CS Lewis in Song

No relatively contemporary writer or thinker has had more influence on me than CS Lewis. I read Mere Christianity as a college seeker. I read the Chronicles of Narnia also in college in a weekend, intrigued by the way his imagery grew out of and expanded the panoply of Scriptural ideas with nuance and depth.

I have read many of his books since then, including his science fiction trilogy, the allegorical Great Divorce, his autobiographical book, Surprised by Joy, and many of his books and essays with more philosophical and theological import. I still have books of his on my nightstand I have been meaning to read.

One of Lewis’s repeated themes is the so-called “argument from desire”. The “argument”, which can be reduced to a logical syllogism, is not really a strong logical argument for God, but it has strong existential appeal.

The idea appeals to the human condition and the sense in all of us that we are destined for more than what this world offers. The existentialist side of the coin is that nothing satisfies. Period. Both sides of the coin candidly recognize the frustrated desires of people that ultimately go unsatisfied.

Art Lindsley, Senior Fellow at the CS Lewis Institute, says, “[D]eep human aspirations are either pointers to something real, or else they are full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.” The desire to worship and capacity for awe are universal human feelings of which CS Lewis observes in the Problem of Pain are either “a mere twist in the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function” or are an experience of some connection with the supernatural.

For a more complete treatment of the “argument from desire”, I suggest Lindsley’s article or The Argument from Desire from Boston College professor, Peter Kreeft. But all of this is, in truth, really an excuse to get to songs inspired by CS Lewis.

One of my favorite songs of all time is the CS Lewis Song by Brooke Frasier from New Zealand. The opening lines are an homage to Lewis’s argument from desire.

If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
Then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared

Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me

Am I lost or just less found? On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
Is this a soul that stirs in me, is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?
‘Cause my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become

Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me

For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me
Hope, He’s coming

Following is a video version of the song that takes a more Kafkaesque approach to the song.

I like the fact that it incorporates an extended ending that is rare, though I would, personally, use more hopeful imagery that the song inspires. Nevertheless, the imagery is true to the core fact: that this world ultimately leaves us empty. Whether we retreat into an existential depression or grab ahold of the hope that our desires are the signpost of a reality we have yet to encounter is the proverbial fork in the road.

I have read The Great Divorce as a foil to William Blake’s book, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which blurs the lines between heaven and hell. The Great Divorce contrasts heaven and hell in allegorical style juxtaposing the ghostly shadows of hell to the sharp, hyper-reality of heaven. When the earthly tourists of the journey between the two realms first emerge into the outskirts of heaven, they are so shadowy their feet do not even bend the blades of grass they encounter there.

I am not exactly sure where Lewis developed the idea that our lives are like shadows compared to the hyper-reality of heaven, but it could have been, perhaps, found in these words from Isaiah:

“Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.” Isaiah 30:26 ESV

Whatever Lewis’s inspiration was for the idea, it stands as one of the great concepts Lewis developed in the allegory of the Great Divorce, and it is the inspiration for another Brooke Frasier song, Shadowfeet:

Walking, stumbling on these shadowfeet toward home
A land that I’ve never seen
I am changing: Less and less asleep
Made of different stuff than when I began
And I have sensed it all along
Fast approaching is the day

When the world has fallen out from under me
I’ll be found in you, still standing
When the sky rolls up and mountains fall on their knees
When time and space are through
I’ll be found in you

There’s distraction buzzing in my head
Saying in the shadows it’s easier to stay
But I’ve heard rumours of true reality
Whispers of a well-lit way

When the world has fallen out from under me
I’ll be found in you, still standing
When the sky rolls up and mountains fall on their knees
When time and space are through
I’ll be found in you

You make all things new…

Another artist who wrote songs inspired by CS Lewis is Heath McNease, who wrote an album of songs named after books by CS Lewis, including The Great Divorce, A Grief Observed, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, Perlandra, Till We have Faces, Surprised by Joy, and the great books of essays, Weight of Glory. It turns out that McNease isn’t the only artist to write an entire album inspired by Lewis.

The Oh Hellos produced an album inspired by the CS Lewis Book, The Screwtape Letters, Dear Wormwood. The book is a psycho-spiritual exploration of the temptations facing Christians portrayed in an imaginary series of letters from a senior devil to a junior devil. Many fans feel it is The Oh Hellos best album. Following is the title track recorded at the Audiotree studio in Chicago.

As I have begun to explore other sings inspired by CS Lewis, I have discovered that there seems to be no end! I have only scratched the surface here. When I set out to write this piece, I was particularly inspired by the CS Lewis Song. I had no idea the rabbit hole I was starting to go down! Maybe I will return to this when I have more time to document more CS Lewis in Song.

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