Category Archives: Biography

The passionate genius, Simone Weil

Français : Bourges - 7 place Gordaine - Plaque...
Français : Bourges – 7 place Gordaine – Plaque commémorative Simone Weil (1909-1943) professeur à Bourges en 1935-1936 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who is, or was, Simone Weil? If increasing attention in the way of books and a newer documentary mean anything, particularly considering her death was some 70+ years ago, then she’s obviously “somebody.” At least two meanings of the word “prodigy” apply to Simone: (1) she was known to be a genius from a very young age and is a recognized philosopher, and (2) by her short, painful, yet beautiful and selfless life. Being a Christian mystic and having been “adopted” by Catholics (Simone never became a member of any church), had perhaps contributed to a certain level of obscurity until more recent years.

All books that bear Simone’s name were published after her death (1943), with one of the most well-know being Waiting for God (WfG; 1951), a collection of spiritual letters and essays. Much has been made of her spiritual life – and rightly so – but for a biography that focuses on her philosophy, see Palle Yourgrau’s Simone Weil (Reaktion Books 2011). A 2010 documentary made the film festival rounds and is now on DVD: An Encounter with Simone Weil. The odd film focuses on life, death, suffering generally, and on these words of Simone’s specifically: “Attention is the rarest form of generosity.” (I wrote a fairly in-depth review of the documentary here: Secular Girl Activist meets Christian Girl Activist . . .)

Simone was born in France in 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. At the age of six she could quote classic poetry, and despite interruptions in her education (and the onset of migraines), she received her baccalaureate at the age of 15. Simone had a deep desire to know “truth,” so she attended graduate school and became a teacher of philosophy.

Do not think that she lived comfortably from the “ivory tower.” As early as age five she refused to eat sugar because the French soldiers could not have it, and she maintained this practice of food-denial all of her life. She chose not to turn the heat on in her rented rooms since the unemployed could not afford it themselves, and gave much of her salary to the poor and to workers’ causes. She was very politically active, striving to secure better conditions for factory workers, and was involved with the defense of her country during World War II.

Simone seemed to apply her whole self towards realizing her convictions. Even though frail, she was always working, thinking, writing—incessantly doing. She even went so far as to travel to war-torn Spain, in 1936, to fight against the Fascists. She was a pacifist but felt so strongly about the cause that she volunteered for the most dangerous assignments. Because of a severe cooking-related accident, however, Simone did not stay there for very long. And her witness of an execution of a 15-year-old boy by the people she supported, among other things, caused her to not return.

Perhaps the personal experience of war caused a crack in Simone’s idealism that became an entryway for God. In 1937, Simone wrote of an encounter while at Assisi: “something stronger than I was compelled me for the first time in my life to go down on my knees” (WfG pp 67-68). Then in 1938, while having severe migraines during Holy Week services, Simone had the experience of separating herself from the pain to enjoy the beauty of the service and to receive understanding of the passion of Christ. That same year, while reciting a Christian poem about accepting Christ—which she claims she hadn’t understood as such—Christ indeed “came down and took possession of me” (WfG p 69).

Though she accepted Christ, Simone’s writings are controversial. Some do not believe Simone was really a Christian; she had consideration and respect for other religions, and some fairly unorthodox theological views. In her “religious” writings, she often wrote of wrestling with God over truth. Though she wrote about spiritual truths found in other religions, or even myths (CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien held similar views), in the final analysis only Christ is truth: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (WfG p 69).  A useful work in this regard is Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature (Marie Cabaud Meaney 2008).

Her friends in faith were Catholic, but she refused to enter the church because of its history and its exclusionary practices. Despite being an “outside Christian,” she wrote conventional ideas like: “It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me” (WfG pp 50-51), and “. . . I think that God himself has taken it [her soul] in hand from the start and still looks after it” (WfG p 73). Going deeper into her thought we find: “Only obedience is invulnerable for all time” (WfG p 63), and “. . . I always believed that the instant of death is the center and object of life” (WfG p 63). Significantly, and counter to some who attempt to claim that Simone was not a Christian, she told a friend a few months before she died: “I believe in God, in the Trinity, in the Incarnation, in the Redemption, in the teachings of the Gospel” (from Simone Weil, by Stephen Plant, p 33).

