Monday, November 22, 2010

For the Feast Day of CS Lewis

"One of the advantages of having a written and printed service, is that it enables you to see when people's feelings and thoughts have changed. When people begin to find the words of our service difficult to join in, that is of course a sign the we do not feel about those things exactly as our ancestors. Many people have, as their immediate reaction to that situation, the simple remedy-'Well, change the words'-which would be very sensible if you knew that we are right and our ancestors were wrong. It is always at least worth while to find out who it is that is wrong...
"I am speaking to Christians. Many of you, no doubt, are very far ahead of me in the Christian way. It is not for me to decide whether you should confess your sins to a priest or not (our Prayer Book leaves that free to all and demands it of none) but if you do not, you should at least make a list on a piece of paper, and make a serious act of act of penance about each one of them. There is something about the mere words, you know, provided you avoid two dangers, either of sensational exaggeration-trying to work things up and make melodramatic sins out of small matters-or the opposite danger of slurring things over. It is essential to use the plain, simple, old-fashioned words that you would use about anyone else. I mean words like theft, or fornication, or hatred, instead of 'I did not mean to be dishonest,' or 'I was only a boy then,' or 'I lost my temper.' I think this steady facing of what one does know and bringing it before God, without excuses, and seriously asking for Forgiveness and Grace, and resolving as far as in one lies to do better, is the only way in which we can ever begin to know the fatal thing which is always there, and preventing us from becoming perfectly just to our wife or husband, or being a better employer or employee.. If this process is gone through, I do not doubt that most of us will come to understand and to share these old words like 'contrite,' 'miserable,' and 'intolerable'.
"Does this sound very gloomy? Does Christianity encourage morbid introspection? The alternative is much more morbid. Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one's own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one's own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know if getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out."

-Excerpts from C.S. Lewis' article " 'Miserable Offenders': An Interpretation of Prayer Book Language" from the God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Grand Rapids: Eerdman's 1970.

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

Holding onto our sins is like a bad tooth alright.

Ahh, but Mr. Lewis must have experienced the pain of NHS dentistry...pull it out, don't waste time trying to patch things over.