The Extraordinary Generosity and Hospitality of CS Lewis

CS Lewis believed there are no ordinary people, and he lived as if it were so.

The statue outside the library in the Irish town where CS Lewis was born
depicts him, as the Narnia narrator Digory Kirke, stepping into a wardrobe.

Ever since I read Mere Christianity in college as a new believer I have been a lifelong admirer of CS Lewis. He may be better known for his children series of books, The Chronicles of Narnia. He wrote other fiction, including a trilogy of science fiction novels, but Lewis more than just a write of fiction.

Lewis was a first-rate Christian thinker with an ability to tease nuanced meaning out of complex ideas with rare clarity in his writing. Having been an atheist almost into his 30’s. Lewis came to Christianity with a wealth of knowledge in the classic languages and literature.

His autobiographical book, Surprised by Joy, is a literary cornucopia of allegorical references to the classics. Ancient Greek, Roman, Celtic and Germanic writings were the universe in which his mind operated and found meaning.

When he became a Christian, and he looked back on that wealth of knowledge with new insight, and, indeed, the language of classic literature became the background and (in some ways) the springboard for his belief in “the true myth”, as he came to call it: the life, death and resurrection of God who became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

While Lewis is known for being a Christian apologist in addition to being a writer of children’s fiction, he was first and foremost a scholar of classic literature. He was a lifelong professor of English Literature with tenures at Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). His books include a highly regarded and well-used critique of Paradise Lost and a textbook on Sixteenth Century English literature.  

To say that Lewis was a prodigious writer and thinker is to understate the fact. He wrote over 30 books of varying types in addition to his “fulltime job” as a distinguished university professor and sought-after speaker.

Given the legacy of thought and writing that Lewis generated, one might suppose that Lewis had no time for the more mundane matters of life. One might suppose that his ego was as prodigious as his works. One might be wrong about such suppositions.

Lewis was one of a kind. Born in 1898, Lewis didn’t marry until 1956. One might suppose that bachelorhood allowed him the luxury of time, but Lewis made a different kind of lifetime commitment that infringed greatly on his time. Lewis took in a woman he didn’t know and cared and provided for her until she died.

The backstory is that Lewis and Paddy Moore met as soldiers in the trenches during the Great War (WWI). They made a pact with each other that the survivor of them would take care of the family of the other if one of them did not survive he war. Lewis, himself, was injured and ended his involvement in the war in the hospital, but Paddy Moore went missing and was never found.

True to his word, CS Lewis, who had interrupted his college years to volunteer for the war, took Paddy’s mother and sister in to live with him on a very modest student’s budget. Lewis cared and provided for Mrs. Moore the rest of her life – a total of 30 years – often doing the household chores himself. After she developed dementia and was moved to a nursing home, Lewis visited her every day until she passed.

Perhaps because of that care and provision, Lewis lived a very modest life, but he always found time for hospitality. Lewis was, perhaps, as generous with his hospitality as he was productive in his writing and professorial vocation.

When the Germans invaded Poland, Lewis opened up his home to several groups of children forced to evacuate the big cities. Lewis also regularly hosted the Inklings on Thursday evenings in his classroom for nearly two decades. (They met alternately at the Eagle and Child Pub, affectionately known as The Bird and Baby) on Tuesdays at midday).


The Inklings was more or less an ad hoc group of writers and thinkers who met to discuss their literary works in progress and whatever other subjects suited their fancy, often late into the night. J.R.R. Tolkien was a faithful member of this group from the beginning, reading the Lord of the Rings to his fellow Inklings, who critiqued it, before it was published. Including a small handful of regulars, the group included about 15 frequent visitors and another dozen infrequent visitors and guests over the years.

As noted above, Lewis married later in life. The marriage, itself, was an exercise in hospitality.  Lewis opened his home to Joy Gresham Davidman, a writer from New York city, and her two sons David and Douglas. They eventually married in a civil ceremony so she could gain British citizenship, but what began as a gesture of generous hospitality, turned into true romantic affection.

They were married a short while, by a priest this time. Joy had developed cancer, and their wedding vows were exchanged in a hospital. They had four more years together when Joy went into remission, but cancer eventually claimed her. Their unlikely story is the subject of the movie, Shadowlands, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger and directed by Sir Richard Attenborough. Lewis also wrote about her death in A Grief Observed.  


But all of this is prelude to the real purpose for which I write today. My inspiration comes from Douglas Gresham, one of Joy’s sons, who was very young when he went to live with his mother in the home of CS Lewis.

Continue reading “The Extraordinary Generosity and Hospitality of CS Lewis”

Generosity

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I spent a couple of hours today handing out candy for donations for the local Lion’s Club. It was a glorious fall day. I got a little exercise; and I raised some money for a good cause. The Lion’s Club provides hearing aids and glasses for those who cannot afford them and gives to local causes.

I am a multi-tasker, so every time I walked the line of cars before the light turned green, I picked up bits of litter on the way back. It did not take long to clear my little section of the world of litter, so I began to observe and think about the people who gave and the people who did not. Continue reading “Generosity”

The Maintenance Man and a Mandolin

Senior man playing mandolinOn my way into the office this morning I heard a story on the radio. A man with a strong southern drawl called in. (It is a nationally syndicated show – no southern drawl here in northern Illinois).

He said he did maintenance work, and a lady he knew asked him to do some work on her home. He did the work, and when he finished, he told her the cost was $60 even. She asked if she could pay him by the end of the week, and he agreed.

She called him a few days later and apologized. She said she just did not have the money to pay him and asked if he would take her husband’s mandolin instead of cash. She was obviously sincere so he took it.

He did not know how to play the mandolin so he took it to someone he knew and offered to sell it. The other gentleman got very excited and said he would definitely like to buy it. The maintenance man said, “Just give me a fair offer”; and the other man said, “I’ll buy for it $2000!”

The maintenance man decided to go back to visit the woman who gave the mandolin it to him to tell her that he sold it. He hoped she would not be upset because it had been her husband’s.

When he arrived at her house, he told her that he sold it. She only asked, “Were you able to get your $60 for it?” With that, the man handed her an envelope. When she opened, her eyes welled up with tears, and she began to sob.

When she composed herself, she explained that her husband had passed away, and the reason she did not have the money to pay him for the work he did was because she still owed money on her husband’s funeral which she had been paying a little bit at a time.

She asked him to wait right there at her front door while she went inside. She returned with the latest invoice from the funeral home. It was $1940. Exactly what was in the envelope!