Clive Staples Lewis (Nov 29, 1898-Nov 22, 1963), Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894-Nov 22, 1963), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917-Nov 22, 1963)
C.S. Lewis and his brother, Warnie, lived in a home called the Kilns near Oxford in England. Late afternoon on Nov 22nd, 1963, Warnie heard a crash emanating from his brother’s bedroom where C.S. Lewis had fallen and died of a heart attack. The greatest apologist of the 20th century to whom so many of us are indebted even now, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, and a professor at both Cambridge and Oxford, was dead.
The next luminary to die on this date was the American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was assassinated with several gunshot wounds outside the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, TX. A man who was decried and even despised in his lifetime became a mythical leader of the American Camelot when the social and cultural histories of the time were written. Kennedy was known for many things, from the Bay of Pigs to his infidelities, but he is particularly known for his identification with blockaded Berliners during the Cold War in the 1960s when he declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. The powerful one identifying with the captive harks back to the Old Testament prophets and the incarnational message of Christ. Both those comparisons are absurd but it gives one an idea of image and metaphor.
Aldous Huxley is less well-known. He came from several generations of English intellectuals who were often identified not only with their secular humanism but their radical and negative critique of the Christian faith. Huxley wrote the utopian manifesto Brave New World, and insisted that the repudiation of God was motivated by the embrace of personal freedom. His views on this matter were captured by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell (who incidentally made this quote far more widely read than it ever was by reading Huxley in the original). Paraphrasing Huxley, McDowell said “I had my own personal reasons and motivations for not believing in God. They were simply the personal, political, social and sexual freedoms for myself and my friends”. November 22, 1963, found Huxley in the last stages of dying of cancer. He asked his wife for a dose of LSD, presumably seeking a synthetic metaphysic since he denied a real one.
God has a sense of timing and of humour (you’ll have to find the timing examples yourself but for humour look to the Quaker Elton Trueblood’s book: The Humor of Christ) for deadly coincidences…and I sadly collect these. Karl Barth and Thomas Merton died the same day, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana in close proximity to one another and on a more banal level, the vet James Herriot and Robert Bolt, the writer of the screenplay for A Man for All Seasons, also passed on the same day. The most recent absurdity was the British TV personality David Frost and Seamus Heaney died August 30th. Tomorrow, the 22nd of November, is a significant and symbolic day. Kennedy represented a nominal Christian faith (the only evidence seems to be that he would stop to light a candle for his dead brother when his motorcade passed a church), yet a wildly optimistic post-war dream of prosperity and peace…a lot about the potential of humanity and very little about the power of God. There have been many forms of Christian humanism as in Erasmus but far too many that were similar to Huxley’s narcissistic form of sad, secular humanism. Lewis forms an utter contrast to the previous two declaring in the richness of his faith having born the horrors of the trenches of First World War Europe and the secularism of the Academy; he was someone who found a transforming faith that changed him and influenced millions.
There are so many quotes and examples from C.S. Lewis that I could mention, none of which sum up his influence nor significance. When you compare his influence to that of Kennedy or Huxley, words fail to give meaning. Here’s a simple quote from The Silver Chair where Jill has seen Aslan the Lion and Christ figure for the first time. I’ll let Lewis pick up the story.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said that Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
Indeed, down through history in the life and death of the ordinary and the famous, in Christ the living water is found the only stream.