Book Review: The Great Divorce

by C.S. Lewis

ok, if I had to say, this is my all-time favorite book…..

Imagine a bus trip from hell to heaven–stop, don’t freak, this is an ALLEGORY, not a theology book. Of course, you can’t really do this! Sheesh, give me a break! So these people are in hell, and don’t know it, but are given the opportunity to visit heaven. What happens?

The book opens with a vivid description of this hellish place….a grey, drizzly, dreary place where it is perpetually twilight, but never has yet become completely dark. There are blocks and blocks of deserted streets, filled with shabby homes which are also deserted–no one can get along with his neighbor for long, and always moves farther out into the country–those who have been there the longest are so far away they can only be seen with a telescope, isolating themselves from all others. A queue has formed, waiting for the bus to arrive (remember the Magic School Bus?) An interesting description is given of the motley crowd that has assembled. Several eliminate themselves before the bus even gets there–too consumed with themselves to bother about such a trip.

After a fascinating voyage, the bus arrives at its destination. The people exiting the bus are shocked to see one another, they’ve became ghostly, wispish, transparent. And the ground they are walking on is more solid than any they have ever known–in fact, blades of grass pierce their feet like knives, and flowers are impossible to pick, the stems seem to be reinforced with iron, and everything there is so HEAVY.

They soon began to meet their guides, and are surprised to find many people they have known in their previous lives. Some become angry to find certain people there that they don’t think deserve to be there. They are many, many surprises. Most turn away and get back on the bus. A few, a very few, have incredible experiences and end up staying.

At the end of the book, the narrator has an encounter with George McDonald, who was a mentor of Lewis. There is a fascinating conversation, and revelations about the nature of heaven and hell.

I have read this book again and again, and hope others will find the same joy I have in reading it.

Playing Favorites

I always have a hard time when asked my favorite….anything! I mean, how can you just pick one? Your favorite food? It would soon be my LEAST favorite if I had to eat it all the time! Color? I usually say green, but there are so many different variations, and I like them all. I would never say red, a little bit goes a long way, you can burn out on red in a real hurry. My favorite animal? Give me a break. I do think giraffes are totally cool, and I like penguins. I am not at all fond of possums, they’re disgusting. My favorite book? OK, I have consistently said C.S . Lewis’s The Great Divorce for a long time, and it’s really special to me. I have recommended it many times to many friends, and am always disappointed when they can’t even get through it. It’s thrilling to me. I got Brian to re-read it again a couple of years ago after having read it as a teen. (We both read a ton of classic books in a big hurry at that time in our lives that we need to go back and re-read, because I’m sure we didn’t have sufficient maturity and understanding of life to get much out of them.) His reaction to his second reading of The Great Divorce was more gratifying to me than any other friend’s, guess that ’s one reason I love him more than any other human–we connect on so many different levels. He agreed it was truly brilliant, we talked at length about it, and his inspiration for his message "The Tapestry of Grace" was somewhat inspired by that book.

Favorite Bible verse? I can’t even go there. I need it ALL! There are some special ones, like Psalm 119 (longest chapter in the Bible, and I reserve the right to like the whole CHAPTER as opposed to picking out any particular verse) I like Micah 6:8. But Brian told me a great story Thursday night about a favorite Bible verse. He posted a cool story on his blog about an encounter with an Indian pastor in an airport. But he didn’t tell a really cool part, so I will!!!

Premraj Nag needed a visa to come to America. They are extremely difficult to obtain–there are one billion Indians, most of whom would love to come to the United States, and so very few can get the visas. When Premraj went to the American Embassy in Delhi to apply, he saw IT’s (those are guys who are really sharp on computers and want to come to the US to work), CRYING as they left the embassy, their hopes dashed because they had been denied.

He approached the official, who asked him why he wanted to come to the US. He told him he wanted to go to a church conference.

OFFICIAL: So you’re a Christian?
PREMRAJ: Yes, a pastor.
OFFICIAL: What’s your favorite Bible verse?
(Premraj thought to say John 3:16, but just as he opened his mouth, he heard the Holy Spirit say, "No, say John 1:12.")
PREMRAJ: John 1:12
OFFICIAL: Really? Quote it.
PREMRAJ: To as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
OFFICIAL: Well, I’m a Christian, too, and that is my favorite verse! I’m giving you a ten year, multi-entry visa to the US.

