My walk with the Lord has led me to an unexpected place, and God has used C. S. Lewis to play a significant role.
I began as a Lutheran, although not until second grade when neighborhood friends invited me to their church. I loved it from the start. One feature that has stayed with me throughout my life, no matter what type of church I attended, was the effect of the Lutheran church’s stained-glass windows. They told stories to a young boy apparently eager to learn them. I also studied Luther’s Small Catechism and liked it, which is not at all common for a teenager. In eighth grade, I was confirmed and took my first communion.
In college, I turned away from that semi-liturgical beginning, seeking something more spontaneous in worship. I experienced the Holy Spirit in a new way and entered charismatic circles. I left all of that “dry” liturgical stuff behind. It seemed old. How could God breathe life into prayers that were written by other people? Why the robes for the ministers? Why dress up for church? God can talk to people and save them even if they are wearing blue jeans or shorts and sandals. Why all the formality?
I still believe that one’s dress doesn’t make any difference to God. Yet I was losing something along the way. I had started this new phase of my Christian journey with high hopes that I was traveling a path with those who had discovered the real, authentic first-century Christianity, and that their lives would show it.
While there were many genuine fellow believers to whom I owe so much, I also saw far more falseness than I expected. Then I saw falseness in myself and went through a time of alienation from the God I never thought I would abandon. He was merciful. He is merciful. He brought me back. My gratitude truly is eternal.
God’s next phase for me began with a sabbatical at my university. It led to research on Lewis at Wheaton College’s Wade Center and in Lewis’s letters to Americans. The book that resulted was a dream come true, as I had read and appreciated Lewis all my life. It also opened up a new window in my soul (or perhaps a window I had closed earlier now reopened).
Lewis’s reverent Anglicanism struck me. How could someone so vibrant in his faith continue to cling to what I sincerely believed was a dead branch on the vine of Christianity? After all, the Church of England is no longer thriving (church attendance in that nation is abysmal), and the American version, the Episcopal Church, has abandoned most of the Gospel message in favor of a trendy worldview that mocks Biblical morality.
Study of Lewis led to the next phase: a trip to the UK where I fulfilled another dream of a lifetime—visiting Lewis’s home, the Kilns, and meeting Walter Hooper, who knew Lewis personally.
The trip also included pilgrimages to some of the most celebrated cathedrals in the country—Canterbury, Salisbury, Winchester—but also a Sunday morning service at Westminster Abbey.
As I sat there, I was enveloped with the grandeur of the cathedral, commenting to one of the students that the very architecture itself pointed up to God and gave one the sense of His glory. Then as I left my seat to take communion, I noticed that at the end of my row was the very stone in Poets Corner commemorating C. S. Lewis.
It was the perfect ending of a trip that I believe the Lord orchestrated.
Shortly after I returned home, the executive director of the C. S. Lewis Foundation e-mailed me that there was an Episcopal rector in my city who was taking members of his congregation to the UK for the Oxbridge Conference. Well, I had to get to know someone like that.
Not only did I get to know him, but many members of that church. Frankly, I was surprised that there were Episcopal churches that had remained faithful to the Gospel. All you hear is the negative news. This church is one of the faithful. I’ve been allowed to teach on Lewis, beginning with The Screwtape Letters, then Mere Christianity, and coming up in the fall and winter quarters, the entire Chronicles of Narnia, for which I am preparing now.
My wife and I have become members of this Episcopal church and I feel as though I have come “home,” complete with those stained-glass windows and an atmosphere within the sanctuary of peace and godly contemplation.
This journey will probably surprise friends who have known me for many years. Yet I believe the Lord has been guiding this journey step by step, and he used C. S. Lewis in the process. I don’t idolize Lewis; only One is to be worshiped. But I thank that One for allowing Lewis to help me see this path.
Let me hasten to add that this is the path God has for me. He has other paths for His children that are best for them. I don’t judge in that respect. I simply give praise to God for my path. I also desire to follow whatever branch of that path He might open up next. One never knows, for even as Aslan is not a tame lion, neither is our God a tame God. He can always surprise us.