We haven’t had a reader book review in a while. Today’s is from Jenny at Gracepoint Berkeley Church, who shares with us her thoughts after having read A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis. I think it speaks for itself, so I will leave you to it.
This book is really just that –a grief observed–the tortured grief of C.S. Lewis losing his beloved wife to cancer, compiled in a collection of his personal reflections. The book is a significant departure from his most popular works like Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain, where Lewis is at his armchair, describing reality and life with honesty and wit, deftly persuading us of truth of Christianity. This book is different. This is Lewis doubled over by loss and trying to make sense of life and God in the midst of it.
For someone going through loss of a loved one, I can imagine reading this book being a balm to the pain… Because it’s someone you admire deeply saying, “I’ve been there too”– not in a tidy, sanitized manner after the fact, but a real-time messy reflection full of doubts, unanswered questions and honest pain, that maybe can give voice to the chaos inside. In one heartbreaking entry, he writes of visiting all their favorite places, anticipating a heightened sense of her absence but when he doesn’t feel that, he realizes “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
His more famous book, The Problem of Pain, which Lewis wrote to to provide an intellectual response to suffering, was written 20 years before A Grief Observed. Losing his wife turns out to be the crucible in which all the theory he writes in The Problem of Pain is tested. He writes in A Grief Observed, “Nothing will shake a man – or at any rate a man like me – out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”
A Grief Observed is one of the few CS Lewis books I never wanted to read. But the past year and a half, I’ve attended more funerals than I ever had in my life and sat with people, most of whom younger than me, who’ve faced losses greater than anything I’ve experienced. Grief was something on my mind a lot so I finally picked up this book. And I found that it provided a window into the grief of losing a loved one, but also of losing things you can never retrieve again. It also provided a hard look at walking through difficulty as a Christian, of having one’s faith refined or demolished and remade in the fire of pain and struggle. One quote I kept going back to was this:
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
If grief has been on your mind lately, maybe this book can help.
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
When one of my coworkers passed away suddenly, I brought some copies of this book for them to take and read. It’s very honest, as C.S. Lewis struggles through his own emotional turmoil and then concludes with trust in God.
A raw and honest C.S.Lewis in this book was so foreign to me, knowing him as an intelligent and rational being in his other books. Though it was hard to digest, I enjoyed journeying through some of my personal struggles by tracing the ways C.S.Lewis poured out his thoughts in this book. “Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” (pg.23) I’ve come to judge the level of trust I have in God through times of turmoil just as C.S.Lewis has, and by His grace I have landed on solid ground of further trust in God.