Why I Believe: C.S. Lewis and Me – Part Three

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Conclusion to the three-part story of my journey from atheism to faith

To read Part One, click here.

   “Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind, I turned to share the transport.”       ~William Wordsworth

Almost immediately after my diffident conversion, I went looking for something that could explain it, and stumbled upon (or rather, was led to) the writings of C. S. Lewis. It was like finding a bundle of letters from my “real father.” His thoughts were as alive to me as my own.

Indeed, they paralleled my own in every way, except that he’d thought and written about them in far greater depth. When I read of his brushes with Joy, his word for the untranslatable German “sehnsucht,” the transcendent longing of which all other longings are merely a shadow, my heart jumped from my chest. Here again was the thing I’d called “a hunger for a flavor that didn’t exist!”

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is Grand Tetonssuch a thing as water… If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (Mere Christianity) 

No mere philosophical construct, this phenomenon was the linchpin of Jack’s conversion, as it had been mine:

“In a sense, the central story of my life is about nothing else (but) that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy (and) doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.” (Surprised by Joy)

Like me, but many years before me, my spiritual father had surrendered to the flavor that did exist. And like me, he had brought a lot of luggage along as he moved down the path from atheist to deist to, finally, unfettered disciple. And yet he never turned back.

And neither have I.

“For those who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

~Hebrews 11:14-16

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Why I Believe: C.S. Lewis and Me – Part Two

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My journey from atheism to faith

To read Part One click here.

I began to think of my longing for God as a hunger for a flavor that didn’t exist. Which seemed odd. But there was one example of such a phenomenon—and only one—in my experience:

As long as I could remember, I’d had an inexplicable desire for…it was impossible to describe it, really…a sort of sweet…something…that seemed like it might be a fruit…if it existed…which, of course, it didn’t. I’d longed for this flavor and the smell I associated with it for as long as I could remember. And for as long as I had desired it, I’d been certain it was imaginary. Though how I could desire an imaginary fruit, I couldn’t imagine.

Then one day I walked into a little organic produce store in Costa Mesa, California and smelled my “imaginary fruit!” I walked over to a burlap-lined barrel, and pulled out a missing year of my childhood. Long-forgotten memories came flooding back of hours spent daydreaming in the branches of a peculiar little tree in my babysitter Frieda’s backyard—it’s astonishing how effectively memories and emotions can be unlocked by smells. dIt turns out to have been a feijoa (pineapple guava) tree. And what I now held in my hand was one of its distinctive green plum-like fruits. When I bit into it, “the flavor that didn’t exist” proved to be quite real, and brought back memories of a time that was equally real. Just as, decades earlier, C. S. Lewis had discovered:

“As I stood there beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me…” (Surprised by Joy)

If my only example of a longing for an imaginary flavor had proven to be false—or rather the falseness false and the longing real—then what did that say about my longing for God? I began to doubt my doubts. And here’s what I learned from the doubting:

No one can hunger for a flavor that doesn’t exist. Because hunger or desire is not a thing in itself, but only an impression left by the thing, and in that sense is actually less real—just as a footprint is less real than the foot that made it. Desire is a longing to refill the negative with the positive. All of which is simply a reiteration of what St. Augustine said sixteen hundred years ago—“Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions)—and what Blaise Pascal meant when he said, “There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace.” praying intently / the man communes with his God / desperate for his love(Pensees)

And so I walked into the dark one last time, and said, “OK. You don’t have to cough. Just take me with You when You go, because I don’t ever want to be without You again.”

And the Hound of Heaven began dragging me home.

“Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind, I turned to share the transport.”          ~William Wordsworth

To read Part Three click here.

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Why I Believe: C.S. Lewis and Me – Part One

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The truth that compelled me to journey from atheism to faith also had a profound impact on my spiritual mentor C. S. Lewis.  Here, in three parts, is my story–written five years ago when my blog was new.

Few have brought so much baggage along on their journey of faith as I had when I got down on my knees in the dark and declared my dependence upon God in the bicentennial year 1976.  I simply had no choice; the Hound of Heaven had tracked me down and cornered me in my little cinderblock study. I had no idea that nearly fifty years earlier a reticent Oxford don named C. S. Lewis, known to his friends as “Jack,” had made the same begrudging journey from atheism to deism to Christ:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had a last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” (Surprised by Joy)cs-lewis

Why did I surrender? Why did Jack? We did so because there was a hunger in us that nothing else could satisfy. A year or so before, I had begun to reluctantly admit my desire for God, but continued to struggle with the conviction that it was not enough to merely want Him. Believing in Him had to make sense—clean, empirical sense—and at this point it did not. I still considered the religious impulse a universal neurosis, as Freud had argued (though, in truth, the riggings of religion have never held any appeal for me; it’s God I want).

“Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door we have always seen from the outside, is not mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.” (The Weight of Glory)

My hunger for God didn’t become apparent until…well, I could gloss over the circumstances, but the truth is that it came while I was literally sleeping with my backslidden Christian girlfriend, Katherine.

