Today’s guest post was written by Ryan Pemberton, the author of the Walking with C. S. Lewis companion guide.
The wardrobe was foreign to me. As was the image of a faun carrying parcels under a lamppost in the snow, and the golden-maned lion, Aslan. All of those characters and features so central to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were lost on me when I first read C. S. Lewis. I hadn’t grown up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, unlike so many friends. At 19, my first interaction with C. S. Lewis came in the form of Mere Christianity, a compilation of Lewis’s broadcast talks on Christianity delivered over BBC radio during World War II.
I still remember the illuminating discussions in an apartment off Bill McDonald Parkway in Bellingham when our small group decided to read Mere Christianity together, and reading by the light of my desk lamp late into the night. I remember how C. S. Lewis wrote in equal parts rational argument and imaginative analogy to help me consider more deeply the Christian beliefs to which I had consciously and unconsciously submitted myself. In particular, I remember thinking that this was the first time I had read someone who was both an intellectual and a committed Christian. In his writing, Lewis showed me that it was possible to be both. Lewis gave me the permission I needed to fully inhabit my faith.
After college, I worked in a marketing and public relations firm. Spending my days helping clients tell their stories, I spent my evenings and early mornings trying to write in a way that helped tell the Christian story, motivated by C. S. Lewis’s own writing. Soon, I realized I wanted to spend more time and energy on this work. After much prayer and many conversations with my wife, and no small amount of prodding from friends and mentors, I decided to apply to Oxford University to study theology. My hope was to combine my storytelling background with a world-class theological education, writing and speaking in a way that helps others experience the riches of the Christian narrative.
Within a month of arriving in Oxford, I was meeting C. S. Lewis’s former secretary, Walter Hooper, and hearing first-hand stories of Lewis over tea at Lewis’s former home, the Kilns. The following semester, I received a phone call asking if I’d like to serve as a tour guide at the Kilns. To this day, being paid to speak about C. S. Lewis and show guests from around the world where he lived and worked is still my dream job. That same semester, I was asked to serve as President of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society, where I was responsible for inviting and hosting guest speakers to share on the life and work not only of C. S. Lewis, but many of his intellectual and spiritual colleagues: J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and others. When we found out that we would need to look for new housing for our second year in Oxford, no longer able to stay in our apartment across the street from where J.R.R. Tolkien lived and wrote in North Oxford, we were distraught. Fortunately, we received an invitation to move into Lewis’s former home, where I finished my degree as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Kilns Study Centre.
Were it not for reading C. S. Lewis all those years ago, I don’t imagine I would be serving as Minister for University Engagement in Berkeley today, helping university students take the Christian story seriously, as Lewis did for me.
More of this journey has been shared in a memoir I wrote, Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. While the experiences I had in this historic city were beyond what I could have ever imagined, and still often feel a bit dreamlike, it was what all of these experiences did to my Christian faith that I appreciate most. For me, it was through all of the ups and downs of this journey that I began to learn what it’s really like to live as a disciple of the Living God: scary as anything I’ve ever experienced, but life-giving in a way I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I could not have known the ways reading C. S. Lewis’s work would turn my life on its head when I first picked up his writing as a college sophomore, nor the impact it would have on my faith. But it’s my hope that others who read Lewis will have their own life and faith-enriching experiences. That’s why I am excited to share Walking With C. S. Lewis: A Spiritual Journey Through His Life and Writings, which provides in-depth insights into 16 of Lewis’s books. I wrote the companion guide to Professor Tony Ash’s video lectures, filmed on location throughout Oxford, who not only had a similar life-changing experience of reading Lewis at a young age, but who taught on Lewis’s works for nearly fifty years. Here’s hoping Walking With C. S. Lewis will provide even more growth for those who read Lewis’s works, on their own or in community.
So, how has reading C. S. Lewis impacted your life?
* * *