.S. This novel was not written by Christie, but by Charles Osborne. Yet it was based on a play she had written, which frankly, made it an excellent audio book.

Blessings,

Friday, May 4, 2018

At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read

The gardens of Thrush Green were bright with irises and peonies, and the air
was murmurous with the sound of lawnmowers. But not all was idyllic.
 
 
This 8th installment in the series takes the reader on another delightful visit to Thrush Green. Not only are the regular residents "at home," but the book recounts the arrival of several new couples who move in to the newly completed senior-living apartment complex.  Jane and her husband Bill are managers and caregivers of the facility and are discussing their concerns about how the residents will get along. Bill wisely replies, I expect they'll turn out like any other family, a good deal of affection spiced with bouts of in-fighting. Interestingly, they have a rough go of it until each of the residents finds a place in the community to use their gifts (i.e. to serve others).
 
The regular members of the neighborhood make an appearance in the novel too. I particularly enjoyed this reference to the three stingy Lovelock sisters: One Lovelock was intimidating enough, but in triplicate they were formidable. Nelly Piggot is a middle-aged woman, married to the town grouch. Most of the town folks hold her at arm's length because she left her husband for another man and then came back again. In this novel she finds a friend, finds her calling and comes into her own. So when the old boyfriend comes into town, she reacts in a way that the old Nelly could never have done. 

These small episodes of British country life may not be great literature. But I find the repeated acts of grace (especially to the undeserving) to be soul-nourishing. And the good writing kicks it up to another level as well:

The whole world was white. The moonlight reflected from the snowy fields was intensified. In the garden of the pub next door, the small cherry tree cast a circular tracery of shadows on the white lawn. It was a tree which gave Nelly joy all through the year, from its first tiny leaves, its dangling white flowers, its scarlet fruit so quickly ravished by the birds, and then its final blaze of gold in autumn which it dropped, like a bright skirt, to the ground in November.

Blessings,