In Oxford!

I arrived in Oxford last week, and have been busy reviewing my Greek and reading my primary texts (i.e. the New Testament) and secondary texts (i.e. books on patristics and Biblical background, such as Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church – which I highly recommend for even non-academic types – and Rogerson and Davies’ The Old Testament World). I’ve also been working on setting up my bank account, getting a cell phone and bus pass, and generally getting sorted.

I realized that one of the reasons I haven’t been posting lately is because I’ve developed the personal expectation that each post should be lengthy and insightful, and posting is feeling more and more like a chore. Therefore, I’ve decided to do smaller posts, that may or may not be particularly in depth, but will hopefully come more often.

I’m living in the room at the Kilns in which C.S. Lewis collapsed and died, which means it holds a particular reverence for me, and I feel I need to treat it with respect. Thankfully, I’m relaxing into it (as I’m sure Lewis would want me to do), but it is a useful external discipline to have to clean my room and make my bed every other day, so that it looks tidy for the tours of the house that are giving to visiting groups on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays. (To learn more about touring the Kilns, click here.)

I’ve found a few good food-serving pubs, including the Mitre (in town) and the Six Bells (in Headington, the neighborhood that includes the Kilns). I’ve also made contact with the Jesuits at the Chaplaincy. They’ve signed me up for the Rite of Christian Initiation class that begins in November, and the newest chaplain, a young Jesuit named Father Simon, has agreed to meet me periodically for spiritual direction. I picked up a copy of the Divine Office at Blackwells Bookshop, and have found praying all seven of the Hours to be like refreshing oneself with clean and cool spring water, thick, rich bread, and hearty red meat several times a day, and at perfectly allotted portions. What’s best (though difficult for structure-loving me) is that, when a word or phrase speaks to you, you can stop and just meditate on it for a bit. (Incidentally, if any of you are interested in praying any of the Hours, I found an excellent website called Universalis. It takes you step-by-step through each day’s readings and prayers. It eliminates the confusion that comes from jumping around from section to section and using half a dozen ribbons in one’s breviary.)

I’m thinking of getting an iPhone, but in any case the phone I get will have a camera, so I’ll be able to upload pictures, perhaps directly from my phone. Let me know if there’s anything y’all would like me to post about, and I’ll try to do it. Thanks for everyone’s support during this next stage of my life!

ETA: Completely forgot the quote I read that prompted me to post. Gakked from the blog The Deacon’s Bench, who himself gakked it from The Anchoress:

“You know, the church is the one who dreams, the church is the one who constantly has the vision, the church is the one that’s constantly saying ‘Yes!’ to everything that life and love and sexuality and marriage and belief and freedom and human dignity—everything that that stands for, the church is giving one big resounding ‘Yes!’ The church founded the universities, the church was the patron of the arts, the scientists were all committed Catholics. And that’s what we have to recapture: the kind of exhilarating, freeing aspect. I mean, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who brought down the Berlin Wall. It was Karol Wojtyła. I didn’t make that up: Mikhail Gorbachev said that…I guess one of the things that frustrates me pastorally is that there’s this caricature of the church—of being this oppressive, patriarchal, medieval, out-of-touch naysayer—where the opposite is true.”
— Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in this profile in New York Magazine.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Holy Grail

It’s been an exhausting but happy week. We wrapped principal photography on The FellowsHip: Rise of the Gamers, though we have a couple days of pick-up shots this Friday and Saturday. I also received an e-mail informing me my visa was issued yesterday, which is a load off my mind, as it took longer than expected and I was worried I had been rejected for some reason and wouldn’t be able to leave on time. I leave for England on Sunday, barring any further pick-ups. I should arrive at the Kilns next Monday morning, Lord willing.

It’s time now to return to my series on why I’m becoming Catholic. I’ve finally run into some close family friends who are not too keen on my decision, grilling me on the Catholic worship of Mary (she’s not worshipped, she’s venerated – worship is reserved for God), Catholic belief in “earning” one’s way to Heaven through works (rejected by the Church early in its history as the Pelagian heresy), and Catholic focus on extra-Biblical practices and beliefs (the Church put together the Bible, and even the Pope is subject to the authority of Christ and the first Apostles – not to mention that sola Scriptura is itself an extra-Biblical doctrine).