I don’t recall if I was dreaming, but I suddenly sat up, and said, in a voice that belonged to the Hound, not me, “Come unto me.” I said it twice, and then just sat there, thinking, What the ——? I had a vague idea that it sounded “like something from the Bible.” I’d never actually read the Bible. Though I had slept through The Greatest Story Ever Told–in Cinemascope.

Kat sat up, blinking, and stared at me, then quietly and authoritatively said, “Whoa, God is after you.” And so it began. Or from God’s perspective, I suppose, continued.

looking+to+GodThat was when I became truly conscious of my desire for God. Kat left shortly thereafter. But the hunger for God didn’t. In fact, it grew. I spent more than a few nights standing in the dark, shouting, “Look, if You’re there, could you just cough or something?” I swore I’d follow Him forever if He’d just prove His presence.

No cough. Not even a slight clearing of the throat. And so I began to think of the longing for God as a hunger…

For a flavor that didn’t exist.

To read Part Two click here.

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And so It Begins…

In the Beginning

Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, is the root of the word “adventure.” It means to finally arrive after a long journey. It is about Christ’s arrival. And ours.

“One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith.” ~Michelle Blake

“For outlandish creatures like us…Bethlehem is not the end of our journey, but only the beginning – not home, but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.” ~Frederick Buechner

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Hilarious Hybrid Dog Name

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Hybrid dogs are all the rage. Plus hybrids save on gas (many dogs run on pure methane). Here are some of my favorite combinations (yes, these are actual breed names):

  • Bagle Beagle + Basset Hound (great with cream cheese)
  • Bowzer – Basset hound + Schnauzer (no Nintendo game controller required)
  • Brat – Boston Terrier + Rat terrier (better behaved than it sounds)
  • Schnoodle – Schnauzer + Poodle (great with a Brat and a beer)
  • Schweenie Dachshund + Shih Tsu (little guy with a big heart in those 80s movies)
  • Skypoo – Sky terrier + Poodle (“Heads-up, watch out for the–too late”)
  • Bossi-poo – Boston terrier + poodle (bossy pants + ?)
  • Hug – Husky + Pug (Aww, just aww!)

I dare you to say, “Bagle, Bowzer, Schnoodle, and Schweenie” without laughing out loud. It would also make a great name for a law firm: “Thank you for calling Bagle, Bowzer, Schnoodle, and Schweenie. How may I help you hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha-ha…”

They would go through a lot of receptionists.

Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel + Poodle) are misnamed, by the way. They should really be called Cockerdoodles. That way people could shout, “Careful, don’t step in the Cockerdoodle doo!” But chances are, just as you’re about to say it,

You’ll get hit by a Skypoo.

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From Crappy to Happy

Black FridayIt’s funny how Thanksgiving, America’s official day of gratitude, is followed by Black Friday, our unofficial day of grumbling. Of course, you can always avoid shopping and sit at home complaining about the “&%@#*ing commercialization of the holidays!” But that sort of defeats the point, doesn’t it? Did you know the Latin root of the word “gratitude” means a happy or pleasant state of mind? So how do we get there?

And how do we maintain that attitude year round?

How about a “Happitude” list? Sorry, I know, that’s more sappy than happy, but it’s actually a play on the word habitude, which means a habitual state of mind. And lists are a pretty good way of doing that. So try it.

Write down the first thing that pops into your mind. It might be something mundane, like, “I’m grateful for indoor plumbing.” And that might lead to something like, “And I’m so glad our pipes don’t leak like they did last year!” Which might lead to something more meaningful like, “Lots of people don’t have indoor plumbing, leaky or otherwise, or even a roof over their heads. I’m so grateful I do!” Little things lead to big things, and pretty soon the list is endless. You’ll have to stop at some point, but add to it tomorrow, and the next day… Result? Happitude. (It’s OK, you can call it habitude if you want.)

Visual prompts are great. When I started this post I decided to pull out “a few” pictures of things that make me happy. I couldn’t stop! Why? Details. It’s not just “my wife” that makes me happy, it’s the adorable little creases around her nose when she laughs, and the tenderness in her eyes when she held our baby daughter (picture below). Details trigger memories. And memories trigger happitude.

Start small. Every day has small things to be thankful for—even crappy days. Happitude mostly has to do with people. So focus on others as much as you can. Want a great illustration? See the Mr. Rogers movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Focusing on others was how Fred Rogers formed a lifelong habitude of kindness and gratitude.

And now it’s our turn.

It’s Photoblog Friday, so here’s a gallery of things that make me happy

(Click on any image to enlarge, or to begin slideshow)

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My Thanksgiving Prayer

My Thanksgiving prayer is for perfect peace,
for atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews,
for all to sit down at the glorious feast,
attained by the most incomparable news
of a King who called us sisters and brothers,
forgiving our foolish, desperate paths,
and paved the way for an us made from “others.”
Forever His perfect peace may it last.

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