Thursday, December 22, 2005

C. S. Lewis on What's Helpful in Devotion

Since Sunday I'm reading Green and Hooper's C.S. Lewis: A Biography (New Yoirk: Harcourt, 1974) and this morning, unable to sleep from 3 to 4, I copied this passage into my journal:

The truth is that Lewis never got on well with purely devotional books. What he infinitely preferred were solid works of theology that he had to work at to understand. His attitude towards the two kinds of books is summed up in a preface he wrote some years later for a translation of St. Athanasius's The Incarnation of the Word of God. 'For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand'." (115)

While I may not be clenching a pipe in my teeth, I've often found Lewis's experience my own. For example, reading an essay by Stanley Hauerwas (e.g., "Story-Formed Community," "Ten Theses on Christian Social Ethics," "Jesus as The Social Embodiment of the Peacable Kingdom," "The Servant Community: Christian Social Ethics," "The Church as God's New Language.") frequently provides me with the spirituial grist I need for a good chewing. But is this a more or less universal experience among us? Is Lewis's experience yours too? If not, what devotional books--apart from the Bible!-- do you find helpful?


Blogger Mason Smith said...

I also have found "devotional" literature unsatisfying. I'm not sure that my reading qualifies as heavy theology, but I so look for material that has a bit more substance than "The Upper Room" or similar daily devotional guides. I'm not saying that such material is bad--far from it. But I don't find it very helpful in my spiritual research.

My reading has been in areas of biblical archaeology, or science and religion, or the background of the biblical texts themselves. For example, I would find a discussion of the recent discovery of an ancient church in Israel much more intereting than a short devotional article.

This reading is not just for the knowledge. In other words, I'm not just collecting facts for some kind of Sunday School version of Trivial Pursuit. Serious historical reading helps me rejoin early Christians in my imagination. What was it like, back then? What was life like for them, how did they pray, and what did they really think about our Lord?

Also, with all the current interest in "The Da Vinci Code," I've also become much more interested in early church history. I suppose that's about as close as I've come to heavy theology in my reading.

Thursday, 22 December, 2005  

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