On December 6th, 2019, my mother breathed her final breath.
After four years of living with Stage Four breast cancer, her body betrayed her over the course of four weeks.
During the final four days, her organs shut down one by one. In the last four hours, family arrived to gather around her bedside. In the last four minutes, her lungs methodically continued their appointed task of breathing in-out, in-out, in-out, in-out. In the last four seconds, she breathed in-out a final time, and most assuredly her eternal spirit was wrapped up in the arms of her Lord and joyfully carried into her new home.
Though my mother did not necessarily breathe her last breath on her own terms, she did indeed breathe her last breath of her own volition, surrounded by loved ones, in a safe place, without any outside external constraint – which is how everyone’s final breath most certainly and surely ought to be breathed.
Breath is a grace, freely given by an All Powerful and Loving Creator who in the beginning breathed his own breath into mere dust of the ground, and behold – humanity came alive, made in the image of God to fellowship with him, to work alongside him, to worship and adore him, to be his representative in the earthly realm.
In the beginning, humanity (undeservedly and miraculously) breathed the Spirit of Yahweh, in-out, in-out, in-out, in-out, just as the Lord himself designed.
Until they didn’t.
Much too soon, the created rejected the Creator, vomited up the Spirit, spewed out the Breath, and proudly declared they would breathe only their own spirit, would determine their own fellowship, would work for their own ends, would worship their own desires, and would represent their own image. They said, “We won’t breathe You.” And the Creator’s intended image was shattered.
“We won’t breathe” (spoken to God) sowed seeds of “you won’t breathe” (spoken to a brother, then countless others) which led to “I can’t breathe” (gasped by a brother, then countless others) that have infiltrated and infected every corner of God’s good creation. What started as a single bite of blame and shame (“But it…”, “But he…,” But she..”) quickly seeped into the soil and the souls, growing into poisoned jealousy, jealous hatred, and hate-filled murder.
Humanity’s path was remapped by humanity itself – from loving light and life into defiled darkness and death.
Until it wasn’t.
Much sooner than we deserved, the incarnated True God-Man arrived, born into earth’s air, breathing with human lungs, revealing with shocking clarity the true Image of God. He lived, he loved, he healed, he taught, he preached.
Until he didn’t.
Until he breathed his last breath.
… for all of creation (which against its will was subjected to sin’s curse).
… for all of humanity (which by its own volition is subject to sin’s utter destruction).
Christ breathed his last – so we could be forgiven. (Oh Lord, we need your forgiveness.) [Romans 4:25]
Christ breathed again – so we could be made right with God. (Oh Lord, we need to be reconciled to you.) [Romans 4:25]
Christ breathed his Spirit on his few frightened followers – so they could be comforted and at peace. (Oh Lord, we need your comfort. Oh Lord, we need your peace.) [John 20:19-20]
Christ poured out his Spirit on his many gathered people – so they could be re-created into the image of God, as he had planned from the beginning. (Oh Lord, we need to be recreated into people who both breathe your Spirit and love others … all others.) [Acts 2]
It is Pentecost Sunday. Today we remember and celebrate God’s Spirit-Breath in a world where people too often breathe their last breath from disease, from hatred, from suffering, from murder – all because humanity still vomits up and spews out the Breath of Life.
Oh Lord: heal us.
Oh Lord: forgive us.
Oh Lord: comfort us.
Oh Lord: correct us.
Oh Lord: guide us.
Oh Lord: gather us.
Oh Lord: we need your Breath to fill our souls, to soften our hearts, to shape our thoughts, to heal our relationships, to reconcile your children one to another.
NB: the following news will be of interest only to fellow bibliophile bookish nerds.
While searching for something on EEBO (Early English Books Online – the drug of choice for historians, medievalists, and similar personality types), I stumbled upon this:
Note the handwriting across the top:
(plus a fancy flourish in the style of JRR Tolkien, which is twice reproduced in the center white space)
Note the handwriting across the bottom:
Tho: & Isabella Hervey
Thomas & Isabella Hervey had an extensive library that has been written about in various places. They lived in the 17th Century, at which point this book was already over 100 years old. Bless you, Herveys, for affirming the joy of book collecting so long ago.
