Belfast Telegraph

Why CS Lewis remains such an inspiration to me

Alf McCreary

Despite the very good work carried out this week by those who inaugurated the first CS Lewis Festival in Belfast, I doubt if one of Ulster's most distinguished sons is still all that well known here.

In recent years his reputation has been growing locally, due to a number of books on Lewis by Ulster writers, and also tours on the Lewis Trail.

However, his name would not trip off an Ulster tongue as easily as that, say, of George Best, Alex Higgins, Harry Ferguson, and others who are famous for very different reasons.

Nevertheless, on the 50th anniversary weekend of his death, it is important to stress that he was one of the most important writers to come from this island.

In fact, Lewis was so important that yesterday a memorial plaque in his honour was unveiled at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey among some of the most distinguished figures in British literary history.

When I attended a service in the Abbey this summer, I was still in awe of the names among which I walked to and from the altar.

Lewis is perhaps least known for his poetry but there is no doubt that he was among the giants of literature, and particularly for his writings on Christianity.

Naturally, many Ulster institutions associated with Lewis are keen to commemorate him in their own way. St Anne's Cathedral, where his uncle, Sir William Ewart, and several of the family once worshipped, has opened a special book in which people can record their thoughts about Lewis until next Friday which, incidentally, is the date of his birth.

This invitation has prompted me to examine my own thoughts, and why CS Lewis has always been such an important inspiration to me.

What I like about Lewis was his humanity. He was partly an intellectual snob, and a crusty old academic curmudgeon before he met the feisty American who became his wife.

Lewis was also an atheist earlier on, and a soldier survivor of the First World War, which he rarely talked about.

He also smoked too much, liked his beer and also lived for years with an older woman, though no-one is ever sure if they consummated their relationship.

In other words, Lewis was a rounded character and not one of those frightful religious bores who have never lived enough to have really sinned and who try to lecture you and me from on high.

In a sense, Lewis had earned the right to talk to us about Christianity, not just because he was intellectually brilliant but also because he related his faith to real, everyday lives.

I began reading Lewis a long time ago.

This was not because I needed a rational framework for my faith in God, which is deeply intuitive and goes beyond words.

However, if you are living in a world of strident atheists like Richard Dawkins and also people who thrust their non-belief in your face, it is useful to have such a clear and heavyweight thinker as Lewis to weigh in on the side of Christianity, though I have no doubt that God is perfectly capable of speaking for himself.

What I like most about Lewis is his ability to express divine and sublime truths in simple language which anyone can understand. I like particularly his advice "Don't use words too big for the subject.. otherwise you'll have no words left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

How I wish that today's writers and clergy would listen to such advice.

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Larkin’s wrong... but courageous

The Attorney-General John Larkin, like so many church people, has had his say on dealing with victims of the Troubles.

Larkin is thoughtful, outspoken and controversial, and I don't agree with his somewhat insensitive suggestion about drawing a line under the past, particularly with victims. However, I respect his courage – unlike so many politicians – in using his position to make us think about the unthinkable.

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Lord Carey, a former Primate, has suggested that the Church of England is one generation from extinction. Is anyone surprised that these religious slow coaches are losing such support? Maybe the women bishops will give the church a new impetus.

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