Sunday Night Journal — March 28, 2004
I have been listening to a recording of C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra while driving home from work most weekday evenings. This is intended to be a piece of Lenten seriousness. If listening to this reading is not penitential it is certainly a source of spiritual renewal, and it does require that I give up my usual habit of listening to music. His work has been an enormous influence on me and it remains fresh. When I was returning to faith in my late twenties after a long period of wandering, Lewis was of great help in inducing me to go ahead and step over the line between vague religiosity and real belief. In particular The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and the space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) were part of and remain associated with a sort of mental springtime of awakening and expectation.
There is, accordingly, a bit of nostalgia in my continuing enjoyment of these books. My wife and I were entering the Episcopal Church, and the very English Christianity of Lewis and Tolkien seemed (and still seems) our spiritual home. I never take up any of the space trilogy without remembering several long drives in which I read them aloud, sometimes with a flashlight, while she drove (roles dictated by her inability to read in a car without getting sick). It was not many years before we left the Episcopal Church, convinced simultaneously of the authority of the Catholic Church, and of the incipient apostasy of the Episcopal. But as it does for many, Lewis’s work transcends that division.
One of Lewis’s great strengths, one of the first I noticed in his work, and one which occupies a central place in Perelandra, is his ability to communicate the psychology of temptation. If I remember correctly I was not yet entirely convinced of Christian claims when I read The Screwtape Letters, but I remember thinking that whether or not he was right in his doctrine he certainly knew human nature. The great event in Perelandra is the tempting of the queen, but it is the tempting of Ransom, whose task is literally to fight the devil, which is most vividly drawn. The queen, after all, is sinless and her consciousness difficult for us to imagine, while Ransom is one of us.
I am enjoying this book, but its precise explication of Ransom’s intense desire to seem to do God’s will as he struggles with equal intensity to justify evading it is painful, because I know myself to be guilty of the same dishonesty and stand condemned before this judgment. So there is some penance here after all.