Just a few pages in, I found this:
Note the stern warning on the left side (folio 7 verso) about reprinting books within seven years of the original printing “upon pain of forfeiting the same.”
For those who enjoy decoding, “u” is often “v” accented vowels (i.e. ū and ā) indicate a missing “n” (so: Fraūce=France) “ſ” is a long ess, so ſhal=shal(l), ſpace=space, &c. “y” is often our “i”
But especially note the handwritten blurb at the bottom:
1540: In H- :30: year of Henrie the 8th.
Note that “the” looks suspicially like a “y” plus a superscript e. From this do we get such nonsense as “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe” which is a naive misreading of what in fact is the letter thorn (sound = th, orthography resembles a “y”). It should in fact be “The Olde Coffee Shoppe” because, well, a coffee shop is a thing that deserves a definite article, it is not a person that we address as “You Old Coffee Shop.”
Here’s the real point: almost 500 years ago, someone picked up a quill pen, dipped it into handmade ink (recipes for which I have, indeed, found on EEBO), and wrote the words and numbers you are looking at now.
If that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.
To survive sheltering-in-place, I’m going to read the Narnian books on facebook live, 4 pm (EDT), every day, until we finish the series or are released to the outside world. [UPDATE: When the entire world is online, facebook live is like a very bad carnival ride – likely to cause motion sickness in viewers. Hence, though we will still go live at 4 pm (EDT), we will be “going live” with a pre-recorded smooth non-bad-carnival-ride time of reading. Thought you should know.]
Chapters 1 and 2 on YOU TUBE. Chapter 3 and 4 on YOU TUBE. **ALL THE CHAPTERS ARE UPLOADED ON YOU TUBE.
We start on Thursday, April 2 with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, aka BOOK ONE (let’s not bother now to belabor the undeniable factuality of this fact, which is as factual as a fact can be, but trust me: it’s belabor-worthy).
For those who care about such things, I’ll provide some background tidbits here. Because tidbits are what give life flavor and style.
Notes on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
EVACUATION OF BRITISH SCHOOLCHILDREN DURING WW2
In 1939 and 1940, English schoolchildren were evacuated from cities to country homes. C. S. Lewis himself hosted several groups of schoolchildren during that time period at his home, the Kilns.
Lewis sometimes mentioned the children in his letters. See the excerpts below, all taken from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 2:
To his brother (9.2.39):
“Our schoolgirls have arrived and all seem to me– and, what’s more important, to Minto– to be very nice, unaffected creatures and all most flatteringly delighted with their new surroundings. They’re fond of animals which is a good thing (for them as well as for us.”
To his brother (9.10.39):
“Life at the Kilns is going on at least as well as I expected. We had our first air raid warning at 7.45 the other morning when I expect you had yours too. Everyone got to the dug-out quite quickly and I must say they all behaved well, and though v. hungry and thirsty before the all clear went, we quite enjoyed the most perfect late summer morning I have ever seen…Another thing which would amuse you is the daily bathe– I’ve never known the pond so clean at this time of year– which is in two shifts because they have not enough bathing suits to go round, and each shift interminable because of the insatiable appetite of children. In fact we had the whole Dunbar technique– me bawling ‘Time to come out’ and a head disappearing and then emerging ten yards further away to say ‘What?’, and then twenty yards further away still to say ‘I can’t hear what you say.’
To his good friend Sister Penelope Lawson CSMV (10.24.40):
“Thanks-my brother is not only safe from France but, better still, back on the retired list and living at home: so that what with that and a house full of really delightful refugee children (I am a bachelor and never appreciated children till the war brought them to me) I have very much to be thankful for.”
To Dorothy Sayers (April 1942) in a post-script:
The French prose is not by me but by one of our evacuees– delightful creatures. I’d never lived with children before– oh that world of pencil-boxes! O bell età dell-oro!
