I wrote the following article for the Dover Diary. Because of space, the article was edited. I thought you would like to read it in its entirety.
Emmaus Baptist Church was awarded the Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant for 2015. As part of the grant proposal, I traveled to England, accompanied by my dear friend, Mary Wright, to sightsee and trace the steps of C. S. Lewis. Our journey began in London.
When you enter Westminster Abbey you are given an electronic device which takes you on an audio guided tour of the Abbey. It is hard to imagine the large number of individuals who are buried and/or commemorated in this illustrious church. As you walk through the Abbey listening to the voice of actor Jeremy Irons, you encounter the names of Kings and Queens, famous musicians, ministers, politicians, poets and scientists inscribed on stones. The tour ends at the Poet’s Corner where one finds the names of such legends as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lewis Carol, George Herbert, Henry Longfellow, William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley and Oscar Wilde to name only a very few. During our first visit to the Abbey we missed C. S. Lewis’ name, so before leaving England we went back and gazed at it with our own eyes.
Our next stop was Oxford, England, the city known for her spires, and home of Oxford University which is comprised of 38 colleges. As we traced the life of Lewis, our journey led us to University College where he was a student. Exams were taking place at the time of our visit so we were only allowed to see the quadrangle and the room where the poet Shelley is buried. While a student at University College, he won the Chancellor’s Essay Prize. Lewis saw himself as a poet. He wrote and published poems but he was never “recognized” for his poetry.
In 1925 C. S. Lewis was hired as a tutorial fellow in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. We visited Magdalen College where we took a stroll on Addison Walk, attended Evensong in the Chapel, and took pictures of staircase number 3 in the New Building where Lewis held his tutorials. We were not allowed to see Lewis’ room because it was in use. It was said Lewis invited Hugh Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien to dinner one fall evening in 1931. After the meal the three men took a stroll on Addison’s Walk around the River Cherwell. It was during their conversation, as the men were discussing the nature of myth and metaphor, that Tolkien’s words opened Lewis up to the possibility of faith in Jesus Christ. In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his conversion experience as he knelt down in his room and admitted that God was God. He said of himself that he was the most reluctant convert in all of Christendom.
After his conversion, Lewis starting attending Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford. We visited the church where Lewis and his brother, Warnie are buried together. We were met by Mike Stranks, the Verger, who spent over an hour sharing stories about Lewis. We sat in the pew where Lewis and Warnie sat; we gazed at the Narnia Window and visited their grave. From there, we walked to the Kilns where Lewis lived from 1930 until his death in 1963. The home was owned by Mrs. Moore who is also buried a Holy Trinity Church. She died of Alzheimer’s in 1951.
While in Oxford, Mary and I enjoyed a cup of tea at the Eagle and Child. This is the pub where Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and other writers known as the Inklings would share their writing with one another.
Lewis died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy. Because of this tragic event, his obituary went largely unnoticed. Mike shared with us that probably 30 people attended his funeral service. However, J.R.R. Tolkien was among those present.
Lewis was never given a professorship at Oxford. Some believe it was because of his books on Christianity. Oxford’s loss was Cambridge’s gain. In 1954 C.S. Lewis was offered a professorship at Magdalene College, Cambridge in Medieval and Renaissance English. He accepted.
We journeyed to Cambridge where we happened on a student exhibit in Pepys’s Library at Magdalene College. There we viewed a hand written letter from Lewis to the Chancellor of the University accepting the position. We walked through Magdalene College named for Mary Magdalene of New Testament fame. Above the altar in the Magdalene Chapel her life is depicted in stained glass.
In 1956, while he was at Magdalene College, C.S. Lewis married Joy Davidman, an American divorcee. She died from cancer on July13, 1960. Their love story was portrayed in the movie Shadowlands and in Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed.
When Mary and I returned to London, we headed straight for Westminster Abbey. The Verger at Holy Trinity Church had told us that on November 23, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, friends from Holy Trinity church, his stepson, Douglas Gresham, and others placed a stone in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner commemorating the life C.S. Lewis. The stone has these words of Lewis written on it: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.” C.S Lewis may never be remembered for his poetry but he has taken his rightful place among the greats at Westminster Abbey in the Poet’s Corner. God is good.
I will be forever grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for the opportunity the Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant has afforded me. It was a journey of a lifetime.
i count it all joy,