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Joy as Happy-Sad Longing for God (C. S. Lewis and The Inklings)

One of C. S. (“Jack”) Lewis’ greatest teachings is on Joy (with a capital “J”). It’s blessed me and I’m excited to share it with you!

When Kristi and I vacationed in Europe with David and Bri (our son and his wife) we enjoyed a day on “The Happy Island” of Burano in Venice, Italy.

The houses and shops were so colorful. The canals were flowing into an ocean that touched the sky. The people were friendly. And unlike the extremely crowded main Island of Venice, there was a huge park with grass and trees to play in. It was a happy, high-spirited place.

This is not what Jack Lewis means when he speaks of Joy.

Joy is what Jack felt as a small boy looking out his second story window. 

He and his brother Warnie were often shut inside their house looking out with longing at the green Castlereagh Hills of Ireland. They couldn’t go outside and play because their mother was afraid that the cold or rain would make them sick. So they drew pictures and told stories about the “unattainable hills”.

For Jack, “Joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) was in the mystery of those Narnian hills.

That’s why he loved fairy tales. They turned “ordinary” woods into enchanted woods that had the scent of heaven and the sound of angels’ footsteps.

To experience this mystical, blissful Joy you have to brave sadness, profound and painful sadness. We long to be one with God as we’ll be in heaven, but at present he remains out of reach.

We see glimpses.

We hear whispers.

We feel touches.

“Stabs of joy.” That’s what C. S. Lewis calls them. He says they come and go like the wind.

Oh. It seems I just felt God’s heart-warming presence! Wasn’t that his radiant smile? Where did he go? Dear Sweet Jesus, your name is honey on my lips! My heart beats for you! “My soul thirsts for you… in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

This Joyful, desperate yearning for a breath of heaven defined Jack’s life. It’s wooed him to trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. So he titled his autobiography Surprised By Joy. Ironically he later married Joy Gresham and he experienced new heights of Joy, mingled with depths of sadness and grief, particularly when she got cancer and after a short reprieve died.

As I shared in last week’s Soul Shepherding Devotional — “Heaven’s Word to You: ‘Come!’ (C. S. Lewis’ Story)” — on our vacation-pilgrimage we spent a delightful day at C. S. Lewis’ house, The Kilns in Oxford, England. We enjoyed his pond where he liked to fish, swim, and pray. Jack wrote that he felt this happy-sad desire for God in “the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side” as he rowed in his pond.

I’ve experienced these heavenly touches and insatiable longings. Have you?

I’ve found that the only way to survive this holy longing and it’s painful sadness is with empathy.

We need soul friends who share our longings for Joy, for God, for heaven.

C. S. Lewis’ friends called him Jack, which is why I’m calling him Jack too. I’d like to consider him my friend, wouldn’t you?!

His best friends in Oxford were in a small group with him. Don’t think of this as a “churchy” group — they met in “The Eagle and the Child” pub! While sharing drinks and smokes, they read aloud their writings. Imagine Jack reading from The Chronicles of Narnia and his pal J. R. R. Tolkien reading from The Lord of the Rings. They shared their lives and their longings. They prayed for one another.

His friend group was called “The Inklings.” In The Problem of Pain he seems to explain why:

“Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?

“You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.

“But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it.

“Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’…

“It’s the secret signature of each soul.”

(C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, published by Macmillan in 1962, originally published in 1940, p. 146. Biographical information on C. S. Lewis is from A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown.)


Listen to this week’s podcast 

on tuning into you emotions

to experience Narnia 

When God Breaks Through” 

We love hearing from you!

“Great words, Bill. I’m a big Lewis fan.

Your insightful words were a delight to read.”

Pastor Gary Stubblefield ~ Irvine, CA

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