Thoughts on Tragedy from C.S. Lewis
- This homily was posted on the DemoOkie Discussion forum:
- I thought I’d share this with you. This Sunday I was the lay worship leader at my church. One of the duties of the worship leader is to deliver a short talk prior to the offering. One can offer a prayer, a poem, some writing. I felt I needed to in some way respond to the Columbia disaster, and I was reminded of something C. S. Lewis once said. So I came up with this short homily:
Delivered at Mayflower Congregational Church, Oklahoma City, Feb. 2, 2003
I suppose I risk being guilty of supreme understatement, or simply guilty of stating the obvious, when I say that we seem to have reached one of those wrenching times in our history where one disaster follows quickly on the heels of another, where the horror that we are living through now quickly is trumped by the horror that happens next. After the Columbia tragedy, I was somehow drawn to a sermon I once read by C. S. Lewis, who was the subject of a thesis I wrote while a student at Bethany Nazarene College. The sermon, entitled “Learning in War Time” was delivered at Oxford, where Lewis taught for many years, at the outset of World War II. In it he asked the question was it worthwhile to continue the higher pursuits of culture such as learning, art, literature, philosophy at a time when the English people were fighting for their very survival.
The question is not far from the one that seems to be asked in our time. In a country rocked by 9-11, a country about to unilaterally launch an unprovoked invasion, a country where schools are fighting for their very survival, a country beset by a new tragedy played endlessly on its TV screens, is it still worthwhile to pursue justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, to work to bring about God’s will on earth as it is in heaven? For I fear that many of us are in real danger of shutting down, refusing to care, avoiding becoming emotionally involved in the tragedies that surround us.
Here was Lewis’s answer: . . I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war [or terrorism, or diaster] creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If [people] had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun.
My prayer is this: And now we, God of all creation, need perspective for our own time. We need the perspective that comes about from seeing the world as you wish us to see. We need the calm peace that comes from placing ourselves in the center of your will. We must be ever mindful that while we live in whatever time we live, in that time and place your work must be our own. Amen
R. Lynn Green