Just a little truth and encouragement from C.S.Lewis:
from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader“ by C.S.Lewis
Just a little truth and encouragement from C.S.Lewis:
from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader“ by C.S.Lewis
Today’s post comes from one of my favourite sites: Mere Inkling – a writer who always has much biblical wisdom to share, and many insights into the writings of Lewis and Tolkien. Enjoy!
“Have you ever written something that inspired a musician to compose new music? J.R.R. Tolkien hoped to do so one day, and had he lived to hear the scores of the Lord of the Rings trilogy created by Howard Shore, he would have been in awe.
I was reading Tolkien’s correspondence last week and came across a fascinating letter he wrote to a musician who was requesting permission to write a serious composition based on The Hobbit.
This would have been quite different than the quaint “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” made famous by Leonard Nimoy. (I wish their choreographer had read the book, so we could have been spared the tiny T-Rex arms sported during the chorus by the dancers.)
Anyway, returning to more serious musical ventures, in 1964 Tolkien received a request for permission to write a “Hobbit Overture.” It came from British composer Carey Blyton (1932-2002) who would become best known for his song “Bananas in Pyjamas.”
Tolkien’s response to the composer’s query is fascinating, on several levels. First, he is gracious in extending his permission, without any restrictions. And, in 1967 Blyton did compose “The Hobbit” Overture, opus 52a. It appears on the CD, British Light Overtures 3.
Secondly, he shares his unspoken desire that his work might someday inspire music. Then he makes a curious comment about the illustrations of Pauline Baynes, which would similarly grace the work of C.S. Lewis.
After that, Tolkien describes his own, musically impoverished, upbringing. Finally he expresses his deep appreciation for good music, despite his lack of knowledge on the subject.
And Tolkien accomplishes all of this in just a handful of sentences!
You certainly have my permission to compose any work that you wished based on The Hobbit. . . . . As an author I am honoured to hear that I have inspired a composer. I have long hoped to do so, and hoped also that I might perhaps find the result intelligible to me, or feel that it was akin to my own inspiration—as much as are, say, some (but not all) of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations. . . . .
I have little musical knowledge. Though I come of a musical family, owing to defects of education and opportunity as an orphan, such music as was in me was submerged (until I married a musician), or transformed into linguistic terms. Music gives me great pleasure and sometimes inspiration, but I remain in the position in reverse of one who likes to read or hear poetry but knows little of its technique or tradition, or of linguistic structure.
It is common for people of sincere Christian devotion, such as Tolkien and Lewis, to express an appreciation for the divine capacity of music to touch the human spirit.
Martin Luther, for example, wrote much about music. “Music is God’s greatest gift,” he proclaimed. He was not only a composer of hymns, but also an acceptable player of the lute, which he used to accompany his children during their family devotions.
Music is deeply intertwined with the heart of Christian worship.
C.S. Lewis on the Subject of Music
One of the modest challenges in contrasting fellow Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis results from the significantly different natures of their literary corpora. While they both wrote fantasy, though of a vastly different magnitude, Lewis’ vocation as one of Christianity’s chief modern apologists necessitated that he defend the faith in diverse contexts. Thus, he wrote numerous essays and a number of texts addressing a wide range of considerations that his friend Tolkien never discussed in print.
Because of this distinction, it is relatively simple to discover what Lewis thought about the nature and powers of music. Typical of the man’s practical orientation, Lewis appears little interested in the abstract attributes of music. What interests him is its confluence with human existence. The following profound insight comes from his essay “On Church Music.”
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.
Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.
This discussion about church music is particularly interesting due to Lewis’ personal dislike for much of the music used in worship, which I’ve written about before.
Lewis described his own church music pilgrimage in “Answers to Questions on Christianity.”
My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches . . .
If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament [holy communion], and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.
I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
In “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis addresses this notion that we must look beyond the music itself, to assess its influence on our humanity.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Lewis recognized the deep influence and mystery with which music communicates and inspires. It is no accident that Narnia’s creation itself comes through Aslan’s song.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool.
It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer.
Returning to “On Church Music,” Lewis expands on the importance of our intentions as we approach music.
It seems to me that we must define rather carefully the way, or ways, in which music can glorify God. There is . . . a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them. . . . An excellently performed piece of music, as natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man, will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be. But that is a kind of glorifying which we share with the ‘dragons and great deeps,’ with the ‘frost and snows.’
What is looked for in us, as men, is another kind of glorifying, which depends on intention. How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and the disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know. But it is on the intention that all depends.
