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Upon the death of their father, C.S. Lewis and his brother, Warnie, pooled their inheritance and purchased a home in Headington Quarry, just outside of Oxford. There, at “The Kilns,” the Lewis brothers, both single, lived with Mrs. Moore and her daughter. The Kilns became a place of generous hospitality. For thirty years Lewis cared tenderly and tirelessly for Mrs. Moore at The Kilns until she died, often doing dishes, laundry and other household chores for her, even as he managed to write his books and do his scholarly work.
After the Germans invaded Poland, the Lewis brothers opened up The Kilns to children forced to evacuate the big cities. The first group was four school girls, and throughout the war several other groups of children came in and out of their home. The highlight during this time was a delightful sixteen-year-old named June Flewett. She brought much fun and laughter to the household. The Lewises’ gift of hospitality was being reciprocated by the gift of joy that emanated from this young lady.
In his later years Lewis opened his home to a brash, gifted, divorced, Jewish American follower of Jesus, Joy Gresham Davidman, and her two sons. This relationship, retold in the movie Shadowlands, once again highlights Lewis’s hospitality. After spending time with Joy’s sons, David and Douglas, Lewis wrote humorously in a letter to his friend Ruth Pitter, “I never knew what we celibates are shielded from. I will never laugh at parents again. Not that the boys weren’t a delight: but a delight like surf-bathing which leaves one breathless and aching. The energy, the tempo, is what kills.”3
Eventually Lewis married Joy in a civil ceremony, so she could gain British citizenship and remain in the United Kingdom. Though he did this out of his generous spirit, this friendship over time led to romantic love; Lewis and Joy were married by a priest in the hospital where Joy was battling cancer. After only four years of marriage, Joy succumbed to the ravages of cancer and died. Grief stricken, Lewis wrote one of the most powerful books ever written on grief, A Grief Observed. This didn’t stop him, however, from continuing to raise Joy’s two sons, David and Douglas, paying for their education and including them in his estate.
C.S. Lewis’s hospitality was one that permeated his life and blessed many people.
Lewis Shares His Time and Talent
A second area of generosity evident in Lewis was his gift of time to others. Austin Farrer, a close friend of Lewis, remarked about Lewis’s “taking of the world into his heart.”4 Lewis was able to connect with people; he could make them feel that what they had to say was important and, more important, that they were of value. This came out in the amount of time Lewis spent communicating in various forms, from meeting with people for lunch and dinner regularly, following up with them by letter, and praying for them.
As his books became well-known, and as soon as he was discovered in America, Lewis began receiving fan mail, particularly from the English-speaking world. Lewis believed that it was his duty to reply to each letter. Eventually he would spend at least an hour every morning responding to letters. His brother, Warnie, would help him with the logistics of organizing and mailing the correspondence. These letters today provide wonderful insights into ways to live out the Christian faith in daily life, while giving us a glimpse into Lewis’s warm personality and sense of humor.
An amusing string of letters was written to an American named Dr. Warfield Firor, who regularly sent Lewis care packages of canned hams. Great Britain was still recovering from the war, so the specialty foods were greatly appreciated. Lewis received so much food from Americans that he gladly shared the spoils with others in town. His letters show not only that he could be generous himself, but also that he knew how to receive generosity with gratitude. For example, he writes to Dr. Firor, “The arrival of that magnificent ham leaves me just not knowing what to say. If it were known that it was in my house, it would draw every housebreaker in the neighbourhood more surely than would a collection of gold plate! . . . I am very deeply grateful to you for your great kindness.”5
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