The Lonely Pilgrim’s Regress

Pilgrim's RegressOne of the best parts of C. S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress is the afterword to the book’s third edition.  The book, the first Lewis wrote after his conversion to Christianity, is a fantastical retelling of his journey to the Christian faith as told in a vein similar to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.  What is interesting about the third edition’s afterword is this.  After a quick articulation of his move from “popular realism” all the way to Christianity via idealism, pantheism, and theism, Lewis admits:

I still think this a very natural road, but now I know that it is a road very rarely trodden.  In the early thirties I did not know this.  If I had had any notion of my own isolation, I should either have kept silent about my journey or else endeavored to describe it with more consideration for the reader’s difficulties.

It’s an interesting and vital conundrum: articulating the particular in a way that speaks well to a general audience.  Much of the remainder of the afterword concerns Lewis’s approach to Romanticism and how it differs from the many other ways the term had been used by others. He continues:

What I meant [by Romanticism] was a particular recurrent experience which dominated my childhood and adolescence and which I hastily called ‘Romantic’ because inanimate nature and marvelous literature were among the things that evoked it.  I still believe that the experience is common, commonly misunderstood, and of immense importance:  but I know now that in others minds it arises under other stimuli and is entangled with other irrelevancies and that to bring it into the forefront of consciousness is not so easy as I once supposed.

It’s almost a sorry/not sorry moment for Lewis.  He understands the significance of the thing while also acknowledging that the thing itself isn’t quite as accessible or understandable as he had hoped (and for many reasons, probably).

The question of how each of us was might have been brought to the Christian faith is important and too easily understated. Part of that is the result of “safeguards” in regards to language and experience rooted in the need for things line up well with the narratives and truths of the New Testament. It’s part of why conversion is such a vital part of the Christian experience for many throughout church history.

Two things come to mind as I reflect on this.  The first is our willingness to articulate the particulars of how God drew (and draws us still) to Himself, particularly if certain parts of the narrative aren’t as clear-cut as a Damascus Road experience.  The second is our unwillingness to draw these stories out of one another, to sit (or walk) and listen and ask good questions to better understand just how the “springs of living water” bubble up in our own lives.  (Which is why John’s lengthy conversation with the hermit History is of vital importance, particular in his articulation of the Rules and the pictures.) I’m beginning to see such conversations as a sign of spiritual maturity, of learning to walk the Road well with one another.

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1 Response to The Lonely Pilgrim’s Regress

  1. scrivener says:

    It always seems to me that there’s the thing that leads you to conversion, but then there’s the thing that makes the conversion settle into place, and that second thing can later be a third thing and a fourth thing. I suspect the Romanticism Lewis appears to cite (and I like the term because it clearly evokes Coleridge, Wordsworth, and their ilk), is a lot of people’s second and third thing, and one reason there keep being English, music, theater, and art majors when there’s really no good reason for there to be. “Beauty is truth; truth beauty,” plus “I am the way, truth, and life,” and all that.

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