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The Business of Heaven

C. S. Lewis






















  ‘Humanity does not pass through phases as a train passes through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still.’ This comes from the opening paragraph of C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love. I had thought of this observation so often that, no sooner had I been asked to compile a day-to-day anthology of Lewis’s theological writings than the two things were in my mind almost at the same moment. The idea of a train suggested a journey. A journey where? While thinking about this I remembered this passage from Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms—‘When we carry out our “religious duties” we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready . . . There are happy moments, even now, when a trickle creeps along the dry beds; and happy souls to whom this happens often.’

  The combination was irresistible and I began imagining what a pleasure it would be to pour the writings of C. S. Lewis into that ‘channel’ which is called the Christian Year. The Christian Year is like a train which does enjoy the ‘privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind’ because it is based on the two great events of history, the Birth and the Resurrection of Our Lord. Strictly speaking, the Christian Year begins with the first Sunday in Advent—which word means the ‘coming’ of Christ. The Christmas season reaches its culmination on January 6 in the Feast of the Epiphany which is the celebration of Christ’s ‘manifestation’ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi. The next and greatest Feast of the Church is that of Easter which lasts forty days and is followed by the feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Holy Trinity. It is customary to speak of the weeks between Pentecost and Advent as such and such a week ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘after Trinity’. And so it goes on until we return to Advent and begin again. Those of us who take this annual circular journey of the Christian Year find it timeless and yet always refreshingly new.

  There may be an odd individual here or there who will say ‘New? What’s so new about a train journey that returns to its original starting point?’ But I doubt if such an objection will be raised by anyone who has lived within the Christian fold. I realise that there are many Christians of churches less liturgical, but not less devout, to whom the ancient form of the Christian Year will seem a little confusing. But if they follow the order in which these readings are arranged I doubt that they will be confused for long. So far as I am able to judge, the Christian Year takes nothing away from what they already believe. More than that, I believe they will find that what they hold best and dearest about the events in the earthly life of Our Lord will be strengthened. Surely it does strengthen both our belief and our appreciation of the Resurrection of Jesus to keep it in remembrance for forty days rather than to limit this great event to a single day.

  I have never heard any Christian complain ‘Christmas again! Easter again!’ For most of us know that even the longest human life is not long enough for any attentive Christian to imagine that the Feast of the Resurrection is ‘used up’. It was in his book Letters to Malcolm that C. S. Lewis said, ‘It is well to have specifically holy places, and things and days, for, without these local points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and “big with God” will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment.’ This he said in answer to Pantheism which is perhaps the most appealing heresy there is. At least Lewis found it so, as it delayed for some time his conversion to Christianity.

  And Lewis, who drew so much nourishment from the Christian Year, praises it in the book where we are least likely to look for it—The Screwtape Letters. For those who may be meeting these letters for the first time in this anthology I should explain that Screwtape is a senior devil. His ‘letters’ are addressed to a young devil, Wormwood, whose job it is to secure a young man’s soul for Hell. You must remember that when Screwtape speaks of ‘Our Father Below’ he means Satan. When referring to ‘He’ or ‘the Enemy’ Screwtape means God. In the entry of this book for January 17 Screwtape is urging Wormwood to instil in us a horror of ‘the Same Old Thing’ along with an insatiable desire for novelty. All this Screwtape admits would be easier if the Enemy had not balanced our ‘love of change’ by a ‘love of permanence’. ‘He gives them’, complains Screwtape:

  the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

  It seemed, then, to me that the theme of the Christian Year would best serve those who like daily readings. And as I began selecting individual passages I came to believe that this theme could, if properly followed, make the most interesting and diversified use of C. S. Lewis’s writings. I hoped, too, that it would go a long way towards defeating Screwtape’s plans for destroying God’s ‘spiritual year’ and inflaming our horror of ‘the Same Old Thing’. ‘The Enemy’, Screwtape goes on to point out,

  loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that history is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on.

  A man would have to be very blind indeed not to see how many conquests Screwtape has made. I am thinking specially about the wide-spread apostasy among the clergy. I cannot forget my astonishment when I heard a bishop devote the whole of his Easter sermon to Psychical Research. He was delighted to report that some residue of what is now you and me might—just might—‘survive’. Lewis did not know this bishop, but there is a strikingly accurate portrait of him in the entries for May 22–25. You are fortunate if those entries are not a portrait of someone you know.

  As it turned out, this ‘Psychical Research Bishop’ did me a favour. He made me remember something very important. If you know Church history you must know that whenever heresy has raised its head and pretended to be the way all sensible people think, it has resulted in a stimulation of orthodox Christian doctrine. Have you never noticed that such things as wars, diseases, and famines usually have the effect of bringing out the best in many good people who do all they can to find solutions to these awful problems? Ever since the beginning of the Church, God has raised up great Christians to defeat heresy and strengthen the faith once delivered. This is one of the reasons I have included entries for a number of those whom Lewis so frequently referred to as ‘the great saints’.

  I could not include entries for all the saints for the very pleasant reason that there are so many. And Lewis did not write about all of them. But there are two reasons why I’ve included those I have. First, they ought to be there, as they stimulated or held fast to the faith when the world (as
now) seemed poised to lapse into Paganism. Second, they are a very necessary reminder that the Church did not begin with you or me, but is a great inheritance which might not be here today in the form Christ intended had it not been for these great ones. The names of the saints’ days, and the Feasts and Fasts of the Church—what Lewis called ‘holy days’—are printed in a different type to distinguish them from the titles I have given the other entries.

