Recently, I developed a video series on a Christian view of death and dying. I did this because there is so much to remind us in the news these days of our mortality – all the statistics about the various ways people are dying around us and how many of them there are. While preparing, I went back through some of Lewis’s letters to a correspondant named “Mary,” published in Letters to an American Lady, edited by Clyde Kilby. As we read these letters, we realize that we are listening to two people who are older, having physical problems – some quite serious – and facing the reality of their deaths. Thus we find a lot of comments by Lewis on living with our mortality, as we wait for the day that we will die. I find his wisdom helpful.
In his letter of June 7th, 1959, Lewis says that there are only three things we can do about death: “to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it.” Ever the critic of modern pop-psychology, he notes that the modern world thinks that ignoring death is the healthiest thing to do. Lewis says that this option “is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.”
It is easy enough to understand how we may fear or ignore death, but why desire it, other than as a relief for suffering in particular cases? Lewis refers to St. Paul and his statements about how he looked forward to leaving this life. I suspect he had chapter 1 of Philippians in mind. Lewis says, “If we really believe what we say we believe – if we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find home”, why should we not look forward to the arrival.”
In several places elsewhere, Lewis speaks of how we are to think and live in the meantime. His principle is simply living in the present. He writes some of the same things he had written elsewhere, as, for example, in Screwtape, letter 15. In his letter of Oct 20th, 1957, Lewis refers to our Lord’s teaching about living in the present at the end of St. Matthew, chapter 6: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” As a way of illustration he refers to how “one lived in the Front Line.” This is a very interesting reference, because Lewis did not speak of his war experience that much. He says here that a common attitude in the trenches was, “‘They’re not shelling us at the moment, and it’s not raining, and the rations have come up, so let’s enjoy ourselves”.
I myself have recognized anew in recent days the value of living in the present. It is indeed here alone we can experience the love, joy, and peace of God. We are nowhere else in time to do so, and we find, in the present, that his grace is sufficient. Thus, when it is our duty to leave this mortal body and follow our Lord on to the next step of discipleship he has for us, we will find that – when it is “today” on that day – his present grace will remain the same.
Moment by moment I’m kept in His love,
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.
Daniel Webster Whittle (1840-1901)
Reference: C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady. Edited by Clyde S. Kilby. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Rev. Beckmann are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
The Rev. David Beckmann has for many years been involved in both the Church and education. He helped to start a Christian school in South Carolina, tutored homeschoolers, and has been adjunct faculty for both Covenant College and the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He founded the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga in 2005. He has spoken extensively on C.S Lewis, and was the Director of the C.S Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns from 2014-2015. He is currently a Regional Representative for the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Chattanooga.
[Image from: www.drnicklazaris.com/4-steps-to-living-in-the-present/ – from a Google search