And he did! That is phenomenal, that is the Cadillac of visas, and very few people get those! And then to fly to the US, and have God provide for you by meeting at the airport an American pastor with such a love and passion for India, who volunteers to help him and take care of him while he’s here! It’s a great testimony when Brian tells it, but imagine the testimony Premraj gets to tell!


I have some more to say about my favorites, and will do a book review soon on The Great Divorce , but that’s enough for now….

Defragging–Getting back to where we started…

We have absolutely no idea how fragmented our lives are–but there is a glimmer called hope deep within that things somehow can be better and were in fact intended to be better. And of course our lives don’t get defragged immediately at conversion–it is only the beginning, something is awakened, i.e., reborn–potential happens. Computers are computers, and we are what we are–that analogy is only so good. Maybe a better analogy is trees, little baby trees, set out lovingly by hand, but so few of these tiny weak seedlings make it to maturity–remember the parable of the Sower.

Imagine that neighbor you have with such a troubled life–unhappy and the whole neighborhood knows it–always screaming at the kids and fighting with her husband, and talking to anybody who’ll listen about her sad life. You say to yourself, "What she needs is Jesus." You’d love to introduce her, but the problem is, you took her to church a year ago, and she "got Jesus." She responded to the altar call with tears, sincerely prayed, and then became a member. She is actually at services a good deal of the time. Did she "get Jesus, get saved, born again, whatever you want to call it?" Well, yes, she did, (probably!?) but not ALL of Him! What does she need? She needs JESUS! She needs more of the redeeming power of God working in her life, remolding, reshaping, reforming. When she was created in her mother’s womb, she had life, but there was so much more in store for her. There was a PROCESS that went on back then, and there is a process that needs to be happening now. That physical process that we think of as lasting nine months really is a process of a lifetime–of course you don’t stay the way you are when you emerge from that womb for your entire life.

The spiritual process mirrors the physical process, but one is automatic, and the other is much more intentional. This is where it gets tricky. What about all those "Christians" that are stuck seemingly forever at a low level of spiritual development, those that never seem to get any better. What happened? That’s a whole different discussion… I’m not up for this morning!

Have a great day!

PS–About defragging, did you know that is what happens to your brain while you are asleep? No kidding. Sleep scientists have used this analogy, they say people who are seriously sleep deprived exhibit similar symptoms as a computer that needs defragging–glitching, memory problems, running slow….so turn yourself off for 8 hours every night–don’t try to outsmart your manufacturer!

The Fall

The creation story—Adam and Eve—we all know how it goes. A man and woman had a cushy job as caretakers in a beautiful garden, until one day the silly woman noticed the big, red, juicy apples hanging from a particular tree and struck up a conversation with a snake, and ended up getting kicked out of the garden. We’ve heard this story so many times that it’s become trivial, but there is so much we don’t understand about what happened that fateful day.

The owner of the garden had told them they could eat of any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The other trees also bore lush fruit, all sorts of delicious fruit, but this one was especially appealing. The woman "saw that it was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise." It matches up perfectly with what we learn in the book of First John is "all that it is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."

Now the serpent was a crafty one, and confused the poor woman with his argument. He misquoted the owner of the garden, and the woman, who knew basically the gist of what the Lord had said, but had not taken Him so seriously that she could actually QUOTE Him word for word, was easily fooled. She became convinced the Lord was trying to hold out on her, to keep her from experiencing all life had to offer. She craved the wisdom the tree offered, and took and ate.

And in that moment, Death became alive, and began its destroying work. On that day, something in Adam and Eve and all creation began to wither and decay. The wonderful fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with the Lord was gone immediately—it had been so wonderful, but so natural they had simply taken it for granted. Now that it was gone, it felt as if their very hearts had been ripped out, and a giant black hole left in the place.

No, Adam and Eve’s bodies didn’t drop to the ground immediately, and lie there dead, like Ananias and Sapphira so many generations later. Their death was far worse, far deeper than a mere passing away of the body. Something far more insidious happened the day that Evil was loosed upon the earth. The thief had been given license to steal, kill, and destroy, and he continues to do so with a vengeance today. The thief has many aliases–Death, Evil, the Father of Lies, the Destroyer. He wreaks his havoc not only on man, but on the creation itself. Thorns began to grow where only flowers had bloomed before; drought and famine and starvation were conceived on that day of infamy. The very ground was cursed. And to this day, creation groans and longs to be delivered from the bondage it came under the day man first sinned. (Romans 8:19-22)

Somehow I have always imagined that Adam and Eve were just a few days into their job as caretakers in the garden when they screwed it all up, for us and everybody else. But the Bible never says that. Maybe they lived for a hundred years in the garden, and enjoyed all God’s riches for all that time. Maybe time didn’t begin to pass until afterwards—they certainly didn’t age while they were in the garden, because aging is simply the power of death working in our bodies. But one day, sometime after being placed in that garden, maybe beholding God face to face on a daily basis, all that was ripped away. What agony did the two of them endure afterwards, knowing what was lost? How was their marriage affected? Did they talk later of the "good old days" or was their loss so hideous it could never be spoken of?

