The writings of C.S. Lewis offer wisdom for nurturing children on their journey of spiritual formation. At different stages of mental and spiritual development, our family read Lewis almost as a rite of passage. His words helped to prepare their minds for each new level of Christian thought and understanding.
Perhaps C.S. Lewis remains eternally relevant because he embraces ancient and timeless philosophy. Even during his lifetime, he preferred ancient tales and thought processes making him at risk of seeming out of date and irrelevant. Oddly enough, it is this distaste of faddishness that makes him eternally relevant, because at the very foundation of his writings are classic principles.
Perhaps he remains popular because of his incredible ability to communicate to just about anyone, at any level of book learning. Even though he was highly intellectual, his appeal isn’t confined to professors and scholars (although he has written several scholarly pieces that would delight anyone who loves to study literature). He was a gifted communicator who could connect with the most respected educators, the coarsest soldiers, and the simplest of children. This is why our family chose to make his writings a part of our spiritual formation.
As soon as the children were old enough to be read to aloud, we began with the Narnia series. It was in these books that some very important spiritual connections were confirmed beyond fact and ingrained into emotion. As a child reading the Chronicles of Narnia, I remember feeling guilty because it was easier to love Aslan that is was to love Jesus. But when I read this quote by the author I understood why fairytales are so important to the development of imagination and subsequently the revelation of deeper spirituality.
“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”― C.S. Lewis
Coming at the person of Jesus from the unexpected angle of a fairytale character allows the imagination the room to rule out preconceived religious ideas. For instance, one might err on over-emphasizing either the fear of the Lord or the personal friendship with our Savior. The Chronicles suggest the complexity of the character of God over and over again. Lewis refers to Aslan as good but not safe, as a lion that protects but cannot be tamed. Yet Aslan is also pictured as a giant kitten who loves to romp in a field of wildflowers with his friends. With all of our preconceived religious notions, it is hard to envision these seemingly opposing qualities from a human perspective. Story allows us to toss away the expected and opens our hearts in a way that a history book can not. In my estimation, this is the biggest virtue to the reading of the Chronicles of Narnia. Life lessons, basic doctrine, and emotional connection to Christ are all learned without the guard we often raise when we are knowingly being instructed.
As the children went into high school, we read Screwtape Letters together. It is important to wait until your children can understand sarcasm and wit before tackling this book. However, at an appropriate age, it is useful to remind oneself of the spiritual battle that we are engaged in, and how evil the enemy can be. After all, we are in a battle. One of the chief ways to lose the war is not to recognize that you are in one. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Romans 6:12). Again, the power of imagination while reading this short book allows your mind to transcend preconceived notions about spiritual warfare and sin. It also allows the opportunity to look at temptation from a third-person point of view.
Lastly, I would strongly suggest that a parent read through Mere Christianity with their children before they embark into the reality of adult life. The line upon line reasoning found in this Christian masterpiece can do nothing but help your child as they enter a world that questions the logic and reasoning of Christianity. God hasn’t asked for us to throw away our ability to reason and blindly accept all in faith. In Lewis’ own words, “All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning.” He did not feel that Christianity was not up to the challenge of logic and reasoning. We not need be afraid that God can not defend Himself. In fact, while it may seem illogical to believe that God would feel that He needs to prove Himself to anyone, because of His great longing for reconciliation with His creation He subjects Himself to this process, and wins.
It is my hope that this article has inspired you to use the writings of C.S. Lewis as a tool for spiritual formation for your family. By the use of imagination and reasoning, Lewis explains both man and God to the reader. He crafts his writing so successfully that his ideas bear witness to the reader ensuring that they come away with a better knowledge of the subject at hand.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra