Thursday, March 31, 2016

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Joy
C.S. Lewis
Published  1955
The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (biographies)

It is not settled happiness but momentary joy that glorifies the past.
If you are a C. S. Lewis fan, Surprised by Joy is essential reading.  Don't you like to know something personal about your favorite author?  Having only read The Chronicles of Narnia, I wouldn't call myself a Lewis fan; but I do hope and plan to read a lot more from him in the future.  I certainly appreciated being introduced to part of his early life, as told in this book.  It was enlightening and at times entertaining.
Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for joy.  I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.
In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis described his desire for and discovery of Joy in his life.  Beginning in his youth, he had a difficult relationship with his father, which negatively influenced him.  He considered his older brother a blessing; while the death of his mother to cancer was a grief-stricken event.  He admitted to having no real religion growing up, and he lived a life of solitude, which was very normal and natural to him.  He had an astounding imagination and a love for creativity, writing, and books.
For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.
But back to his discovery of Joy, he named three episodes from his youth that initially brought joy to his attention: a memory of a feeling, a book about a season, and finally, poetry.  For the remainder of Surprised by Joy, he searched for understanding of this emotion, and ended up discovering more about himself along the way.
To "get [Joy] again" became my constant endeavor; while reading every poem, hearing every piece of music, going for every walk, I stood anxious sentinel at my own mind to watch whether the blessed moment was beginning and to endeavor to retain it if it did.
C. S. Lewis was unsparingly truthful about his gloomy expectations of adulthood and his rebellion and hatred towards authority.  He also explained his false conversion to Christianity in boarding school, and then later his falling away from faith, calling himself an apostate, Pagan, and atheist.  He struggled with his unbelief and sinful behavior for a long time.  He also loathed the public school system, which he found to be a place loaded with social struggle, competition, snobs and bullies.  But probably worst of all, he lost his connection to or sense of joy.
I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with Him for creating a world. 
Good news!  Life changed for C. S. Lewis.  He developed some intimate friendships and gained several great mentors along the way.  His opinions about God and religion were evolving, and he rediscovered memories of joy through music and mythology.  But was it all that he made it out to be?
The things I assert most vigorously are those that I resisted long and accepted late.
Long story short: C. S. Lewis humbled himself before God and became a Christian.  And since becoming a Christian, he lost interest in his obsession with Joy.  In the end, he determined that his "experience, considered as a state of [his] own mind...was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer."  And once he found that "other and outer" he no longer felt the need to frantically pursue the elations of Joy.
I saw that all my waitings and watching for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could lay my finger and say, "This is it!" had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed.
I had been equally wrong in supposing that I desired Joy itself.  Joy itself, considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all.  All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. 

No comments:

Post a Comment