C. S. Lewis: Yearning for Elusive Bliss

C. S. Lewis seems to have spent his life yearning for a sense of other-worldly joy and bliss. He attained this, momentarily, at first in his intense interest in Norse sagas, Wagnerian legends and music, George MacDonald’s fantasy stories and in flashes of landscape. He admitted in his autobiography Surprised by Joy that for a long time he made the mistake of striving too strenuously and consciously for this transcendental joy. It was not to be attained this way. It was elusive. It came, not as an end-product of reading, acting, striving or imagining, but as a side-product of these things, something that just happened. Nor should you expect it to last. Trying to make it last didn’t work. It could not be captured. Many mystics had discovered this.

Joy and Longing as Gateways to God

C. S. Lewis, famous of course for his Narnia stories, was well known in his own time as a major defender of Christianity, someone who made the core beliefs of Christianity accessible to ordinary readers. Alister McGrath, Lewis’s biographer, makes the point that Lewis. in his celebrated book Surprised By Joy (1955), picked up on a Wordsworh poem of 1812, when he was grieving over the death of his three year old daughter. After some time Wordsworth came to see a “visionary gleam of joy” and hope. Seizing on this, Lewis “offers his reflections onĀ  the source of a deeper vision of Joy, rooted at one level in the yearnings of the human heart, and at another in the nature of God. It is God who shoots such ‘arrows of Joy’ as a means of heightening his sense of longing, stimulating his reflection, initiating his questing, and ultimately achieving his transformation… Memory, joy, and longing then become gateways to God” (McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis, 2014, pp.8-9).