[If you’re interested in more of Simone’s words, I wrote a “found” poem with her words–it is the 2nd poem on that linked page.]

____________

© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012 (this was published at Examiner.com 2011, then at withchristianeyes.com)

Advertisements

“A Grief Observed” (C.S. Lewis on his wife’s death)

GriefObserved001“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” so quotes Lewis (p 65) near the end of his published journal entries that relate to the loss of his wife, Helen.  (Lewis doesn’t give the author of the quote, but it’s from Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of [Divine] Love.)  When I finally got to reading this little book, I found it to be a gem of thought, writing, and emotion.  In it Lewis confronts God, then affirms His love for us—even if it’s like the tough love of a dentist or surgeon.  One of his stepsons (Douglas Gresham) wrote so aptly in the introduction:  “It is true to say that very few men could have written this book, and even truer to say that even fewer men would have written this book even if they could, fewer still would have published it even if they had written it (p xix).

Yes, indeed.  My response after reading entries in which Lewis describes his wife’s character was:  “What a guy!”  Lewis eulogizes, “H. [Helen] was a splendid thing; a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword” (p 42).  He adds later:  “I see I’ve described H. as being like a sword.  That’s true as far as it goes.  But utterly inadequate by itself, and misleading.  I ought to have balanced it.  I ought to have said, ‘but also like a garden.  Like a nest of gardens, wall within wall, hedge within hedge, more secret, more full of fragrant and fertile life, the further you entered.’  And then, of her, and every created thing I praise, I should say, ‘In some way, in its unique way, like Him who made it” (p 63).

These laudatory quotes belie the overall tone of A Grief Observed, however.  While the end is a happy one, the heart of this book includes the racking grief over the loss of a lover, the struggle with faith when God seems absent but is most needed, and the questioning of God’s goodness.  Lewis put it this way:  “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly.  Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively.  But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand” (p 25).

At the beginning, in the first of only four chapters, Lewis asks, “Where is god?”  He likened God’s perceived absence during his desperation as a silence behind a door, which had been slammed in his face, and then bolted.  He struggled with this lack of comfort from God, writing that “the conclusion I dread is not ‘so there’s no God after all,’ but ‘so this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer” (p 7).

Lewis is angry with God and tries to understand “goodness” in His terms.  He concludes that the real problem is his own shallowness of faith.  His faith is like a rope that didn’t bear him when needed, he claims, being just a “house of cards.”  He connects true faith with outwardness:  “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.  It has been an imaginary faith . . .” (p 37).  Amazingly, this response to grief is coming from a man that many consider the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century.

Being a great Christian thinker, Lewis couldn’t help but comment on consolations he received from various people.  He derides the feeble platitude, “She will live forever in [your] memory” (p 20, and negatively considers the ideas we hold of the dead being both joyous and brought immediately into God’s presence.  His commentaries relate to his desperate perplexity over Helen’s continued existence.  His prayers to God meet only silence; his questions to Him about Helen are unanswered.  Lewis felt that there was a “sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” (p 3), but this blanket appears to have enveloped his spiritual life as well.

A little over half-way through his journal, Lewis experienced not only a lifting of the blanket, but a strong sense that Helen was indeed “still a fact” (p 51).  When he stopped worrying about how much he remembered of her, she seemed to be, in a certain sense, everywhere.  His relationship with God began to reopen and he surmised that God had needed to show him what a flimsy house his faith really was.

He realized that he should have been praising God more, knowing that the act of praise brings joy.  He realized more fully that we need to love God, not our own ideas of Him, and to duplicate this in all our relationships.  He accepted that there are mysteries that will be solved only in heaven, and that “our apparently contradictory notions . . . will all be knocked from under our feet.  We shall see that there never was any problem” (p 71).