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE in LEWIS’S LETTERS
LWW was published on Oct 16, 1950. The letter excerpts below are all taken from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3
In response to a child’s query (1.22.52):
Dear Miss Jenkins,
It is a pleasure to answer your question. I found the name in the notes to Lane’s Arabian Nights: it is the Turkish for Lion. I pronounce it Ass-lan* myself. And of course I meant the Lion of Judah. I am so glad you liked the book. I hope you will like the sequel (Prince Caspian) which came out in November.
*In The Way Into Narnia, Peter Schakel (an esteemed Lewis scholar) writes: “The British pronunciation of the a in both syllables is closer to that (in American speech) of the a in father than in cat.” So Lewis probably said: AHSS’lahn.
To friend and poet Ruth Pitter (11.28.50) in a post-script:
But fan mail from children is delightful. They don’t gas. They want to know whether Aslan repaired Tumnus’s furniture for him. They take no interest in oneself and all in the story. Lovely.
To an unknown reader (3.5.51):
I am glad you all liked ‘The Lion’. A number of mothers, and still more, schoolmistresses, have decided that it is likely to frighten children, so it is not selling very well. But the real children like it, and I am astonished how some very young ones seem to understand it. I think it frightens some adults, but very few children….
To Mary Wilis Shelburne (4.17.53):
About my fairy-tales, there are three published by Macmillan, New York (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
The the Kilmer children (3.19.54):
The typescript of your book* went off to the publisher last week, though it will not be out till next year. It is called The Magician’s Nephew. You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, Witch & W could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy. This book tells you how he went there, and (of course that was ages and ages ago by Narnian time) how he saw Aslan creating Narnia, and how the White Witch first got into that world and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of that forest. The one before yours (The Horse and his Boy) is also dedicated to two Americans and will be out ‘this Autumn’ (Fall, as you say).
*The Magician’s Nephew was dedicated to the Kilmer children.
To Joan Lancaster (4.15.54):
I am so glad you like the Narnian books, and it was nice of you to tell me. There are to be seven stories altogether. The ones which have already come out are 1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 2. Prince Caspian 3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 4. The Silver Chair. Some time this year, Number 5, The Horse and his Boy, will be out: and the 6th, The Magician’s Nephew has already gone to the printer (you have no idea how long it takes getting a book printed). The 7th is already written, but still only in pen-and-ink, and I have not quite decided yet what to call it. Sometimes I think of calling it The Last King of Narnia, and sometimes, Night Falls on Narnia. Which do you think sounds best?
To a 5th-grade class in Maryland (5.24.54):
You are mistaken when you think that everything in the book ‘represents’ something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim’s Progress but I’m not writing in that way. I did not say to myself ‘Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia’: I said ‘Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.’ If you think about it, you will see that it is quite a different thing.
To William Kinter (10.28.54):
Aslan is the Turkish word for a lion: I chose it for the sound.
To Mrs. Krieg (5.6.55):
Dear Mrs. Krieg
Tell Laurence from me, with my love: 1/ Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol-worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it. But God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won’t be angry with us as long as we are trying. And He will help us.
2/ But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. Of course there is one thing Aslan has that Jesus has not– I mean, the body of a lion. (But remember, if there are other worlds and they need to be saved and Christ were to save them as He would– He may really have taken all sorts of bodies in them which we don’t know about.) Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother. 3/ If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: ‘Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.’ That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, ‘And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.’
To Charles Brady (11.16.56):
I get lovely, and often most moving, letters from my child readers. I had expected that they wd. get the theology more or less unconsciously, but the truth is that they all see it perfectly clearly, bless ’em, and much more clearly than some grown-ups.
