Two weeks with C. S. Lewis: An invitation to the 50th Anniversary Commemoration (+photos)

By James Conlee

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 6:00 a.m. MST

Tickets were hard to come by, and many international press organizations covered the event. After the service, all in attendance were allowed time to view the memorial. It is a fitting tribute to an author who has not only contributed much to English literature but also to Christianity.

Over the next few days, I was able to attend more Lewis-centric gatherings. Here are a few highlights.

An evensong choral service at Magdalen College Chapel in Oxford. Magdalen is where Lewis taught, and the chapel is where he would worship during the week. The grounds are extensive, and it was in his rooms and on walks through the grounds that J.R R. Tolkien and other friends of Lewis helped him to become converted to Christianity. He described it thus in his autobiography:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” ("Surprised By Joy" 1955)

Perhaps he described his own conversion as fearful because he knew what it meant. He never did anything half way, and if Lewis were to give himself to Christ, he would spend the rest of his life fully in his service and on his errand.

A Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Church in Headington near Oxford. This is the beautiful country church where Lewis worshipped on Sundays for more than 30 years and where he is buried.

A Thursday-evening lecture given by Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham. It was held at Exeter College, Oxford, and evolved into a Q-and-A storytelling session that yielded amazing insights from someone who spent much of his childhood with Lewis.

A Sunday evening dinner at the Lewis house, The Kilns. This is where Lewis lived for most of his life in Oxford and where he wrote the majority of his books. The house is now owned and preserved by the C.S. Lewis Foundation and is in constant use for its visiting scholars program.

A visit “The Eagle and Child” lovingly referred to by Lewis and Tolkien as “The Bird and Baby." In this pub, Lewis, Tolkien, and a revolving mix of other Oxford professors and writers know as “The Inklings" would meet once or twice a week to preview each others writings and to socialize. It was at these now legendary meetings that the first iterations of “The Hobbit,” “The Chronicles of Narnia" and “The Lord of the Rings” would be read aloud by the authors themselves and then discussed by the group.

It is amazing to think that two of the titans of fantasy literature would read together, encourage and sometimes critique their respective masterpieces over the course of several years. Their social impact can be evidenced by the fact that their books are constant best-sellers, and the movies they spawned have yielded billions in ticket sales.

Perhaps the most moving experience I had while in Oxford was simply walking my favorite path that Lewis often walked. It is on the grounds of Magdalen College, and it is called Addison’s Walk. It's a beautifully quiet trail surrounded by the River Thames and green parks. It is here that you can almost feel Lewis’ thoughts. It is while walking in solitude that you can take a favorite quote from Lewis, let it sink deep into your soul, and then find your own faith enlarging it until it becomes entirely and uniquely yours. For it is in his many writings defining his own faith that you sometimes find your own defined more clearly.

I had one such moment while walking and thinking on this quote: “Now is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It won't last forever. We must take it or leave it.” ("Mere Christianity" 1952)

I realized that I have had many "nows" and many "chances" and that each time I find myself at another "now," it is another merciful "chance" given to me to re-center myself.

Of course these moments of clarity can happen anywhere. You don’t have to travel to Oxford and walk in the footsteps of Lewis to find an affinity for your own beliefs in his. All you need are a few of his well-chosen words, mixed with your own thoughts, and a moment of solitude. You might find that while speaking of his own faith, many times, Lewis was speaking for us all.

James Conlee runs CSLewisDaily and many other Twitter accounts that have over a million combined followers.

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