But Lewis leaves us with something that some people may find hard to accept:  an experience of Helen, her mind meeting his.  He says of it, “I had never in any mood imagined the dead as being so—well, so business-like.  Yet there was an extreme and cheerful intimacy.  An intimacy that had not passed through the senses or the emotions at all” (p 73).  He reports more of the encounter than this quote, of course, and analyzes it in relation to intellect, love, emotions, and the resurrection of the body.  As he himself concludes, “We cannot understand.  The best is perhaps what we understand the least” (p 75).

© Vicki Priest 2014 (this was moved from withchristianeyes.com; posted and revised since 2001)

 

Bisexual Raised by Lesbians: Thoughtfully Against Gay Adoptions

For a detailed and thoughtful view on being raised by gay parents, please see Robert Oscar Lopez’s Same Sex Parenting: What do Children Say?  Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of his views and experience.

During the oral arguments about Proposition 8, Justice Anthony Kennedy referred to children being raised by same-sex couples. Since I was one of those children—from ages 2-19, I was raised by a lesbian mother with the help of her partner—I was curious to see what he would say.

I also eagerly anticipated what he would say because I had taken great professional and social risk to file an amicus brief with Doug Mainwaring (who is gay and opposes gay marriage), in which we explained that children deeply feel the loss of a father or mother, no matter how much we love our gay parents or how much they love us. Children feel the loss keenly because they are powerless to stop the decision to deprive them of a father or mother, and the absence of a male or female parent will likely be irreversible for them.

Over the last year I’ve been in frequent contact with adults who were raised by parents in same-sex partnerships. They are terrified of speaking publicly about their feelings, so several have asked me (since I am already out of the closet, so to speak) to give voice to their concerns.

I cannot speak for all children of same-sex couples, but I speak for quite a few of them, especially those who have been brushed aside in the so-called “social science research” on same-sex parenting. . . .  I have heard of the supposed “consensus” on the soundness of same-sex parenting from pediatricians and psychologists, but that consensus is frankly bogus. . . .

I support same-sex civil unions and foster care, but I have always resisted the idea that government should encourage same-sex couples to imagine that their partnerships are indistinguishable from actual marriages.  Such a self-definition for gays would be based on a lie, and anything based on a lie will backfire.

The richest and most successful same-sex couple still cannot provide a child something that the poorest and most struggling spouses can provide: a mom and a dad.  Having spent forty years immersed in the gay community, I have seen how that reality triggers anger and vicious recrimination from same-sex couples, who are often tempted to bad-mouth so-called “dysfunctional” or “trashy” straight couples in order to say, “We deserve to have kids more than they do!”

But I am here to say no, having a mom and a dad is a precious value in its own right and not something that can be overridden, even if a gay couple has lots of money, can send a kid to the best schools, and raises the kid to be an Eagle Scout.

It’s disturbingly classist and elitist for gay men to think they can love their children unreservedly after treating their surrogate mother like an incubator, or for lesbians to think they can love their children unconditionally after treating their sperm-donor father like a tube of toothpaste.

It’s also racist and condescending for same-sex couples to think they can strong-arm adoption centers into giving them orphans by wielding financial or political clout. An orphan in Asia or in an American inner city has been entrusted to adoption authorities to make the best decision for the child’s life, not to meet a market demand for same-sex couples wanting children. Whatever trauma caused them to be orphans shouldn’t be compounded with the stress of being adopted into a same-sex partnership. . . .

The children thrown into the middle . . . are well aware of their parents’ role in creating a stressful and emotionally complicated life for kids, which alienates them from cultural traditions like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, and places them in the unenviable position of being called “homophobes” if they simply suffer the natural stress that their parents foisted on them—and admit to it. . . .

That’s why I am for civil unions but not for redefining marriage. But I suppose I don’t count—I am no doctor, judge, or television commentator, just a kid who had to clean up the mess left behind by the sexual revolution.

two-kinds-of-people-by-cs-lewis_zpsbcb8ec60

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pastor Chuck Smith, 86, has died

. . . and is joyously with the Lord (Thursday morning, Oct. 3rd).  Here are a couple of article links about the man who started the nondenominational Calvary Chapels.  He was sharp to the end, giving his last sermon just last month.