To Allan Emery (8.18.59):
Dear Mr. Emery–
Thank you for your kind letter of the 13th. The fairy-tale version of the Passion in The Lion etc. works in the way you describe because– tho’ this sounds odd– it bye-passes one’s reverence and piety. We approach the real story in the Gospels with the knowledge that we ought to feel certain things about it. And this, by a familiar psychological law, can hinder us from doing so. The dutiful effort prevents the spontaneous feeling; just as if you say to an old friend during a brief reunion ‘Now let’s have a good talk’ both suddenly find themselves with nothing to say. Make it a fairy-tale and the reader is taken off his guard. (Unless ye become as little children…)
To Sophia Storr (12.24.59):
That is, when I started The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe I don’t think I foresaw what Aslan was going to do and suffer. I think He just insisted on behaving in His own way. This of course I did understand and the whole series became Christian. But it is not, as some people think, an allegory. That is, I don’t say ‘Let us represent Christ as Aslan.’ I say, ‘Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.’ See?
To Anne Jenkins (3.5.61):
Anne– What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense, plain enough. Read the earlier book in the series called The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself ‘Supposing there really were a world like Narnia, and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong, and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?’ The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there, as he became a Man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) The lion is supposed to be the King of beasts: (b) Christ is called ‘The Lion of Judah’ in the Bible: (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the books.
THE LION, THE WITCH and THE WARDROBE EXTRA FAQs
On the dedication:
Lewis dedicated LWW to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield, daughter of his close friend Owen Barfield. The real Lucy became a professional music teacher. In the 1960s she developed multiple sclerosis and spent a good part of her life in a wheelchair.
On shutting wardrobe doors:
When Lucy Barfield’s mother read a manuscript of LWW, she mentioned to Lewis her fear of children locking themselves in a wardrobe, so he added clear warnings:
From Chapter 1:
“She immediately stepped into the wardrobe and got in among the coats and rubbed her face against them, leaving the door open, of course, because she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe.”
“(She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe.)”
From Chapter 3:
“But as soon as she reached it she heard steps in the passage outside, and then there was nothing for it but to jump into the wardrobe and hold the door closed behind her. She did not shut it properly because she knew that it is very silly to shut oneself into a wardrobe, even if it is not a magic one.”
“[Edmund] jumped in and shut the door, forgetting what a very foolish thing this is to do. Then he began feeling about for Lucy in the dark.”
From Chapter 5:
“Quick!” said Peter, “there’s nowhere else,” and flung open the wardrobe. All four of them bundled inside it and sat there, panting, in the dark. Peter held the door closed but did not shut it; for, of course, he remembered, as every sensible person does, that you should never never shut yourself up in a wardrobe.”
On foxes and rabbits and snakes:
In the first edition of LWW, when the children talk about what they might discover in the countryside around the Professor’s house, it read:
Peter: “There might be eagles. There might be stags. There’ll be hawks.”
“Badgers!” said Lucy.
“Foxes!” said Edmund.
“Rabbits!” said Susan.
Lewis revised this in a later edition in this way:
“Snakes!” said Edmund.
“Foxes!” said Susan.
Lewis likely changed this to give a hint at the characters of Edmund and Susan. The (mis-numbered) Harper-Collins editions reverted to the original text.
On “WOW” as Aslan’s roar:
On the other hand, Lewis did make a change in the American editions that would have been better left as it was. In chapter 13,when the White Witch asks Aslan’s how she can be sure he will follow through on their agreement, he roars so loudly that she races off in fear. The original roar is this: “Haa-a-arrh!” For whatever reason, Lewis changed the American edition to: “Wow!” He obviously wasn’t aware of how “wow” was used in casual slang American conversation, else he never would have made this change. On the other hand, check out this clip of lions roaring. It does rather sound like “wow” – but in a roaring kind of way, not in a “cool & awesome” kind of way – sort of like “wow
“It All Began with a Picture…”
(in Of Other Worlds: Essays & Stories, Harcourt, Brace & World. 1966, p. 42) The essay is only one page long, printed here in full:
The Editor has asked me to tell you how I came to write The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I will try, but you must not believe all that authors tell you about how they wrote their books. This is not because they mean to tell lies. It is because a man writing a story is too excited about the story itself to sit back and notice how he is doing it. In fact, that might stop the works; just as, if you start thinking about how you tie your tie, the next thing is that you find you can’t tie it. And afterwards, when the story is finished, he has forgotten a good deal of what writing it was like.
