Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1961

It's about: This short book is comprised of Lewis's personal journal that he kept while mourning the loss of his wife, Joy Gresham, whom he married later in his life and who died of cancer. As it was not originally intended to become a published work, Lewis is heartbreakingly honest about his pain, his loss, and his struggle to negotiate his feeling of abandonment with his faith in a just God.

I thought: This work is a masterpiece of Christian writing. Lewis's brutal honesty is refreshing, not to mention touching. His level of self-conscious introspection makes this for a read with depth -- Lewis reaches inside of himself and turns his insides out to figure out who he is, what he believes, and what he is going to do.

As I read it, I found myself traveling through his stages of grief myself, though I have not recently lost a loved one. He takes us with him through a near-loss of faith, a sense of abandonment, an anger at God, a fear of never seeing his wife again, and eventually, to a discovery of the means by which he can grieve but move on, forget but always remember. Though there are moments when I do not agree with certain of his beliefs, his process of finding his way back to a faith in God is so simple and yet so thoughtfully developed, that any who do not take his journey in this book seriously must be willfully misunderstanding him.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf. Return to it frequently.

Reading Recommendations: This is a very, very quick read -- an hour, tops. However, when you read it, keep out a pen and a highlighter, because these few pages are chock full of bits of wisdom you will want to underline, and highlight, and star.

Warnings: There's nothing to be afraid of, in terms of language or sexuality. However, as his stepson points out in the introduction, this book is title "A Grief Observed," emphasis on the "a." It does not claim to chronicle grief in general, but rather one man's experience with it. So, if you read it, approach it with that in mind.

Favorite excerpts: There are so many.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but I live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed -- might grow tired of his vile sport... But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't.