Christianity Today

The Christian Post

Update 10/13:  (1) A surfer’s memorial–a paddle out- will be held Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Huntington Beach pier, north side, starting at 10 am.  (2) The large public memorial service will be at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Oct. 27, starting at 5 pmUpdate:  You can watch the tribute at Chuck’s website.

Update:  There is a new web page up that is Chuck Smith’s biography, basically.

You may have heard already that Smith’s son-in-law, Brian Broderson, is the new senior pastor.  The Orange County Register published a pretty detailed article on Chuck and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa here, and there are links to more related articles at the Register, too.

Update 10/20:  I didn’t go to the paddle out, but images of it were displayed at the service today.  Very awesome!  A DVD of it is planned.

Time Stood Still for Bach

Princess Leia, older?  No, Bach in 1720.
Princess Leia, older? No, Johann Sebastian Bach in 1720.

God truly favored Bach.  How else can you explain that time stood still for him?  How do I know this?  I mean, everyone would know, right, if such a miracle happened (over and over again)?  No, no one would know.  He’d be sitting there writing one of his 1,000+ scores while changing one of his 20 kids’ diapers while the world around him was still and silent.

Yes, time stood still for him.  Richard Wagner said that Bach’s work was “the most stupendous miracle in all music” (Kavanaugh 26).  See?

At any rate, that’s my excuse for getting such a piddly amount of things done in my life; God has not favored me with time stoppages.  And I don’t have a photographic memory, as perhaps Bach did, and as C.S. Lewis did, who was also crazily prolific in his life.  A photographic memory helps . . . a lot.  And God making time stand still for you.

To make things a bit clearer about Bach and his miraculous output, here are some perspective builders.

  • Both his parents died when he was nine.  He did not inherit wealth and therefore did not have lots of extra time.  (In fact, during his lifetime only 8 – 10 of his works were published, so he didn’t acquire wealth–and the extra time it can afford– from his compositions.)
  • He played a variety of musical instruments (and sang) from childhood.  He worked at a number of churches as church musician, primarily, but also was employed as “Capellmeister” for Prince Leopold.  Eventually spurning the Prince’s secular position, he went to St. Thomas’ in Leipzig to become Cantor and Music Director.
  • His first wife died, then he married a second young wife.  As mentioned, he had 20 children altogether (not all reached adulthood).  This makes me hope that God made time stand still for his wives some, too.
  • Bach not only worked at churches, composed music (and in a large variety of styles), and helped make lots of babies, but he also taught.  He taught Latin AND music, to outside students as well as his own children.  I must be missing something here.  He taught Latin and music, while doing all the rest of his daily genius stuff . . . he must’ve taught a third subject or laid golden eggs or something, right?  Oh, that’s right, he . . .
  • . . . and his wife (or wives) were very social and hospitable and always had people over at their place!
  • His eyesight worsened as he aged.  By the time of his death at age 65 (1685-1750), he was blind.

Maybe I’m wrong about God stopping time for Bach.  But if so, the only other possibility is that he never slept.  God either made time stand still for Bach, or gave him the gift of sleeplessness.  This might better explain his 20 children, too.

___

SOURCES:

Kavanaugh, Patrick, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers (Zondervan 1996).

Genius Ignored, Bach

Christian Poems XII: Three by C.S. Lewis

The Naked Seed [1943]

My heart is empty.  All the fountains that should run
With longing, are in me
Dried up.  In all my countryside there is not one
That drips to find the sea.
I have no care for anything thy love can grant
Except the moment’s vain
And hardly noticed filling of the moment’s want
And to be free from pain.
Oh, thou that art unwearying, that dost neither sleep
Nor slumber, who didst take
All care for Lazarus in the careless tomb, oh keep
Watch for me till I wake.
If thou think for me what I cannot think, if thou
Desire for me what I
Cannot desire, my soul’s interior Form, though now
Deep-buried, will not die,
–No more than the insensible dropp’d seed which grows
Through winter ripe for birth
Because, while it forgets, the heaven remembering throws
Sweet influence still on earth,
–Because the heaven, moved moth-like by thy beauty, goes
Still turning round the earth.

