Wisdom for Disruptive Times from the Letters of C.S. Lewis

CS Lewis

At a recent Friday Symposium on March 6, Dr. Mark Cook addressed the importance renowned scholar and author C.S. Lewis gave to interpersonal connectedness and encouragement through letter-writing with the purpose of pointing people to Christ. Now, as DBU shifts gears into going fully online and social distancing, Lewis’ kernels of wisdom shared by Dr. Cook seem all the more relevant during a time of disruption.

Dr. Cook first reflected on how, as a world, we need help envisioning a different reality. We need to learn a pathway that is congruent with the truth. "While our connectedness with each other has certainly expanded, our actual connection with each other has contracted ... Our general answer to the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ is not the Chestertonian ‘I am!’ but is, in fact, an outraged ‘They are.’”

The first kernel of wisdom to start with is to let our dependence and trust in God permeate all our worries of today. In a letter Lewis wrote to Mary Van Deusen in 1952, he shared, “As to the ‘state of the world’ if we have time to hope and fear about it, we certainly have time to pray. I agree it is very hard to keep one’s eyes on God amid all the daily claims and problems. I think it wise, if possible, to move one’s main prayers from the last-thing-at-night position to some earlier time: give them a better chance to infiltrate one’s other thoughts.”

Secondly, in all his letters, Lewis treated people on an individual level. This allowed him to be authentic and to offer compassion and encouragement to his faithful correspondents. Dr. Cook identified Lewis’ importance given to letter-writing from his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” wherein he said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ is truly hidden.”

This is the second kernel of wisdom according to Dr. Cook, which is to reflect on how “Lewis believed in the importance of each individual that God placed before him. As we consider a life of interconnectedness in Christ and among each other, [we must see] each person as genuinely valuable.”

Furthermore, from Lewis’s letters addressing pain and suffering, Dr. Cook drew a third kernel of wisdom saying, “we lead others spiritually only where we have been led ourselves.” Cook quoted from one of Lewis’ long-term correspondents where he used a very personal tone: “My heart goes out to you. You are now just where I was a little over two years ago; In fact, I was in severe pain myself; what helped Joy and me through it was; take it day by day and hour by hour; don’t think of it as something sent by God; remember other sufferers; Of course we shall pray for you all we know how.”

Dr. Cook points out that Lewis shared from his own experiences with the purpose of reminding the correspondent that she was not alone. We need to remember that we are not the only one facing the circumstances of today. Share what God is teaching you and encourage those who might need it most. People are just a phone call away!

Dr. Cook concluded pointing out a modern-day application for Jesus’ followers saying, “what our world needs most [today] is Christian spiritual leaders who will intentionally invest themselves in a local context: caring for one another, encouraging one another to hope and trust in Jesus Christ, and praying for one another.” If Lewis were to write to each one of us today, he would still encourage us to be attentive to the need of those around us and to “keep a firm hold of the Cross.”

Dr. Mark Cook completed his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at DBU, where he studied leadership through the letters of C.S. Lewis. Currently, he teaches Developing a Christian Mind and Biblical Studies classes.

Written by Kathleen Sotomayor

Kathleen Sotomayor is a member of University Communications at Dallas Baptist University.