When it succeeds, I think the performers are the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall. . . .
We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills,’ and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.
At the outset of this column I declared Tolkien would have been “in awe” of the musical score written to accompany the Lord of the Rings movies. Lewis too, I believe, would have been impressed by the scores composed for the three Chronicles of Narnia films made thus far. We owe a debt of gratitude to three composers: Howard Shore,* Harry Gregson-Williams,** and David Arnold***.
An Historical Postscript
In the spirit of Lewis and Tolkien, who appreciated the importance of music, we’ll close now with another engaging quotation from the wry pen of Doctor Martin Luther.
I wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.
The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”
* Howard Shore has nearly a hundred credits as a composer, conductor and orchestrator on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). In addition to the Tolkien cinema projects, he has also worked on a number of other very successful films and ninety-six episodes of Saturday Night Live. Shore won three Oscars for his work on Lord of the Rings.
** Harry Gregson-Williams has nearly a hundred credits on the IMDb, including a number of box office successes, a variety of popular video games, and several productions in the Shrek series. He won awards for his work on the Chronicles of Narnia series and another of my favorite films, Kingdom of Heaven.
*** David Arnold, wrote the score for the third Narnia film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He has seventy-three credits listed on IMDb, ranging from this year’s Independence Day: Resurgence, all the way back to a BBC made for tv picture entitled Mr. Stink.
“I hate when I look in my closet and find clothes instead of Narnia.” H.B. Bolton
The song GOLD by Britt Nicole carries a great message for her audience. In summary: for all the girls and boys all over the world, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told, you are worth more than gold. In fact, you’re a king, a queen, inside and out. Don’t be afraid to hold your head up high and wear your crown. (Full lyrics and a great film clip are below)
I can’t help thinking that this is the very same message C.S.Lewis brings to children (of all ages) in his adventures to Narnia. In Aslan’s realm, the children are crowned as rulers over the kingdom, with special gifts and talents given them. They are afforded great power and respect from all creatures.
“To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the Valiant. To the great western woods, King Edmund the Just. To the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle. And to the clear northern skies, I give you King Peter the Magnificent. Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia. May your wisdom grace us until the stars rain down from the heavens.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Yet back through the wardrobe, back in ‘reality’ they are simply children, children who should be seen and not heard. In this reality we adult humans can see ourselves in this way, as very ordinary people, accidents of biology, mere vapours. We can be despondent about our very existence, and become dependent on the affirmations of others. We can think we must impress others to ‘justify our own existence’. (Have you seen that awful bumper sticker?) We need to remember the reality of the spiritual realm, of God, and the intent God had for us, for the creatures he made in his own image. We were designed to be his image-bearers, designed to give glory to him as we display his character for all to see. (If you are not yet convinced of the existence of a Creator and the spiritual realm, check out this book – “Rumours of another world” – Max Lucado)
The Lord has crowned us as rulers over creation:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” (Hebrews 2:6-8)
He has Crowned us as co-heirs with Christ, if we are in Christ. We are stunningly individual and unique people who all play a vital role within His Body here on planet earth (see 1 Corinthians 12).
We are to shine like stars as witnesses to those in the heavenly realms:
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)
As Britt Nicole would say, we shouldn’t be ashamed to wear our crown. Don’t wait for the world to affirm your existence. God made you, for a reason.
Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh
You were walking on the moon, now you’re feeling low
What they said wasn’t true, you’re beautiful
Sticks and stones break your bones, I know what you’re feeling
Words like those won’t steal your glow, you’re one in a million years
This is for all the girls, boys all over the world
Whatever you’ve been told, you’re worth more than gold
So hold your head up high, it’s your time to shine
From the inside out it shows, you’re worth more than gold (Gold gold, you’re gold)
You’re worth more than gold (Gold gold you’re gold)
Well everybody keeps score, afraid you’re gonna lose
Just ignore they don’t know the real you
All the rain in the sky can’t put out your fire all the stars out tonight, you shine brighter
So don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not loved
And don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not enough
Yeah there are days when we all feel like we’re messed up
But the truth is that we’re all diamonds in the rough
So don’t be ashamed to wear your crown
You’re a king you’re a queen inside and out
You glow like the moon, you shine like the stars
This is for you, wherever you are
So don’t be ashamed to wear your crown You’re a king you’re a queen inside and out
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Church music is a stand-out feature that quickly distinguishes one church from another. While it may be difficult to assess doctrinal differences or the measure of humility amongst the congregation, it is easy to measure them by their music. We label it as good, bad, mediocre, boring, outdated or shallow. Everyone is a critic when it comes to music because we have such diversity of tastes and experiences.
