Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
“…an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it 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. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.” (p. 15-16)
I have been practically raised on the teachings of C. S. Lewis. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the first chapter book I remember my mother reading to me, and it mattered not to her that I was only five years old and could barely grasp the story let alone the underlying truths. I think it mattered to her that she exposed me to the eternal, which C. S. Lewis is so masterful in presenting.
His books lined her shelves; not only the Narnia Chronicles but The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Four Loves. When Arti proposed I join her in reading Surprised by Joy for the Christmas season, I felt immediately compelled to do so. For Christmas stories around this holiday abound, but the best ones are the ones with substance. The ones which tell why Christ is so important.
C. S. Lewis didn’t believe his whole life. He speaks of a terrible longing which he tried to fill with learning. How ironic it is, perhaps, that the very scholars he studied brought him full circle to the faith he embraced.
“You might sum up the gains of this whole period by saying that henceforward the Flesh and the Devil, though they could still tempt, could no longer offer me the supreme bribe. I had learned that it was not in their gift. And the World had never even pretended to have it.” (p.172)
When we acknowledge a hole in our meaning, an unfulfilled Joy however it is that you define it, we generally come to discover that it cannot be easily filled. Love affairs do not completely satisfy our inner longings, any more than vices or philosophy. I think we yearn for what only He can give us.
The turning point of understanding this came for Lewis one night when he turned to a bookstall and “picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald…It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new. For in one sense the new country was exactly like the old. I met there all that had already charmed me in Malory, Spenser, Morris, and Yeats. But in another sense all was changed. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness.” (p. 173)
Of course upon reading that passage I have since downloaded MacDonald’s famous Phantastes in my nook. I want to see what it was that moved Lewis so thoroughly. And yet, I know what it is. It is the call of the great I Am. He who created us, who longs to meet us.
“I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” (p. 221)
Find Arti’s thoughts on Surprised By Joy here.