——

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer [1964]

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no signs, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins.  Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

——

Dungeon Grates [1919]*

So piteously the lonely soul of man
Shudders before this universal plan,
So grievous is the burden and the pain,
So heavy weighs the long, material chain

From cause to cause, too merciless for hate,
The nightmare march of unrelenting fate,
I think that he must die thereof unless
Ever and again across the dreariness

There came a sudden glimpse of spirit faces,
A fragrant breath to tell of flowery places
And wider oceans, breaking on the shore
For which the hearts of men are always sore.

It lies beyond endeavour; neither prayer

Nor fasting, nor much wisdom winneth there,
Seeing how many prophets and wise men
Have sought for it and still returned again

With hope undone.  But only the strange power
Of unsought Beauty in some casual hour
Can build a bridge of light or sound or form
To lead you out of all this strife and storm;

When of some beauty we are grown a part
Till from its very glory’s midmost heart
Out leaps a sudden beam of larger light
Into our souls.  All things are seen aright

Amid the blinding pillar of its gold,
Seven times more true than what for truth we hold
In vulgar hours.  The miracle is done
And for one little moment we are one
With the eternal stream of loveliness
That flows so calm, aloof from all distress

Yet leaps and lives around us as a fire
Making us faint with overstrong desire
To sport and swim for ever in its deep–
Only a moment.

O! but we shall keep
Our vision still.  One moment was enough,
We know we are not made of mortal stuff.
And we can bear all trials that come after,
The hate of men and the fools loud bestial laughter
And Nature’s rule and cruelties unclean,
For we have seen the Glory–we have seen.

CS Lewis - mystery photo (modified from internet image).
CS Lewis – mystery photo (modified from internet image).

——

* This poem speaks of Lewis’ moments of “joy,” spiritual glimmers of God, prior to his actual conversion to faith.  Of the book that this poem was published in, Spirits in Bondage; A Cycle of Lyrics, in Three Parts (pp 40-42), Lewis wrote his friend Arthur Greeves “. . . nature is wholly diabolical & malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements” (CS Lewis by B Gormley, p 61).  Stanza breaks were added by me . . . for ease of reading.

The other two poems can be found in CS Lewis: Poems (1964), pp 117 and 129.

1927 Mass School Murder the worst in our history. Could it have been prevented?

Michigan 1927 school killing was worst in nation’s history

Did you wonder, after the horrific Connecticut school shooting, what actually was the worst school slaying event in our nation’s history that kept being mentioned in the media?  Here’s the story of it, and it’s crazy and gross.  Read the whole thing.  I know that serial killers are often considered to be nice and contributing members of society, but they are socio- or psychopaths.  This guy wasn’t a serial killer but was nice and contributed to society too, but he just flipped out after life became too against him.  If he had gotten help with his issue, like we should help with our neighbors and community, then I don’t think that this 1927 tragedy would have occurred.

Help or pray for girl who lost mom, part of leg, then dad . . .

I wish I could write more about Jackie Angeles and her family, but information is pretty minimal.  Two very short articles about her are provided below, but basically, this 11 year old girl has been through a great deal for her young age, especially for someone living in the U.S.  She had lost her mother quite some time ago, but then she got bone cancer and much of one leg was amputated.  Because of this, she missed a great deal of schooling.  Then just recently, her dad died in his sleep – while waiting for a kidney transplant.

Jackie didn’t stay at home with relatives after her father’s death, but went right back to school.  She’s an inspiration to those around her.  She has a brother but he is hardly mentioned, so I don’t know how he is handling all of this (he may be an adult).  Please pray for Jackie and her brother, and if you feel led to donate any money to a fund for Jackie, the location of the fund is:  Orange County’s Credit Union, PO Box 11777, Santa Ana, CA 92711, Account #92603984, Routing #322281989.  Write the check to Jacqueline Angeles.

