As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.
I am a huge fan of audio books and have been for many years. That’s how I first came to know the writing of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). At present I own recordings of 25 books by him and another five books about him. I’ve listened to most of them multiple times. He is easily my favorite extra-biblical author.
I’m including him among my major influencers, even though I never met him. I’ve written elsewhere about how his ideas on reason and imagination have enlightened me (see Reason and Imagination). But that’s only one of the ways his writing has enriched my thought and my life.
When I began reading and listening to his books, the first thing that struck me was how clearly he thought and wrote. He dealt with complex ideas and chains of reasoning with amazing clarity and simplicity. That’s what I need to do as a hymn writer. Hymns must express complex and lofty ideas in a way that is understandable and natural for the average lay person. C. S. Lewis shows that it can be done and points the way. For me, his apologetic works do this best, especially Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles.
I rarely read or listen to fiction, but Lewis is a shining exception. His fiction inspires me to see the world from a broader, loftier perspective. His stories give me hope. He unselfconsciously shows Almighty God working His loving will in the real, physical world in which we live. Again, this points the way for my hymns. His Chronicles of Narnia are justly famous along this line, but I love The Great Divorce for the same reason. And don’t miss his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. For years I avoided them, thinking that science fiction written before 1960 would seem primitive. How very wrong I was!
The Screwtape Letters is still unique after all these years. How could a book on so dark a subject as temptation be so whimsical and even funny? Writing can be both entertaining and profoundly meaningful!
But the main reason I find C. S. Lewis so enriching is his insightfulness. With most books, even excellent ones, you are likely to get fresh, provocative insights only every once in a while. With Lewis, the insights are an almost continuous stream. My impression is that this comes not just from his great mind and great heart, but from the fact that he read deeply and widely. He seemed to synthesize insights gleaned from the entire body of Christian literature.
It’s not surprising that Lewis has inspired a number of my hymns. To give them a look and listen, just click on the links below. Both the printed copies and the downloadable recordings are free (see the upper right-hand quadrant for the “Listen” link).