Feeling the Weight of Glory

Readers, I’ve observed, are spectacularly varied in how they go about their task. Some like absolute quiet. Others are more comfortable with the steady hum of background noise (which, by the way, is half the attraction of coffee shops…much of the other half being the coffee).

Some treat the physical copy of a book with almost sacramental reverence. These people, in turn, may recoil at those whose books display bent spines, dog-eared pages, and the odd food or beverage stain.

One kind of reader virtually pours over a book, as if it contained a genuine treasure map, only in a font several sizes too small for convenient reading. Others are relaxed, even reclined, yet still firmly engaged; their books have seemingly won their places as a familiar yet highly regarded friends.

Yet another area of difference consists of how people mark in their books. There are those who (inexplicably?) favor the highlighter. Others prefer pen or pencil. Some underline. Others draw brackets or simply trace a straight line along the side of the text corresponding to noteworthy passages. Some mark sparingly, others quite liberally. And so on.

With regard to these latter preferences, I most often employ the straight lines and I tend toward marking quite a bit. This can lead to long stretches of straight lines in the margin, along with the occasional star or exclamation point. The outside observer may find this comically excessive. For example, my wife Rachel good-naturedly mocked me the other day when she began reading my copy of The Weight of Glory, a brilliant collection of C. S. Lewis’ sermons and other addresses. The book’s first chapter is the title essay, and I would classify it as one of the finest things Lewis ever wrote. As she worked her way through it, let’s just say Rachel picked up on my sentiment: “You’ve highlighted the whole chapter!”

Now, I’ll admit that my zeal to recognize every important iota in a given book can easily get a bit out of hand. But in this case, I’ve revisited that particular chapter several times and have never been sorry I marked what I did. A further test came just a few days ago. I decided to re-read the book to prepare for the discussion we’re having at The Crossing on February 7 (more below). And since two spouses reading the same copy of a book can, at least in my case, be an impediment to the overall health of a marriage, I began reading another copy. The result? Lots of long, straight lines in the margin. If I made fewer marks this time, it’s only because I was much more self-conscious in the task.

Take my evaluation what it’s worth, but listen also to the words of Walter Hooper, the book’s editor: “The addresses are arranged chronologically except for…“The Weight of Glory” which is so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place” (17).

But the book is far from a one-hit wonder. Each of the addresses I re-read this morning reminded me of the many reasons why I’d classify virtually everything Lewis ever published to be worth reading, even if I might disagree with points along the way. Among these reasons is Lewis’ ability to put into illuminating prose the experiences that most of us can barely begin to recognize, let alone understand:

I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence: the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both (“The Weight of Glory,” 29-30).

There is also Lewis’ formidable intellect, often brought to bear on challenges to the Christian faith:

If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology [what we now might call materialism or scientific naturalism] as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent upon brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees (“Is Theology Poetry,” 139).

Added to this are both an earthy wisdom and a self-effacing humor:

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present…. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age (“Learning in War-Time,” 58-59”).
When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralizing. I shall do my best to gratify it (“The Inner Ring,” 142).

Finally, there is Lewis’ consistent ability to craft language into something beautiful, powerful, memorable:

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in (“The Weight of Glory,” 43).
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken (“The Weight of Glory,” 45).

For all these reasons and more, we’re happy to holding a discussion of this book at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, February 7th at The Crossing. If you’re interested, there’s still time to buy the book and sign up to participate at The Crossing Bookstore on Sunday morning.

If you can’t make that event, consider reading it on your own when you can. Yes, it will probably stretch you, but in a good way. And if you find yourself wanting to discuss it with someone, well, I doubt you’ll have to twist my arm.

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