* Before I begin this week’s story, I am pleased to announce that this coming week, I will be posting a few experiences that my friends wrote about lately. *
Lately my thoughts have been drawn to a memory from the 70’s. It has bubbled up because our community is about to begin a new study of the great writer C.S.Lewis. The memory has made me grateful this week that God provided for me in such a rich way so many years ago.
I had several communities growing up – my cousins, my elementary school, the friends on my street and another is definitely my church community. I grew up in a large, Mennonite Brethren Church in North Kildonan (Winnipeg, Manitoba).
I have many good memories of that church, made by caring people who showed me God’s love. Being such a large place, you’d think someone could never also be lonely, but my teenage years there are marked by memories of solitude. There was an outer and an inner me in those days. The outer me had a blast in “Young People’s”, but there was an undercurrent of questions and ponderings that I can’t remember telling anyone about. Adolescence is usually a tricky time, but likely my experience was also influenced by my family’s grieving the death (from leukemia) of my oldest sister Hilde.
A knowledge of death and impermanence began to shape my thoughts after her death in 1968, and our family’s sadness brought some quietness to my normally chatty personality. Our family rarely talked about our loss, but I began to find myself wondering about things. Where was God? How could I experience God? Was I “saved” like they said I was after I “accepted Jesus”? Was I being “good enough” to get in to heaven? Sitting in church one Sunday morning, I thought I saw a pointing hand illuminated in the Exit sign above the door. Like God, this vision seemed mysterious and unexplainable. Was there a destiny the hand was pointing me toward? The Sunday preachers always seemed sure of answers, but for me their loud words never seemed to touch on these ineffable realities.
Thank God for libraries. Like modern day labyrinth or meditation walks, walking the aisles of a library can be a sacred experience. They let you meander and ponder with no pressure to assent to another person’s agenda. As I discovered the church library, my searching heart began to find space to breathe.
Our church’s library was in the basement across from the boiler room. The three spinster sisters who ran it didn’t mind a gangly blonde teenager hanging out among the books and they never grilled me with questions like I feared they would. Like a magnet, I became drawn to a certain shelf. If the church hadn’t burned down in 1998, I could still take you to the exact place along the basement wall where the books by C.S.Lewis were housed.
To this day, I remain grateful that a conservative church allowed these books into the library. C.S.Lewis is considered one of the greatest 20th century Christian writers, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Here was an author who wrote about mystery and who presented a Christian faith that was complex and nuanced and thoughtful. To be honest, I can’t tell you the name of any one book I actually read. Most likely I picked up Lewis’ most famous book Surprised By Joy, the book where he chronicles his coming to faith. I was surprised to hear someone describe himself as a “reluctant convert”. The book describes his early childhood and also recounts his leap from atheism to theism and then from theism to Christianity.
I think the thing I was most struck by was the depth and complexity with which Lewis wrote. In my opinion, he was and is a tremendous spokesman for the faith. Our church seemed bent on answers and I felt like an outsider mired in questions as I was. Within the pages of Lewis’ books, I found a friend who was content to search and ponder. His coming to faith only happened at age 32, and I didn’t think he would have called it “accepting Jesus”. His faith account was more like God kept searching him out, not leaving him alone he conceded that there was a God.
One week ago, I was at a co-worker’s wedding. Sitting at the table with my co-workers, I had a conversation with a good friend who described her search for God with longing. She had been to a funeral a few months earlier and even in grief, the people at the funeral had a faith that seemed alive and real to her. “That’s what I want,” she told me with longing, “but I’m not doing anything about it.” I thought of God finding C.S.Lewis, or for that matter of God finding even me despite my many doubts and crooked paths over the years, and I told her, “Maybe you don’t need to worry, maybe it will find you.”
Not too many years later, when I was studying at University of Winnipeg, I took a children’s literature course and one of the Narnia books by C.S.Lewis was on the reading list. On my daily bus commute from the suburbs to the downtown campus, I began to discover this amazing series and marveled again at the breadth and wisdom of this man’s thought.
God has found me so many times in my life, and I always remain grateful that this sacred place was given to me during such a formative time of my life.