When something like this happens, it makes me wonder if the people had lived in an area where something existed that caused all these cancers and bodily failures.  It seems like more than coincidence that cancers (I do not know why Jackie’s father needed a new kidney) like this should effect so many people in the same family.  In any case, I pray that the Lord draw Jackie to Himself, keep her, and that He bless her desire to become a doctor.

Girl Fights Cancer, Heartache With a Smile

Girl Loses Father Suddenly after Leg Amputation, Losing Mother

 

A Beautiful Life: Amanda Berry Smith, 19th century black female evangelist

Amanda Smith (Wikimedia Commons).

I’ve always wanted to write about Amanda Smith, and here I’ll introduce her.  I’m sure she must be known in some circles, but when I first read about her over a decade ago, I was actually shocked.  I had never heard of her, even though she was an international evangelist and missionary.  Why is that?

Generally, we tend here, in America, to not learn much history, and when we attempt it, it seems all stale and dry, and no one seems to remember much.  Otherwise, I think we are still a male dominated culture, no matter what people say or how we can point to how long respect and equality have been taught in schools.  Amanda was black and female, and she experienced much prejudice on both counts in this country.  During her stays in other countries, including Great Britain, she was treated with respect and without prejudice.  Also, religious history and biography are not taught in school much, and churches basically stick to teaching the Bible or their own flavor of doctrine, and ignore historical and biographical lessons.  You can find quite a few references to Amanda online, but I read of her in Six Qualities of Women of Character by Debra Evans (Zondervan Publishing House 1996).

But what about Amanda; what is her story?  Amanda was born into slavery, in Maryland, in 1837.  Thankfully, her family was one that was permitted to stay together.  She knew her grandmother and her father, although her father worked so incredibly hard, she probably saw him little until their eventual freedom.  Her parents were faithful Christians, and her mother and grandmother prayed for the salvation of their young mistress, Celie.  Celie indeed became saved, but soon after contracted typhoid fever and died.  Her death bed wish to her parents was to let free her slaves, who were her Christian siblings.  Her parents granted her request and Amanda became free at the age of 13.

While she experienced the faith of her immediate family, she felt that she needed a conversion experience.  She needed to make a commitment herself.  This she did at a Baptist revival meeting in 1856; she was forever changed and strengthened by relationship with Christ that began then.  Her life was hard and she needed the Lord’s strength!  She married a man at 17, and he turned out to be an alcoholic.  Their marriage was full of strife, but it didn’t last long as her husband was killed in the Civil War.    She had a daughter by this marriage, Mazie, and Amanda worked hard indeed for her well-being.

Her second marriage wasn’t much better.  The man she married tricked her into thinking he was going to be appointed minister in a local church, which Amanda was thrilled about.  But after the marriage, she found that he in fact had given up the thought of ministering for Christ.  Can you imagine this deception, how it would feel to one who was overjoyed at the thought of being able to serve her Lord fully, and in fellowship with a group of other passionate believers?

After this, desiring affirmation from God, a confirmation of her salvation and desire to be close to God and serve Him, she prayed.  She encountered the Holy Spirit twice one night in September 1868,

. . . a wave came over me, and such a welling up in my heart . . . . How I have lived through it I cannot tell, but the blessedness of the love and the peace and power I can never describe.  O, what a glory filled my soul!  The great vacuum in my soul began to fill up; it was like a pleasant draught of cool water, and I felt it.  I wanted to shout Glory to Jesus!  . . . . Just as I put my foot on the top step I seemed to feel a hand, the touch of which I cannot describe.  It seemed to press me gently on the top of my head, and I felt something part and roll down and over me like a great cloak!  I felt it distinctly; it was done in a moment, and O what a mighty peace and power took possession of me!  (Amanda Smith, in An Autobiography:  The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Amanda Smith [1894], as quoted in Evans pp 180-181.)

Amanda now felt that the Lord was with her, in control of her life no matter how hard it was, and she prayed constantly and learned from her Lord during the most tedious of times.  She talked with anyone she could about Christ, finding it easy after taking the effort to start.  While her husband was alive, her ministry was local, but after he died things changed.  She began ministering at meetings in New Jersey, and soon found herself being invited to speak and sing at revival meetings all across the U.S.  She soon felt God telling her to minister in Africa and India, but she was to go to Great Britain first.

