On this day fifty eight years ago John F Kennedy was assassinated and in Oxford, England C.S.Lewis died.
Lewis had a great impact on my life–in many ways saving my Christian faith. I had been brought up in fundamentalist Protestantism and, after high school, went to Bob Jones University.
The education I received at BJU was actually pretty good. It was the religion that I found faulty. The Evangelicalism of my home was sincere, simple and devout. It was balanced and full of good values a good work ethic and a hefty dose of common sense.
At BJU I was plunged into the extremism of Southern Baptist preaching, a virulent anti-Catholicism and a strong stream of separatist sectarian thinking. My mind and heart was opening out. The religion at BJU was closing down. It was difficult to both open one’s mind in education and close it in religion.
So reading C.S.Lewis and T.S.Eliot saved the day. I became absorbed in the lives and writings of both of them and I will never forget the moment that I questioned the religion of BJU. It was through Eliot and Lewis. I said to myself, “These men are clearly good Christians and amazing writers. But what religion were they? Obviously NOT Southern Baptists!” Then I learned that they were some strange breed called “Anglicans”
As it happened there was a little Anglican Church in Greenville. It was called Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church and we students were permitted to worship there. So on Sunday nights a few of us bookish types made our way to the little stone church in the bad part of town and learned to kneel down to pray prayers out of a book called The Book of Common Prayer. We learned some good hymns, lit candles and dreamt of England.
It was there that I was eventually baptized and confirmed by an episcopi vagans and became an Anglican and it was there that I felt the call to the priesthood and wanted to be an English country parson like George Herbert–to live in a village in England, tend my garden and my flock and write poetry.
Eventually I was accepted to study theology at Oxford and hang around the hallowed haunts of C.S.Lewis. This led to ordination in the Church of England and finally to be appointed as vicar of a country parish on the Isle of Wight. It was from there that we followed the trajectory God had in mind and we made our way ‘Home to Rome.”
That trajectory was given a huge boost in my college days by C.S.Lewis, and today I prayed for him and lit a candle in his memory. If only he had become Catholic! If so he might one day have a place on our altars on this day: sharing it with St Cecilia of course!
Go here to check out my book Reluctant Allies: Essays on Eliot and the Inklings.