Monday, June 6, 2016

i want to give you something

For all sorts of mistakes are possible when you are dealing with Him. Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) 'at her elbow,' demanding her attention. And of course not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in -- I know how one pulls it off -- and faced Him. But the message was, 'I want to give you something,' and instantly she entered into joy.

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I could tell you a few different stories about this book: how I started reading it after looking for a different book but finding this one instead, how the text on the cover intrigued me. How I found the receipt still stuck inside, telling me I bought it in 2012 but not telling me why. How, halfway through reading, I shoved it into a canvas bag to take it with me to read at the pool over Memorial Day Weekend and found the bag minutes later on the counter where I left it, swimming in the pool of water from my water bottle leaking everywhere. Now its pages are crumpled and stained.

But here's what I will tell you instead: you don't have to have experienced the loss of a wife (or a husband or a child or a parent or a friend) to find Lewis asking questions you have at some point wondered about. Lewis's nonfiction writing is decidedly philosophical, apologetic, heady. But this book, taken from a few moleskine journals he wrote in during the weeks or months following his wife's death, is much more reflective and raw.

I found myself reading the first half as a kind of observer. It's much more focused on the experience of losing his wife. At some point, Lewis notes a shift in his experience where the fog of grief lifts and he's able to experience his wife's presence in a much more clear way. It's at this point where he starts asking questions about his experience of God. His idea of God, shattered by the experience of his wife's death, has to be shattered again and again, he says. We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand the least. He writes of being utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in, and always understands God as being more generous, more loving, more present than the person thinks. The mistake is to think Him absent, inattentive, unwilling.

[On a writerly side note: I have heard so many times how good prose writing is built on the foundation of good sentences. I would always nod my head. Yes, intuitively that made sense. But Lewis's sentences are good. Their length, their feel, their shape lends a kind of subdued intensity.]

(photo: book on table, before the water incident)

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