While fearful of crossing the Atlantic, she finally realized that her fear showed a lack of trust in God.  She eventually repented and made the watery trek.  God had a surprise in store for Amanda, and no doubt a confidence boosting mission it was:  the captain of the ship asked Amanda to conduct the ship’s services.  Though there was prejudice against her on that voyage, she won everyone over by the time the trip was over.

In Great Britain, she was welcomed with open arms.  It didn’t matter that she was black, or female.  She had thought that her time there would be about three months, but she preached around the whole of England and Scotland for two years.  She met and was respected by those in the upper class, and these helped her in her future work for the Lord.  Her daughter’s room and board in America were paid for, so she needn’t worry about that, and her trip to India finally became a reality.  The poverty and the very poor treatment of women she saw there “gripped her heart instantly.”  The experience made her realize something that affected her ministry the rest of her life–that evangelism must be coupled with the meeting of practical human needs as well.

Next, she ministered in Liberia, touching and influencing many lives there for eight years.  When she came back to the United States she worked with African-American orphans and opened an orphanage in the Chicago area.  She was able to do this with the funds garnered from her memoirs.  In her final few years of life, Amanda was able to enjoy Florida in a donated home.  She died in 1915, having lived a beautiful life of giving and loving.

A missionary to India, Bishop James Thoburn, said this of Amanda:

Through my association with her I learned many valuable lessons, more that has been of actual value to me as a preacher of Christian truth than from any other person I have ever met (Evans p 186).

Thank you, Lord, for blessing Amanda and blessing us through her example!

C.S. Lewis’s Conversions: Atheist to Theist, Theist to Christian

Rare early picture of CS Lewis, on the cover of “All My Road Before Me” — from his early and agnostic or atheistic days.A Christian Conversion Experience:  C.S. Lewis

Contemporary apologetics so often focus on the issues of biblical reliability and understanding in relation to science, and on the question of evil, as these are the currently contested concerns.  One apologetic that points towards the existence of God, however, is one that is generally not “scientific” enough, and that is a changed life.  Not a temporary change, which can indicate a simple excitement of a person’s will, but a permanent change evidenced by the long term.   So let’s look at the conversion experience of a well-known person, C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  Lewis was an Oxford and Cambridge Professor (English and Philosophy) and the well-known author of both fictional works like The Chronicles of Narnia and of highly valued scholarly works.

To anyone who comes in contact with atheistic thought, what Lewis wrote to his best friend in 1916 (below) will seem quite familiar.  What made him come to that conclusion, and what made him change his mind?

“I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention” (Hooper p. 9).

Lewis, or Jack, was brilliant from early age, having been tutored at home until he was nine, when his mother died.  As if this great sorrow was not enough, Lewis’ dad sent him away to school, from their home in Ireland to England.  Lewis’ older brother, Warnie, attended the very small school with him, but Jack hated it, and with good reason.  The headmaster, a Reverend, was abusive and eventually deemed insane.  At his next school, Lewis experienced an occultist head matron.

One can see the progression of Lewis’ road to apostasy from his parents’ Anglican faith:  God did not heal his mother, one school leader was a cruel and crazy believer, and the other was a non-believing occultist.  By the time Lewis attended his third school, he was an atheist.  Hating this school as well, Lewis’ father sent him to learn under a distinguished tutor, who happened to be an atheist also.  Lewis was superb at languages and translating.  As his tutor wrote, Jack had “a sort of genius for translating . . . .  He is the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met” (Gromley p. 36).

He went on to learn and teach at Oxford, with WWI service (and related injury and recovery) sandwiched in.  After the war he lived with his adopted family, a much older atheist woman and her daughter.

