I had never heard C.S. Lewis's voice before I received this link the other day--about ten minutes of audio from one of his BBC talks. If anyone knows whether and where more audio of these talks is available on the Internet, do share.
It's a great privilege to me actually to hear Lewis's voice. I had expected him to sound a bit more Irish, as I had read that people who heard him commented on his Irish R's. But his voice is an excellent speaking voice--enjoyable to listen to, easy to understand (even for an American with bad hearing like me). I would love to hear more.
The content is even more fascinating. Though he touched on many of these issues elsewhere, I don't believe I've ever read these exact words from him anywhere in print. Obviously, the discussion of God and time is a rich topic on which much can be said. I especially appreciated his relation of the issue of God and time to the issue of God's full attention focused on the individual and God's having all the time in the world, as it were, for each one of us.
Most of all, I was struck anew by what strikes me nearly every time I read Lewis on the subject of the Christian life--his nourishing good sense. On the one hand, he fully confesses the sad fact that what we are affects, we may even say infects, what we do, so that things undertaken with the best of intentions never turn out as we hoped. This is why we, ourselves, need to be changed inwardly into the image of Christ. On the other hand, he insists that we must try, that we can only do our best, while all the while accepting grace to be changed in our inward nature.
This is simply an indispensable balance. Those of us who read some overly enthusiastic Protestant writings on this subject (I don't know whether Catholics have similar writings), especially those from a strongly Calvinist perspective, or who have heard teaching from such a perspective in church, have run into a far less helpful approach, which runs approximately like this: “Don't try to obey God yourself. Don't strive. You cannot do any good in your own strength. Therefore, the only thing that is worth anything is [what amounts to] a purely psycho-spiritual effort, a kind of mental push to give everything over to Christ, to leave it to the Lord, to let Christ work through you. Once you have really done that, everything will be different. And without that, all effort is worthless.”
As I say, this is simply impractical and unhelpful. My life does not come to a screeching halt while I wait on my knees to see if I can do this psycho-spiritual “thing” that is “giving it all to Jesus.” And what would it feel like if I had really done that thing, anyway? I have to get up every morning, care for my children, be a good wife to my husband, advise, direct, teach, cook, clean, adjudicate quarrels, and so on and so forth. We must live our lives as Christians, and the only thing we can do, in practical terms, is to try our best to live those lives in such a way as to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, we must have our times of prayer and meditation, and in those times we should earnestly implore Our Lord to live His life in us, to work His work in us. We must admit joyfully that all is of grace. Those of us who believe that spiritual food and strength comes from the Sacrament should receive it at least weekly, and those who are memorialists should receive it regularly as well, in obedience and remembrance of Him, for through obedience and meditation on the Passion comes strength. But there is nothing else. For those who, as Lewis says, have been changed into the image of Christ more visibly than most of us have, there may be some special feeling that accompanies a good act done “by Christ through me.” (Though I tend to doubt it.) For most of us, there is no such special feeling. Sometimes our duty is happy, natural, and easy to do; sometimes it is exhausting, painful, and difficult. But there is not in general for the Christian such a psychological state as “doing it in the power of Jesus” which is reliably distinguishable from “doing it on my own.” At least, there is not in my experience.
All of this Lewis admits, without in any way falling into the error of saying that therefore it's all of our own efforts. On the contrary, he invites us to share with him the wry realization that probably most of what we try to accomplish for the Lord will not turn out quite right, that who and what we are must be changed, while at the same time recognizing that that never-ceasing daily effort is itself part of the process of sanctification. “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
C.S. Lewis is one of the Christian thinkers most able to tell it to us straight, without sugar coating, while at the same time providing strength and encouragement. This short talk is no exception.