  What are Fasts and Feasts? The different bodies of the Church are not agreed as to whether the two major Fasts of the Christian Year—Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Good Friday, the anniversary of the Crucifixion—should be marked by abstinence from all food or only from meat. Still, almost all believe that some acts of self-denial should be practised during the whole of Lent. When the Apostles witnessed Our Lord cast the evil spirit from the boy as recorded in St Mark 9:17–29 they asked why they could do nothing like this. ‘This’, replied Jesus, ‘can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.’ In the lives of the saints prayer and fasting nearly always go together. Fasting is a penitential practise designed to strengthen the spiritual life by weakening the attractions of sensual pleasures. The forty days of Lent commemorate Our Lord’s forty days of temptation in the wilderness. For us the main purpose of Lent is to identify with Our Lord as He goes to the Cross.

  Feasts are the anniversaries of the great events in the life of Our Lord and the occasions when we honour the saints. The Resurrection is the major Feast of the Christian Year. And here I suspect it would be a good idea to clear up a possible misunderstanding. When the New Testament writers referred to the Sabbath they meant both the day when God rested from His work of Creation as well as Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. This is what the Jewish people still mean by the Sabbath. In New Testament times Sundays replaced Sabbaths. Even for the Apostles Sundays had come to mean a weekly commemoration of the Resurrection. This explains why fasting is never required on Sundays, not even during Lent, as every Sunday of the year is a commemoration of the Resurrection.

  By now I expect you have spotted the one difficulty about arranging an anthology based on the Christian Year. It’s plain sailing when one is dealing with what are called ‘Immoveable Feasts’—such as Christmas Day—because these days are fixed. However, because Easter Day is determined by the Paschal Full Moon it changes with the year, its extreme limits being March 21 and April 25. That causes it to be a ‘Moveable Feast’. There was no way I could give Easter Day and the fasts and feasts related to it a set place in this book. The solution was to put the readings for what I’ve called ‘The Moveable Fasts and Feasts’ into a separate section at the end of the book. You should turn to that section for the appropriate readings from Lewis’s writings for Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Day, the Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, and the Body and Blood of Christ.

  There has been in recent years a movement to soft-pedal sin and to loud-pedal love, joy, and peace. The result of this short cut has, so far as I can see, been disastrous. Those who are really guilty of something can’t understand why it is, as they cannot be rid of the guilt which clings to them, that love, joy, and peace never seem to amount to much. This effort to make us well without taking our medicine (repentance) seems to me like looking for happiness. As if happiness was something you could grasp if only you knew which bush it was hiding behind. You either get disillusioned, or you wake up to the fact that happiness has always been the result of something more important than itself.

  I believe that those who follow these readings day by day as they were arranged to be read will discover what that ‘something’ beyond happiness is. You will find that I hammer away pretty hard with passages about morality. But you will find that I hammer away just as hard with passages which are meant to show us—as Lewis said—that ‘Joy is the serious business of Heaven’. Lewis forces us to look at the whole of what we are. This is because he was one of the most realistic Christians we are ever likely to meet. He never makes a mountain of a mole hill. But he never pretends that a real mole hill isn’t there. Not for a moment will he allow you to pretend that Christianity is less, or different, or other than what it is. Why should he? As he said, when writing of John Bunyan, ‘To be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead to very nasty places.’

  But here’s the surprise. As Lewis makes very clear in this book, morality—important though it is—was never intended as an end in itself. Morals are the ‘ropes and axes’ necessary for climbing those great heights from which a greater journey than even the Christian Year begins. That greater journey leads to the ‘happy land of the Trinity’. It is there that joys, almost unimaginable in this world, begin. Begin—not end—for in that ‘happy land’ you won’t need to have the ‘serious business of Heaven’ explained to you. You will have forgotten that there ever was anything else.

  But C. S. Lewis’s journey of the Christian Year comes first.

  Walter Hooper

  The Feast of St Mary Magdalen, 1983



  Beginning the New Year

  January 1

  I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc., don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.

  Letters (20 January 1942)

  The First Job Each Morning

  January 2

  The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

  We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain, which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

  Mere Christianity, bk 4, ch. 8

  Refreshments on the Journey

  January 3

  The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

  The Problem of Pain, ch. 7

  An Upside Down World

  January 4

  While we are in this ‘valley of tears’, c
ursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed the End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order—with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order? How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heartbroken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis? No. . . . It is only in our ‘hours-off’, only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.

  Letters to Malcolm, ch. 17

  The Road

  January 5

  When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, ‘Look!’ The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. ‘We would be at Jerusalem.’

  Surprised by Joy, ch. 15

  The Epiphany of the Lord

  January 6

  We, with our modern democratic and arithmetical presuppositions would so have liked and expected all men to start equal in their search for God. One has the picture of great centripetal roads coming from all directions, with well-disposed people, all meaning the same thing, and getting closer and closer together. How shockingly opposite to that is the Christian story! One people picked out of the whole Earth; that people purged and proved again and again. Some are lost in the desert before they reach Palestine; some stay in Babylon; some becoming indifferent. The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear—a Jewish girl at her prayers. That is what the whole of human nature has narrowed down to before the Incarnation takes place. Very unlike what we expected, but, of course, not in the least unlike what seems, in general, as shown by Nature, to be God’s way of working. . . . The people who are selected are, in a sense, unfairly selected for a supreme honour; but it is also a supreme burden. The People of Israel come to realise that it is their woes which are saving the world.