Going Hence, d. CS Lewis--November 22, 1963
On this day, November 22, 1963, Aldous Huxley died in LA of an LSD overdose, JFK died in Dallas from an assassin's bullet to the head. And on the same day at The Kilns near Oxford, C. S. Lewis's devoted brother Warnie brought a cup of tea to his ailing younger brother. Moments later, Warnie heard a clattering fall. Lewis had tried to get out of bed but had collapsed. He died of kidney failure. "Men must endure their going hence," was the Shakespeare quotation from the calendar on the day Lewis's mother had died many years before when he was nine. Warnie had the words chiseled on his brother's grave marker in Holy Trinity churchyard in Headington Quarry where you can see them today. Eclipsed by the high-profile deaths of the author of Brave New World and an American president, in the drenching November rain, only a handful of friends showed up for Lewis's funeral and burial.
In a chapter of God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To), I explore a number of the things C. S. Lewis wrote about congregational singing and hymns, by no means all complimentary. Early in his Christian experience, he thought the things his unsophisticated neighbors tried to sing in church were "fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music." He revised that as he matured spiritually. I conclude that chapter with the following:
LEWIS SINGS NOW
In a thrilling moment in The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis gives us a peek into the irrepressible force of music, perhaps what he truly longed for in singing. He has Aslan utter
"...a long single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly’s heart jumped in her body when she heard it.
She felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it and (what’s
more) would be able to obey it, however many worlds and ages lay between."
We can be pretty certain Lewis and his brother would not be bolting from their pew at the end of the church service and heading for the exit sign during that kind of anthem.
Though Lewis may have been overly opinionated about congregational singing in worship, and wanted “fewer, better, and shorter hymns,” over time he did come to see “the great merit” of the voice of the congregation, untrained, but singing from the heart, voices joining together, making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Three hundred years before Lewis’s time, another Oxford-trained poet, Thomas Ken, wrote of glorified saints singing in heaven:
And hymns with the supernal choir
Incessant sing and never tire.
We’re safe to assume that C. S. Lewis is doing it as we speak, singing more, the best, and longest hymns, incessant ones, right next to the man in elastic side boots who used to sing out of tune, but now who sings more like how God himself sings.
Douglas Bond is author of Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn't) and more than thirty other books of historical fiction, biography, devotion, and practical theology. He is lyricist for New Reformation Hymns, directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, leads Church history tours in Europe, does professional editing, and speaks at churches and conferences. His book God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To), from which this post is an excerpt, is available at bondbooks.net; order today and check out our gift-giving special offers!