C.S. Lewis’s Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing - page 3

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From the Fall 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis's Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship and Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

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  One answer is that Lewis took seriously Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6 NIV). Lewis had a soft spot for children and a desire to tenderly care for and guide them. This was in part due to his own emotional and physical loss of love and security upon the death of his mom at age nine. He also endured the cruelty that was common in the English boarding schools of his day and the abuse of an insane boarding school principal. He didn’t want to repeat the sins of his father, nor of those adults in his early life who failed to nurture the young, impressionable souls in their midst. And so he stooped down humbly to address the concerns and questions that came to him through children’s letters. Toward the end of his life, he wrote to a child, “If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.”7
  Second, Lewis wrote in a letter to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves, with whom he shared more personal struggles and confidences, that he believed it was a duty to answer letters fully, especially when one is in the public eye and is shaping people’s thoughts and ideas. What is amazing about this statement? He not only answered letters from reasonable, sincere people, but he also responded to those who seemed whiny, lonely, and miserable. In his biography of Lewis, The Narnian, Alan Jacobs cites a case in which Lewis wrote 138 letters to one irritable American woman.8 Now that’s commitment to principle! Lewis’s sense of responsibility and fidelity to calling was solid, and he believed that as a disciple of Jesus Christ he needed to adhere to Peter’s admonition, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15 NIV).
   Why did this American woman and others write so regularly to Lewis? I venture that, since he viewed this letter writing as part of his mission in life, his responses were so personal, helpful, and real that he made respondents feel as if he was their friend. The disarming presence that Lewis exuded when meeting people for the first time carried over into the way in which he engaged people on paper. He didn’t come across as a stuffy, erudite elitist; rather, he was able to communicate with people on their level. He made great efforts to try to understand where people were coming from and then find a way to best get his point across through a story, illustration, or sentences that may not even be grammatically correct. His goal was to connect with the heart and mind of the other person for the glory of God.
  Third, and perhaps of particular importance, Lewis believed that each individual human being deserved to be treated with love and respect because each was created in the image of God. In a sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, he states,

All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations [heaven or hell]. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.9

  Perhaps as much or more than in any other area of his life, through his faithful letter writing, Lewis lived out his belief that we must do all within our God-given power to influence other immortals toward the kingdom of God. Clyde Kilby writes, “The main cause [of Lewis’s faithful letter writing] was that Lewis believed taking time out to advise or encourage another Christian was both a humbling of one’s talents before the Lord and also as much the work of the Holy Spirit as producing a book.”10

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