And what did Adam and Eve receive in exchange for all they had given up? They had always had the knowledge of good, but now they had the knowledge of evil, something they have handed down to their children, and their children’s children, to all generations. I am their great-granddaughter, many times removed, and I have a great knowledge of evil. I know all about hatred and murder and jealousy and war and poverty and emaciated starving bodies and slavery and prostitution and pedophilia and incest and drug addiction and a thousand other atrocities too horrid to name. And oh God, how I wish I knew nothing of these things, that we could live in a world that is pure and innocent and like the garden You created.

To Neglect is Divine

I have shared this article with several married friends, all who have said they’ve lived through way too many of those late night frustrating episodes, thinking they can’t let the sun go down on their anger, when in actuality the sun set HOURS ago, you’re too tired to think rationally anymore, and you’d admit to anything just for the chance to get some sleep. It’s another silly example of Christians taking the Bible WAY TOO LITERALLY.

Living for Eternity

It is precisely because of the eternity outside time that everything in time becomes valuable and important and meaningful. Therefore, Christianity….makes it of urgent importance that everything we do here should be rightly related to what we eternally are. "Eternal life" is the sole sanction for the values of this life.

—Dorothy L. Sayers

Report from the Mountains (Rockies, that is….)

okay, here is the mountain report….Brian and I took a few days off to relax and read and think and be together before a crazy October and November schedule.

day 1–Bear Lake to Nymph Lake to Dream Lake to Emerald Lake, 1.7 miles up, in 45 minutes without stopping, that’s pretty awesome if I do say so myself….then we climbed up into a couloir beyond and were in thigh high snow at one point, lots of fun coming down! then we laid in the sun and read our books for an hour, it’s so cool to be in winter at one point, and half an hour later be in a completely different season.

We then hiked to another lake, Lake Haiyaha, which I had never been to but the trail was very beautiful. Quite a distance of it was ice covered which made it hard to walk on, but then I saw some silly looking teenage girl doing it with FLIPFLOPS–she was having a pretty tough time, hanging on to the two guys she was with. (maybe that was the whole idea!) We were out 6 hours, did about 6.5 miles. I was tired after having been on BEAR PATROL all night before–see Brian’s blog for explanation of that and pics.

day 2–started at Bear Lake again, but went on a completely different trail, headed for Mills Lake, 2.5 miles–I consider Mills the most beautiful lake in the park. We walked on then towards Black Lake, which is also a favorite, another 2.5 miles, but somewhat impulsively, right before we got to Black, we went off trail bushwhacking 1000 feet straight up a mountain to a hidden shelf where there were two more very incredible lakes. (I had read to Brian about these lakes as we were driving this morning.) These are rarely visited due to their remoteness, but we will definitely be going back. It was TOUGH going up, but so worth it. I LOVED IT!!!!!!!! It was an indescribable experience. We had ice axes and used them going up–there were patches of slick snow and ice. I didn’t use it coming down because it was just too steep–the axe handle was too short, when I go back, I’ll definitely take a trekking pole, which would have been enormously helpful. Going down was not as tough as I was worried it might be–but I was using both hands and feet most of the way up and down. Then we hiked out the four miles, and I ran the last bit of the trail–I felt great! But now? I am hobbling around the room. My legs are jelly. I think we’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow!

day 3–(still thinking about yesterday ) Coming out of the thick forest, topping out and finding that huge rocky shelf with two huge lakes was a powerful spiritual experience. It was like finding an aspect of God you’d never known before. We’d traveled that trail to Black Lake several times, totally enjoying it, but never dreaming what lay just above us. I long to go back and explore more, to go farther. I’d do it today, but know we can’t….I can’t wait until next summer!