One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’
At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.
So you see that, in a sense, I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up’. Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it? //
ON THE FRONTISPIECE:
The original frontispiece was this:
Thankfully (because just look at that Aslan, would you?) Lewis asked Pauline Baynes to make a new image, which you likely recognize:
We can all sleep easier at night knowing Aslan is more of a lion and less of an overgrown hand-raising, line-dancing, Disney-esque villain.
Here are two of the earliest advertisements for LWW:
For almost a week, friends have been sending me emails and texts about this blog post (“C. S. Lewis on the Coronavirus”) asking if it is in fact genuinely Lewisian. Are these the words of Clive? The truths of Jack? During this time of COVID19 lockdowns and social distancing, does Lewis really want me to not only pray, read, and listen to music but to also chat with my friends over a pint and a game of darts in the local pub or tavern where presumably there are many other people for whom social distancing is a thing to be eschewed by smart folk who smirk?
They ask me this, I presume, because I get mighty curmudgeonly about the glut of Lewis misquotes in print, digital, and spoken discourse (see here and here and here for starters) as well as the egregiously errant mis-numbering of the Narnian books – but I digress).
In answer to my friends’ questions: Yes. Lewis did write the three paragraphs quoted in the blog post. And thirteen subsequent paragraphs, which are definitely not about the Coronavirus (not even obliquely) and not even about the atomic bomb (primarily). Instead they are about acknowledging and admitting (being “waked” as Lewis put it, which I suppose is akin to being “woke” in this, our superlatively advanced and intellectually brilliant 21st-century)
“that the important question is not whether an atomic bomb is going to obliterate ‘civilization’. The important question is whether ‘Nature’ — the thing studied by the sciences – is the only thing in existence.”(“On Living in an Atomic Age,” Informed Reading, vol. VI , pp 78-84, par. 7)
Lewis wrote this essay in 1948, when the possibility of a civilization-obliterating atomic bomb was a very real thing, and when most Europeans, including Lewis, were living not just under but within and among the realities of a gruesome war that often pounded on their backdoor.
In other words, Lewis wrote this essay under circumstances that were entirely unlike those in most of today’s world, especially America, and were absolutely unlike our current battle (skirmish? combat? struggle?) with covid19.
We have been asked to wash our hands scrupulously. To not stockpile more than we need. To avoid unnecessary travel. To stay home if possible, as much as possible. And for certain to avoid such things such as crowded (or even under-crowded) taverns and pubs where one might be “chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts.” (par. 3)
Certainly do read Lewis’s full essay since true meaning is most assuredly found in full reading. And certainly do take the time to discern if there are relevant ideas and concepts worth pondering (e.g. the limitations of naturalism, the existence of a Creator, the true essence and meaning of life).
But as you read, contextualize wisely. Do not pluck a Lewis quote – even a real one – out of context in order to either satisfy yourself or to be smirkingly provocative (which is not what the referenced blog’s author seemed to be doing, but is certainly what some re-posters are doing).
Lewis played by the rules – whether he was teaching, tutoring, soldiering, rationing, caring for sick and elderly, or quarantining himself during illness. His letters reveal a man who, for all of his worldly renown, did not presume to knock aside the rules or guidelines delivered by those in authority, which isn’t to say he didn’t grumble or grouse about them if he was having a grouchy day or if the occasion warranted.
To those who have read just three paragraphs of Lewis’s 1948 essay addressing the very real fear of atomic annihilation and see within it Lewisian approval to toss aside what may feel like unnecessary and life-squelching limits on certain types of social interaction, I get it. No one likes to be told what to do. And maybe in months or years, the telling will turn out to have been overly reactionary and unnecessary.
But unless the telling defies the laws of decency or requires one to deny Christ, we would all do well to pay attention.
We would also do well to pay attention to Lewis’s underlying and ultimate messages in the essay.
