At The Kilns with CS Lewis
A brilliant, happy man who loved the world, CS Lewis taught and wrote about Medieval and Renaissance English at Oxford and Cambridge. To this reader he provided psychological insights, scintillating logic, and pungent, down-to-earth views in non-fiction books such as Four Loves and fictional works such as The Screwtape Letters. In the Chronicles of Narnia, as you know, he created a classic of children's literature which has sold over 100 million copies in 41 languages.
As we mentioned in Shadowlands, in the 1950s American Joy Davidman and Lewis wrote to each other, met and fell in love. She and her two sons came to live in The Kilns, outside Oxford, with Lewis. After she died, Lewis lived in The Kilns until he died in 1963. With eight acres and a lake it was a wonderful house, but it was deteriorating badly when the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Southern California intervened and purchased it in 1986. Foundation members, under the leadership of President Stan Mattson, began restoring The Kilns with annual volunteer summer work parties and eight years of fundraising.
Seattle Pacific University established a CS Lewis Institute of study twenty years ago. In 1993, Kim Gilnett of SPU took a lead role in the restoration project at The Kilns, and Don Yanik, SPU professor of theatre, came on board as restoration designer. Their inspiration and their care in renovating the exterior and interior to match photographs is described here.
The Kilns is now “a place of study, fellowship and creative scholarly work” for those who want to live in the world with joy. Looking at the photo of his desk I can almost hear Lewis roaring with laughter at a joke, honing an argument, or gazing out at the snows of Narnia, which fall even in summer.
The last page from Lewis’s Mere Christianity is the philosophy on which he built his life and his work -
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented - as an author invents characters in a novel - all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘fly wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men's thoughts or even suggested to me by devils. Eggs and alcohol and a good night's sleep will be the real origins of what I flatter myself by regarding as my own highly personal and discriminating decision to make love to the girl opposite to me in the railway carriage. Propaganda will be the real origin of what I regard as my own personal political ideas. I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call ‘me’ can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
. . . As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Thanks to Kat Henning of Seattle Pacific University for information about The Kilns.