Book Review: A Severe Mercy

by Sheldon Van Auken

I said the last book, To the Golden Shore, wasn’t a love story. Well this one is. It’s the story of two intellectual atheists, highbrow poetic types from the East Coast who, having already fallen in love, go off to study in Oxford, meet C.S. Lewis, and become Christians.

Some cynics might think the declarations of love are a little on the sappy side. Made me think just a tad of Poe, "And we loved with a love that was more than love, I and my Annabel Lee." Yes, and like Annabel, this match ended way too soon in an untimely death.

But the love they shared was real and lasting and very passionate. Those who would criticize are probably just jealous. I never tire of reading how anyone comes to faith in God and Christ, and their story is compelling, a long turning together towards the light.

Many letters are exchanged between the two and Lewis, and published in the book. The account of her illness and death is a depiction of the scripture, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His holy ones." It is beautifully written, a holy memory.

I read this many years ago, and again just recently. Perhaps the passage that struck me the most this time was the description of the particular way he handled his grief, the systematic reliving of their few years together as he reviewed their journals, reread the literature they read together at the time, listened to the music they listened to together. He came to the realization that after death, TIME loses its grip on people, and they become timeless. No, they are not forever the age they were at the time of death, but they are ALL the ages they ever were. The child, the teenager, the young adult, none is further removed than any other. I have meditated on this a lot. Heaven is NOT populated by mainly old people and a few younger ones who didn’t get their money’s worth. Heaven is populated by AGELESS people–there will be no distinctions because we are all freed from the bondage of time. We can have divine fellowship with all, and the one who died as an infant will relate freely to the one who died a millennium earlier as an octogenarian. We will all be ageless, glory be to His HOLY NAME!!

This book is definitely worth reading, and again gets the FIVE STAR RATING!! * * * * *

Book Review: To the Golden Shore

The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson

Adoniram Judson was the first American foreign missionary, who went to Burma as a young man of 21. He lived a fascinating life–the book is as thrilling as a novel, but it’s a true story of a man who dared to do a great thing for God, and will certainly inspire anyone who reads it. I know I was directed by the Lord to this book, and it is still on my mind a few months and several books later.

The book was written in the 1950’s, less than 100 years after Judson’s death, and well researched and detailed. Judson was raised a PK, but lost his faith after going away to college. He became a Deist, to his family’s great horror–his mother and sister wailed and cried, saying “Now you’ve ruined heaven for us, how do you expect us to enjoy ourselves there when we know you’re burning in hell?” I got a kick out of that. A real family! Good religious folks! The concept of Providence is often referred to by Judson throughout his life–the arranging of circumstances by God for His purposes to be accomplished. The story of Providence bringing him back to faith gave me goosebumps–it’s too far-fetched to be good fiction, but it was TRUE!

Adoniram and his young bride of 3 days sailed for Burma, never expecting to see home or family again. She didn’t. They lived lives of great sacrifice, and Adoniram was imprisoned and severely tortured at one time for a period of several months. But there was no hint of a martyr’s complex here–they were happy and fulfilled people.

Adoniram had three wives, the first two died due to the extreme challenges on the mission field. After the death of Nancy, his first wife, and the two children they had together, he went into a severe grief/depression that lasted three years. He actually dug a hole at one point, his own grave, next to theirs, and wanted to crawl into it and die. As I saw the grace of God pull him through the slough of despond and bring him to a deeper, richer experience, I knew that same grace would always be there for me no matter what. He took a second wife who bore him many children, and they were incredibly happy. After many years, she died on the ship taking the family to America–his first return in 33 years.

His third wife was a real surprise–read the book to find out about her!

Adoniram penned these words as he was sailing home to Emily, that third wife, and passed by the place of his first wife’s grave:

I seem to have lived in several worlds; but you are the earthly sun that illuminates my present. My thoughts and affections revolve around you, and cling to your form, and face, and lips. Other luminaries have been extinguished in death. I think of them with mournful delight, and anticipate the time when we shall all shine together as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.

But this book was not a love story particularly–it was a life story. More than anything else, I benefited by seeing that his life was not a snapshot of any particular moment, but a life lived, day by day, to the glory of God. When all was said and done, it was the composite, that made his life such a beautiful success. Adoniram Judson lived a life worth living, a life worthy of the calling with which he’d been called. He fulfilled his destiny. I can’t wait to meet him someday, and I know I will!

RATING: 5 stars * * * * * (I might give all my reviewed books 5 stars, as I will probably only write about those I really like! I will review my best loved books, not in any order, just as I take a notion.)