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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life Kindle Edition
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- ASIN : B01EFM8NKC
- Publisher : HarperOne; Reissue edition (February 14, 2017)
- Publication date : February 14, 2017
- Language : English
- File size : 1611 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 295 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #36,400 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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This book describes C. S. Lewis's intellectual journey from Atheism to Christianity, and how the felt experience he calls Joy led him there. After conversion, the Joy that once made everything else in his life pale in comparison became a subject of disinterest to Lewis. His pursuit of the pearl of great price seems to end in an existential malaise. Was Joy just a cosmic bait-and-switch?
Lewis's journey begins with early experiences that produced in his imagination "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction." (p. 18.) These inward experiences filled him with enormous bliss and created an inconsolable longing for something he knew not. The experiences would pass in a moment but they left behind "a longing for the longing that had just ceased" and "everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison." (16.) Of this Joy, Lewis wrote that "the central story of my life is about nothing else." (17.)
Yet, in connection with his final steps toward Christianity, "No kind of desire was present at all." (231.) Lewis did not attribute his eventual belief in Jesus as the Son of God to an intellectual or emotional decision, or even a determined will. Rather, he describes his conversion in existentialist terms: "[A] man is what he does; there is nothing of him left over or outside the act. As for what we commonly call Will, and what we commonly call Emotion, I fancy these usually talk too loud, protest too much, to be quite believed, and we have a secret suspicion that the great passion or the iron resolution is partly a put-up job." (237.)
Looking back on Joy, Lewis wrote, "I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer." The experiences of Joy were relegated to the "lower life of the imagination." They conveyed no spiritual knowledge and imparted no spiritual life: "This lower life of the imagination is not a beginning of, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image. In me, at any rate, it contained no element either of belief or of ethics; however far pursued, it would never have made me either wiser or better." (167.) No wonder, then, that the subject of Joy had lost nearly all interest for Lewis as a Christian.
What leaves this book on a somewhat minor note is that Lewis never describes a real Christian spiritual experience that comes anywhere close to uplifting the soul as Joy did. Nowhere does Lewis speak of Christian experience that compared in any way to the Joy that had filled him with enormous bliss, created inconsolable longing, made all else insignificant in comparison, and of which he would say "the central story of my life is about nothing else." The book ends with the impression that the existential act of belief was the definitive mark of Lewis's Christian experience. There seemed to be no analog for Joy in his own Christianity as there was, for example, with Bernard of Clairvaux who could write:
"We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread
and long to feast upon Thee still
We drink of Thee the Fountain Head
and thirst our souls from Thee to fill"
Top reviews from other countries
Aside from that, it's a fascinating study of a young boy whose influences were, often, quite unusual, developing his mind and thinking and using this to write. His children's stories are advanced for their time, showing an unusual sympathy towards both children and animals. Elsewhere, his science fiction gives insights into longings and values that transcend those of more avaricious or sexually predatory peers from childhood. And his writings on Christianity give insights that few enough in the public school tradition espouse. A useful and very often salutary book, which provides background to his life and works.
The titles, descriptions and reviews leave me thinking I must read these books as they really grabbed me, but they left me feeling out of my depth.
I thought the Screwtape Letters would be a fascinating insight and I was so excited to read it because an extract I read seemed to resonate with me (I’m a relatively new Catholic) but the very formal language in this and Surprised by Joy made me reach for the dictionary and come away feeling quite inadequate. I know it’s the era it was written in as well as CS Lewis’s spectacular intelligence but I had just finished reading James Martin Sr’s book (Jesus: A Pilgrimage) so I wasn’t quite geared up for CS Lewis.
To be clear, the content of these books is very interesting but I can’t say I enjoyed reading them, which I’m sad to say.