I am reading, and immensely enjoying, Alan Jacob’s The Narnian, an intellectual biography of C.S. Lewis that has come out within the last few years. Among many other passages and themes that could be commented on, I was particularly struck by his description of the changes in Lewis’s personality and capacity for delight brought about by his conversion. Its a very moving passage (from p. 131, italics his):
“I first read a book by C.S. Lewis twenty-five years ago, and I have been reading his work consistently since then. I know his writerly voice quite well, as well as I know anyone’s; it is utterly distinctive. And the most dominant feeling I get when I read his early letters – that is, those written in his first thirty years of life – is that in none of them does he sound like himself. The pre-conversion Lewis is, though obviously highly intelligent, neither a particularly likable nor a particularly interesting person – at least in his letters. He may have been delightful to know, though I doubt it. But once he ‘admitted that God was God,’ it is as though the key to his own hidden and locked-away personality was given to him. What appears almost immediately is a kind of gusto (sheer, bold enthusiasm for what he loves) that is characteristic of him ever after.”
This last sentence corresponds to Jacob’s thesis at the beginning of the book that what held all of Lewis’ writings together was “willingness to be enchanted” and an “openness to delight” (xxi). What a beautiful quality! I want to to be someone who is “open to delight.”
In the pages immediately following the quote above, Jacobs uses Eustace Scrubb’s experience as a dragon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to describe Lewis’ miserable experience of increasing consciousness of sin between his conversion to theism in 1929 and his conversion to Christianity in 1931. As I read this section I was impressed anew with what is among my main benefits from reading C.S. Lewis: the sense he gives of the drudgery of self-admiration/self-preoccupation and the sheer joy of repentance. An awareness that real life and real joy – finding one’s own God-given personality, learning to delight in the world around – begins with the painful but liberating stripping away of the dragon scales of sin. That, paradoxically, life is found through death.
I am deeply reminded of my continual need for the kind of release from self in view here, and how only God can give this (priceless) gift. Even just to see one’s deplorable situation and utter need is itself a happy recognition: how much more to be healed of it! Seeing the depths of one’s sin is difficult and bracing, but it is also the gateway to a whole world of joy and delight.