Be sensible: do the necessary daily work (such as bathing babies) as though they matter and have value, which they do.
Be joyful: read books, listen to music, chat with friends as though such things matter to our souls, which they do.
Be thoughtful: consider how the deeper truths of life, the supernatural world, and the Divine inform and intersect with our very existence, which they do.
Be Christlike: sacrifice humbly, love deeply, embrace the here-and-now earthly things that embody this present life, but pursue the now-and-not-yet heavenly things that point towards and reflect the only Real & Lasting Life itself, which they do.
Postscript: And if the current events provide occasion to read (joy!), and if you should choose to read the Chronicles of Narnia (joy, indeed!), then be literarily and Lewisianly orthodox: read them in the order the books themselves propound and the author himself planned:
Below are new Young Life discipleship resources that can help both church and parachurch ministry leaders 1) focus and synthesize a discipleship framework, 2) generate conversations about discipleship and discipling, 3) self-reflect on their own life of discipleship, 4) envision ongoing spiritual growth in those they are discipling.
[Nov 17, 2018: Purdue Football Senior Day, the final home game at Ross-Ade Stadium for all those players who graduate this December or next May. Also Day 3 of National Youth Worker’s Convention, St. Louis. In other words, my heart is divided across state lines.]
Graduation is a big deal. No more classes. No more quizzes. No more exams. No more grades. No more oral presentations. No. More. Group. Projects.
But also: no more college football. And for college football players, the final whistle of that final home game will carry a deep well of memories and experiences that can’t be weighed.
For college football fans, the final whistle of that final home game will carry its own deep well of memories and meaning, shaped by circumstances and context.
In the fall of 2017, my “ENGL 264 – Bible as Literature” roster at Purdue University included 25 amazing college students, aspiring to be nurses, engineers, teachers, managers, artists, agricultural specialists, social workers, pilots, and physical therapists.
They were, each and every one of them, wonders to behold (which is exactly how I feel about middle school students as well, an unexpected miracle of my inner-wiring bestowed upon me by my Creator).
Among those 25 wonders were two young men on the Purdue football team – a system and community that had for several years weathered what we might call turbulent times.
David Blough (#11, QB) and Kirk Barron (#53, Center) sat side by side in the far corner of my classroom on day one (far corners being prime real estate on the first day of class: from first-hand observation, I tell you that it is possible for 25 college students to all find far-corner seats in a room that has only four corners, which is a testament to their creativity and tenacity).
Having football players in one’s favorite class – when one is a hard-wired football freak and when said football team has just hired a new football coach to (in the words of Israel’s King David) pull the program out from bottomless pits of miry clay – might perhaps result in Boilermaker football reascending the rungs of one’s passion-ladder (not to the very top, obviously, since the very top spots of my personal passion ladder are occupied by Narnia, Middle Earth, and napping, a reality for which I am finally old enough and content enough to offer no apologies or explanations: I read, I nap, I aspire to be Narnian and Elvish, and I love football).
As a general rule, I truly enjoy not just teaching but also knowing my students. It’s the overflow of my Young Life and youthworker self.
So last fall, I enjoyed not just teaching but also knowing 25 wondrous students, including David Blough and Kirk Barron.
After many years of not inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays (which followed many years of faithfully inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays), my husband and I climbed aboard the train (metaphorically) once again, attending home games, cheering on a team that was starting to emerge from the fog and find its collective feet. We did this because we knew certain players, and knowing people changes everything.
We cheered when they won, and when they lost – because there is always something to cheer (even when some refs botch calls and certain opponents are dirty rotten stinkers).
We roared with delight when face-painted fierce Barron stalked the sideline rousing his teammates and when fleet-footed fierce Blough launched breathtaking passes that connected with receivers.
We moaned with despair when Barron’s rousing roars came up short and when Blough was loaded into an ambulance with a thoroughly destroyed ankle.
We watched with joy when, after a stunning recovery and rehab by Blough, they once again both walked out to the coin toss, flanking pint-sized football fans who were special guests of honor.
