3 Aug 2021

C.S. Lewis, Reading Enlarges Life

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Books, C. S. Lewis, Culture, Discipleship, Ministry, Reading

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” – Frederick Douglass

C. S. Lewis was not only a famous author and Christian thinker, he was a constant promoter of reading. According to Lewis, a person did not have to get a PhD to have an expanding life.

It is in the discipline of reading a person finds help to become all they can be as a human being. Reading keeps the mind and even the soul from ossifying. Through reading, and interaction with the arts, we are “going beyond ourselves.” Near the end of his life, Lewis wrote very perceptively on what reading does to a person. There are two passages from his An Experiment in Criticism published in 1961 that I quote from.

In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are going out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness … Obviously this process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.”

Reading saves the life. Lewis continues …

The man who is contented to be only himself, and THEREFORE LESS OF A SELF [my emphasis], is in prison. My eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes [i.e. animals] cannot write books … In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, pp. 138, 140-141

I have never, ever, even when I was younger and so very dumb understood the resistance to reading on the part of many who want to be leaders (in the world or in the church). I recall years ago in a class with General Jackson Wheeler at IBC on “World Literature,” filled with Bible majors who on the first day of class moaned and groaned over being required to take the class. “All I need is the Bible,” “Why should we have to take this class” and similar complaints.

Lewis hits the nail on the head however. Reading makes us more than ourselves, while at the same time helping us become our real self. We cannot lead when we have no vision. And as Lewis states so eloquently, reading gives us vision with a thousand eyes.

Non-reading is why we have the Flat Earth Society. Non-reading is why we have non-vaccine folks in the middle of Coronacation (Covid-19 pandemic). Non-reading is why we have only our own eyes thus our vision is parochial and centered on self.

Non-reading is why is why we have the KJVonlyites (promoted by preachers). Non-reading is why we have political leaders that think waging war is like renovating a ritzy club. Non-reading is why we are can be so “provincial” and why our humanity just may be suffering from impoverishment.

Morning thoughts that bring together a week’s worth of mind blowing discussions rooted in massive amounts of non-reading. Not non-PhDs but non-reading. Lewis was right in 1961. Lewis is right in 2021.

Enlarge your life, read a book.

Of Related Interest

Why Do We Read?

Why Do We Read, Part 2: The Spiritual Life

The Great Books of Christian History

2 Responses to “C.S. Lewis, Reading Enlarges Life”

  1. Debbie Plunket Says:

    I very much appreciated this one. C.S. Lewis is a favorite with me, and your follow-up is exactly what I believe. You always stretch my mind a bit and I value that. Thank you.

  2. Terry Bouchelle Says:

    Thanks Bobby!

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