Yet we are to be one in Christ! To be one we need to prefer the needs of others, to consider others, to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4) and not insist on our own way (1Cor 13:4-5).
In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis describes how damaging a critical spirit can be. In the book the uncle ‘devil’ guides his nephew to distract the new Christian from growing in his faith, by making him a critic of the church:
“The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where God wants him to be a pupil. What he wants from the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
When I first read those words many years ago I swallowed hard and thought how many times I had proudly commented about matters and manners in the church. I thought I knew best and spent plenty of time thinking about what I rejected. In terms of music I continue to make judgements all the time about our own music and music team. (Now to be fair I suppose a music leader does have to review and assess and work to improve. That is their purpose.) But I then wondered how much nourishment I had missed because I was distracted by my own criticism. How much do other people miss as they judge the absence of their favourite songs or the volume of the drums or focus on that song they really don’t like? (If you want more examples of the critical spirit, check out this great post from ‘lessons by heart’)
Now this is not to say that we should mindlessly accept all things (or song lyrics) that contradict the truth of the Gospel. Of course not. If the Gospel is being compromised then that is certainly the time to spend time being a critic and sharing your concerns with someone who can correct the problem.
But imagine if we were all humble enough, in Christ-like humility, that we didn’t spend time thinking about what we reject? What if we put personal preferences aside for the sake of unity and focused on receiving (and passing on) what nourishment could be gained from any Christian gathering. Uncommenting humble receptivity! What a great description of a godly attitude to develop in our churches. . . and most importantly in ourselves.
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
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I discovered this quotation today and thought it would have gone well with my previous post on taking control of your life – but really it stands alone. Blessings!
A few days ago I wrote about the way we can show grace to others by not demanding that they pander to our prideful ‘good taste’ (in a variety of areas).
Here C.S. Lewis talks about a related topic, musical taste. Disagreements over the ‘right’ or most godly church music have produced many hard-fought and rarely-won battles. While Lewis’ comments below are a bit of a challenge in terms of the language, it is worth the slog if you can get to his main point. Grace is the key! We must bear with one another in love, bear with things we dislike for the sake of others whom we are called to love, in Christ. If we are in music ministry and find ourselves filled with pride at our skill, or contempt and hostility to the congregation we serve, it’s probably time for a break! It’s probably time to re-examine our motives – and pray for God to work in us for His glory. Blessings!
“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.”
This was taken from an essay entitled “On Church Music” by C. S. Lewis. It can be found in a current publication called Christian Reflections published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0802808697.
Ps. Today I celebrate my 150th Blog Post! Thanks for reading.
Read more about C.S.Lewis on this post: Our Glorious Capital C Church
Today I have the pleasure of talking about two of my favourite things: author C.S. Lewis and the band Casting Crowns. Both of them have much to say about the church, not just the local church, but the capital C “Church”. By this I mean the fellowship of believers that is spread around the globe, through all time and space. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are all part of this if we are in Christ. The “crowd of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 help make up this great gathering of God’s people. They can already see the reality of the things we hope for in Him. And they cheer us on to persevere with the small ‘c’ church, no matter how frustrating it can be at times. God’s Church marches on as he unfolds his plans. What a great grace and privilege that God draws us into something (Someone!) much greater than ourselves, much greater than the here and now.
But when it comes to Church we often can’t see the wood for the trees. And Satan would happily keep us distracted in this way! In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis describes the strength of the Church. These are fictional letters between a senior and junior devil. (For those not familiar with this classic book the main topics of their correspondance is how to discourage Christians, distract them and weaken their faith. Totally worth a read if you haven’t!)
“. . . the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, (is) terrible as an army with banners. . . that, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans”. (Letter 2)
“We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or clique. The Church Herself is, of course, heavily defended and we have never quite succeeded in giving her all the characteristics of a faction . . .” (Letter 7. By the way, by ‘Enemy’ these devils mean God)
Oh, that we could see the glory of Christ’s Bride! (That’s us!) Casting Crowns’ songwriter Mark Hall takes up this topic, looking forward to the final union of the Church, the Bride of Christ, with the Bridegroom, Jesus. Listen and read the lyrics below. I particularly like the description (verse 2) of the highs and lows of the Church through history. Despite these we were made to wear Christ’s robes of righteousness, on that wedding day! The love of Christ has come and set us free, indeed!
Wedding Day – Casting Crowns
There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
But this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so
When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day, On that wedding day
She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
This is what he made her for
When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign
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