We wept along with the world as they befriended, encouraged, and prayed with Tyler Trent, a young man who defies all worldly explanations of life and love and hope.
And today, we will proudly watch Barron and Blough run onto that field one last time [really truly the last time], walk to center-field for the pregame coin toss one last time, give and take the opening snap one last time, play as a team-within-a-team one last time, and (we all hope) put up a “W” at Ross-Ade Stadium [or Nissan Stadium, as the case may be] one last time.
Football is a funny thing. Some people hate it. Some people ignore it. Some people worship it. Some people bleed it. And some people simply and inexplicably love it.
I am of the latter ilk. I simply and inexplicably love football, which, being a bookish, academic, PhD-ish, theological, ministerial, Middle-Earthian, Narnian kind of person, is rather odd and unexpected.
But much of life is odd and unexpected. We can be confounded by it, or we can joyfully take it and run with it (metaphorically, that is – as a general rule and daily practice, I vehemently oppose and doggedly avoid running).
Today is a celebration for and about many people.
But these words right here are a celebration of two particular young men who in some odd and unexpected way have become “my” players for these past two years – the two players I watch most carefully on the field and on the sideline, the two I cheer for most enthusiastically, and the two I know most personally. And that last one, I would argue, is the most significant thing.
When you know people, things matter in different ways and to different degrees.
Knowing is the secret sauce of almost everything. Not knowing about, but knowing.
I know, in small ways and in small degrees, David Blough and Kirk Barron. They make me proud. They make me laugh. They are men worth knowing.
Today, I celebrate them. I hope the final whistle of this final home game brings them not just a victory but also joy, energy, excitement, anticipation, and wild hope for all that lies ahead.
[Note: When a writer steps away from writing, for whatever reason (and there are usually several, and at least some of the several are usually very real and true), it is hard to step back into it for the simple reason that writing is work. Hard work. Fly-in-the-ointment work. Day-in-day-out-nose-to-the-grindstone work. No matter how much it is embedded in one’s blood, bones, heart and breath. But: it is good work. Glorious work. Real work. Meaningful work. True work. And so writers – if they step away, when they step back – must always step back into the work again. Because they can’t not. Because they must. It’s just a matter of when. Today, for example…]
It’s a big year for Lewisians across the world.
Today a new-found old letter hits the auction block. I read about it here first, on a delightful blog I discovered during my stepped-away-from-writing season.
The letter is delightful for several reasons.
It’s addressed to “My Dear Grittletonians.” We should all live in a world of such places and people.
You can see where Lewis’s fountain pen ran low on ink.
He capitalizes Sea Serpent and Dragon, indicating their true is-ness.
He specifically refers to three completed and four upcoming books as a unified series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
He writes about some of his favorite books, all of which would be found in the children’s section of a library, but which for him were never categorized by age.
He adds a P.S about more favorite books, because that kind of list has no end.
He talks about what he did when he was a boy, as though it were a vivid and recent memory.
He writes to children as though they are full-fledged human beings, i.e. he takes them seriously.
He crosses out a mistake in his writing.
And – perhaps most wondrously gratifying of all to those of us Lewisians who are book-order purists – he makes it unequivocally clear that the sixth book that “will go right back to the beginning and explain how there came to be that magic wardrobe in the Professor’s house” – i.e. The Magician’s Nephew is absolutely and intentionally and authoritatively the sixth, not the first,book in the series.
You can imagine how satisfying this is to people who’ve known it all along – known it not just in their own bones, but known it based on all the internal evidence of the books themselves (a critical literary practice that Lewis himself holds in high esteem).
But this new-found old letter is not the only Big Lewis News of the year. There are also two new-found old articles that have heretofore never been collected or anthologized. I don’t remember where I first got wind of these, but there were hints in the Lewis-sphere that The Strand Magazine might contain articles by Lewis that were not yet indexed in Lewis collections.
