Surprised by Joy – The Book Club

While I enjoy reading fiction, I tend to gravitate towards the enjoyment of non-fiction even more. And within the sphere of non-fiction, the genre of memoir arrests my attention most. More specifically, the genre of spiritual memoir is my favorite reading of all. Discovering the different journeys by which different people have met the same Person is what I love best about spiritual memoirs. As Jesus said:

“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

The way people find this narrow road is intriguing to me. For some, the journey towards belief in God and surrender to Christ was a momentous experience that can be traced to a certain date on a calendar. For others, conversion was a more gradual assent. For C.S. Lewis, his spiritual journey was of the latter kind, and certainly more cerebral than emotional, more intellectual than experiential. Yet, even then, the reoccurrence of certain experiences proved to play a part.

In the final pages of his memoir “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis remarks that when he finally admitted, “that God was God,” he was perhaps “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (228). But his point was not to account for his own condition at that moment; rather, he wished to convey the greatness of God’s immeasurable love.

The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? (229)

This self-admitted “reluctant convert” traces his eventual acquiescence to Christianity back to his earliest encounters with what he could, at the time, only call “joy.” Lewis is quick to distinguish this joy from mere happiness or pleasure. “Joy,” he explains, “has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with [happiness and pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again” (18). This intangible and indescribable feeling of “joy” never fully leaves him as he continues to grow into adulthood.

But after losing his mom to cancer and then suffering at the hands of abusive schoolmasters, Lewis compartmentalizes his encounters with joy. He even associates such joy with the private jaunts of his imagination while he wholly pursues atheistic intellectualism. During this time, Lewis does his best to comprehend his experience of joy with his mental prowess alone, but he succeeds only in creating a duality of existence between his inner life and outer life. In time, of course, Lewis accepts the Truth, and his once-nebulous description of joy takes on a fuller clarity and deeper meaning.

From this book several threads, or themes, emerged that I would like to explore further. (Perhaps over the next few days I will.) But for now, for the sake of some semblance of brevity, I cannot help but make mention of the enormous influence of books in Lewis’ life. It is impossible to finish a single chapter without also learning of another litany of literary works that greatly impacted his thinking. Even at a young age, the vast presence of books at his disposal made an indelible mark.

My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. (10)

Books, books, and more books. Is it not surprising that C.S. Lewis grew up to be considered one of the greatest Christian thinkers and writers of his time?

As a lover of literature, I find it fascinating that, even before his conversion, Lewis notices that his favorite authors and poets – the ones he most highly esteems as intelligent and cogent – were also Christians. In fact, this becomes one of the compelling reasons he chooses to further consider the likelihood of theism. Lewis says, “I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life [atheism] and my actual experiences as a reader” (213).

Among the many authors listed, notables such as Chesterton and Milton are credited for the impressions they made on Lewis’ life. In turn, no doubt, many people today might just as easily credit the writings of C.S. Lewis as having a primary influence in their own spiritual journey.

Which literary works and authors have most influenced you?
What was your impression of “Surprised by Joy”?

By leaving a comment, we can link back to your blog to read more of your thoughts.
For February 1, 2011, we will discuss “A Grief Observed.”

6 thoughts on “Surprised by Joy – The Book Club

  1. M.Y.: Looking forward to it.

    Beth: That's awesome. Let's break into some of his writings together!

    Kathy: Thank you. And, yes, I too love many of the authors you've mentioned here. Some of them I've not read, but I look forward to expanding my reading library. Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Goofy Google, I think I lost my first comment…*sigh*

    Thank you for following my blog. I loved this article. I (know I am rare) have never read CS Lewis. I love Bob Sorge, Francine Rivers, Stormie OMartian, Beth Moore, Francis Frnagipane, John MacArthur, and so many more!

    I believe I can learn alot from you, you are a gifted writer!
    Happy New Year!

  3. My 1984 edition of Surprised By Joy lies before me, even as I type this. I will want to refamiliarize myself with its particulars before I join in the book club dialogue. However, already I am excited about the prospect of a conversation among Christian writers and thinkers about his work.

    Thank you for thinking of such an enjoyable way to connect with other believers. …Marsha Y.

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