So what would cause Lewis to stray from his atheism?  A couple of strongly held ideas played their parts.  One was the concept and experience of what Lewis termed “joy” – a pang of intense bliss and longing, followed by a strong desire to experience it again.  The other was his concern, from an early age, that if Christianity were true it could be shown that paganism prefigured it, or that Christianity fulfilled paganism.  Indeed, Lewis felt his pangs of “joy” when reading the northern pagan mythologies that he loved so much.

Jack Lewis wanted to be his own man; he did not want to acknowledge a power or diety that demanded loyalty.  Through the years, however, seeking truth and being drawn to authors and friends who helped him with answers to his search for “joy” as well as his concern over God’s communication with the pagan world, Lewis’ heart and mind opened enough to hear God give him a choice.

“. . . a fact about myself was somehow presented to me.  I became aware that I was holding something at bay, of shutting something out. . . .  I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. . . .  I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. . . .  The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional.  I was moved by no desires or fears.  In a sense I was not moved by anything.  I chose to open . . . .  Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level.  I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.  The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle.  I rather disliked the feeling” (Lewis p. 123).

This experience of Lewis’ happened in 1929, and it was “conversion” to belief in God, not in an afterlife or in Jesus Christ.  Lewis still thought that parts of Christianity were a kind of myth, yet he wanted to know the truth and to live truth.  God gave Lewis many nudges, even via an ardent atheist who thought that it really did seem as though God made the pagan myths come true through Jesus Christ.  This atheist’s admission shocked Lewis.  Jack’s good friend J.R.R. Tolkien helped him with this issue, too, as did Hugo Dyson, on a pivotal walk in September 1931:

“Tolkien was convinced that myth, such as the Norse myth of the death of Balder, or the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, was not the opposite of fact.  These stories were a way of expressing truths deeper than fact. . . .  [Tolkien declared that] not only did the truth in myths come from God, but a writer of myths could be doing God’s work in the world.1 As Tolkien talked, there was a sudden rush of wind out of nowhere, as if to underline the message.  The three men held their breath, feeling the importance of the moment” (Gormley p. 95).

Later that month Lewis had a second, more subtle, conversion experience.

“As I drew near the conclusion, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to Theism. . . .  Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to ‘Spirit’ and from ‘Spirit’ to ‘God,’ had been a step toward the more concrete, the more imminent, the more compulsive.  At each step one had less chance ‘to call one’s soul one’s own.’ . . .  I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.  I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo] one sunny morning.  When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion. . . .  It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Lewis pp. 129-130).

So, finally, Lewis found that myth had become fact (that is, Jesus was “the god that died”) and that the pangs of “joy” had been sign posts to God.

As Lewis had written in Surprised by Joy, “all” is required of a person who acknowledges and worships his maker, and Lewis gave his all.  He is considered to be the greatest apologist of the 20th century, having written Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and more.  In addition, he was a very popular layman preacher in Oxford.  As a “secular” scholar and author, he wrote poetry, the highly regarded “A Preface to Paradise Lost,” The Discarded Image, and others.   Lewis was the president of Oxford’s Socratic Club from 1942-1955; this was a philosophy group that delved into the pros and cons of the Christian faith.

As if the schedule demanded by all that was not enough2 – don’t forget that he taught as well – Lewis was kind enough to answer all his letters (as he became “popular” he had the help of his brother, and then his wife).  He always helped those in need–in a very personal way when the opportunity arose–and in a more general way through significant monetary giving.  His apologetics show a concern and love for the common man, being theological and philosophical explanations open and accessible to all.   Jack’s life was one humanly lived and beautifully lived.

_____________

Notes

  1. Indeed, as probably all of you readers know, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the great “modern myth,” The Lord of the Rings.   It’s likely that many fewer are aware of Lewis’ re-told myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros) in Till We Have Faces.
  2. Lewis had a truly unbelievable photographic memory, easily quoting pages from books that someone happened to mention.  This gift was obviously a very great help to his studies, writing, lectures, etc.

____________

Sources

Gormley, Beatrice. C.S. Lewis: Christian and Storyteller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1998.

Hooper, Wlater. C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life & Works. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. “Surprised by Joy.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, by C.S. Lewis, 1-130. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is an edited version of my article at Examiner.com, published 2011)