Happily, my research institution maintains copies of Strand Magazine in its expansively mysterious repository. And after much dusty digging, sorting, and page-flipping, I found these:
“A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” will sound familiar to anyone who has read Mere Christianity and De Descriptione Temporum. The language, phrases, and ideas are recognizably Lewis. “Cricket’s Progress” is another thing altogether. Did Lewis – who wrote other things under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton – care about cricket? Did he hanker to be a sports writer? I haven’t pored over this article enough to make any sense of what’s going on, but I do find vague hints of Puddleglum in this narrated Cricketer’s quote:
“It’s a great game, but fast bowling takes too much out of a fellow,” he told me. “You want to be a nice, steady all-rounder, good for thirty years’ service…Keep one eye on the ball and the other on the future, and you’ll be all right. And above all, never let them get you down.”
It does rather sound like our favorite wiggle, doesn’t it?
“I’m not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say – I mean, the other wiggles all say – that I’m too flighty; don’t take life seriously enough. If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this – a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has even seen – will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”
In a fascinating twist of literary nuance, the final page of “Cricket” features a footer quote by G. K. Chesterton. Curious indeed.
All of that to say – a new-found old letter and two new-found old articles are no small thing in the world of Lewis. And though there have been many, many reasons and moments and means to step back into the world of writing, these have proven to be the golden ticket.
In Lewis’s own words to the Dear Grittletonians:
“Do you write stories yourselves? I did at your age. It is the greatest fun.”
Or, modified for this specific juncture of life:
“Do you write? I do. It is the hardest work. And the greatest fun.”
Just like that, the Twelve Days-Nights of Christmas come to an end.
What, then, comes next – after the celebrating, reflecting, and remembering?
Perhaps we ought to live a Twelve-Days-of-Christmas life, in which we over and over contemplate the miracle of newness, the challenge of change, the trials of repetition, the joys of duplication, the power of obedience, the call to maturity, the charge to live joyous lives of hope.
Go back and contemplate the First Night through the Eleventh Night. Find the words that soothe you, push you, chafe you – and read them, think them, digest them. There is something we can all learn from days one through eleven.
And on this day – this twelfth and final day – let’s look ahead at a road that goes ever on and on, headed towards what we sometimes know but other times can’t see, towards what we sometimes anticipate but other times dread.
For a Christ-follower (those who choose the way in which the grown-crucified-resurrected babe’s footsteps lead), that particular road leads to deep, full, grown life — a life that is immersed in hope even when it drips with pain; a life that is infused with Love even when it is bloated with self; a life that is incarnated by the spiritual even when it is tied to the natural; a life that moves ever on and on — assuming we pick up our feet, set our faces forward, and walk.
Will I? Will you? Will we?
The world needs people who will trod that road daily, faithfully, humbly, joyfully, intentionally, boldly, quietly, long after the Twelfth Day-Night of Christmas.
Tomorrow is the First Day of the After-Twelfth-Day of Christmas. May we meet walking together on the road that Emmanuel has paved for us.
‘Tis Christmas night eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1).
For the first time in the twelve-day Christmas numerical celebration, we face repetition.
One (1). And another one (1). [Though one (1) of the ones (1)s is really a ten (10)…]
But we have already had a one. And a ten (which includes a numerical (1) one).
**Corporate communal confession: we love newness, updates, next-best-things. We do not love the same-old-same-old. And what is “11” – (one-another-one) – but a visual reminder of same-of-same-old-repetitive-not-newness? 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11.
Can we shift (seismically) from a “same-old-same-old-monotonous” mindset to a “known-beloved-tradition” mindset: from a “something-bigger-better” palate to a “remember-repeat-savor” palate?
Can we settle into a place of wonderment and joy about the day-in-day-out repeated elements of meaningful life?
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) reminds me that duplication in daily life isn’t something to be avoided at all costs.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) challenges me that in the end, duplication is what God’s children are called to: that is, sharing the good news of Christmas (and its fuller narrative) with others so that they too may become a person who loves and follows Christ.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful repetitive earthly life.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful duplicating eternal life.