I admit that I still have much to learn about Catholic doctrine and spiritual practices, and thus I don’t yet have the most robust answers to my challengers. But there is one important reason why I am pledging allegiance to Rome:

The Catholic Church has the Holy Grail.

No, I’m not about to write about some conspiracy theory involving the Templars or the Merovingian line. Rather, I realized that everything I love about King Arthur and the Quest for the Grail – the greatest legend of Western Christendom – can be found in the Catholic Church. When I participate in the Eucharist, even as a witness (since I have not yet been received into the Church), I participate in the reality behind the story that stirs the deepest longings of my heart. At the moment of consecration, the wine in the chalice becomes the very Blood of Christ, and thus the chalice itself becomes the figure of the Grail, the Holy Cup that holds the Blood of our Lord.

I think sometimes, in order to fully understand the rituals in which we participate in the “real world,” we need to enter into them through the side-route of the imagination. One example related to Lewis is the letter he received from Philinda Krieg, whose son Laurence, after reading The Chronicles of Narnia, was concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis responded by saying:

…Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. Of course there is one thing Aslan has that Jesus has not – I mean, the body of a lion. […]

Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.

3/ If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: ‘Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.’ That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, ‘And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.’

The full text of this letter can be found in Volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. I’ve quoted most of it here, but the entire book (in all three volumes) is worth buying and keeping handy on your shelf, as it’s full of joys like this letter, in which Lewis’ love for his readers, especially the young ones, shines through.

Just as Laurence was learning to love Jesus through the imaginary figure of Aslan, I learned to love Christ through the figures of King Arthur and Aragorn (the good king), the Bishop of Digne in Les Misérables (the merciful priest), and numerous “suffering servant” figures in literature, film, and T.V. (like Frodo and Jean Valjean). For me, the painted pictures of Jesus on the walls at Sunday School didn’t become fully real until I saw flashes of Him in stories, and was able to realize that all that I loved in Camelot, in Middle-Earth, and in Hugo’s novel was completed and had its source in the Kingdom of God.

This sense of story being wrapped up in history was begun for me around the time I read G.K. Chesterton‘s The Everlasting Man, and came to its fruition in terms of my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church when I read Charles WilliamsTaliessin through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars.

Next up: Taliessin.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

ETA: As always, if you decide to get your own copy of one of the books mentioned above, please do so through the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s online bookstore, powered by Amazon. Doing so helps support the work of the Foundation, including holding study programs, founding C.S. Lewis College, and maintaining Lewis’ home, the Kilns.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – C.S. Lewis & the Catholic Church

During the Ignatian Silent Retreat I attended in January 2007, I found a book called C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, by Joseph Pearce. An excellent book, it takes a look at the similarities between Lewis’ theology and Roman Catholic theology. Pearce also examines possible reasons why Lewis never became a Catholic, as J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic) hoped he would.  The two primary reasons he points out are leftover unconscious prejudice from his childhood in Belfast – where he had “been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist” (Surprised by Joy) – and actual theological differences, for example about the importance of Mary.

Now, I had noticed that Lewis used expressions that we never used in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but I hadn’t really thought of them as Catholic before. For example, in the essay “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis says,

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

We Presbyterians, for whom the Lord’s Supper is a memorial rather than the mystical Real Presence, don’t use the phrase “Blessed Sacrament,” and I would never have considered pieces of food as holier than my fellow human being.

Lewis also referred to the Mother of God as the “Blessed Virgin,” a title which you will not hear at many Protestant churches. The most glorious title I’d ever heard for her growing up was “the Virgin Mary,” which was more a term of distinction (“Which Mary?” “The Virgin Mary”) than a term of honor.

I also remember a letter that Lewis wrote to “Inkling-by-association” (i.e. not an official Inkling, but a like-minded friend) Dorothy Sayers on the subject of the ordination of women, in which he argued against female ordination because it

wd. cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christendom, and…wd. be the very triumph of what they call ‘practical’ and ‘enlightened’ principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent the Bridegroom to whom we are all, in a sense, feminine.

Sayers replied

If I were cornered, and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer ‘of all humanity’

but that

It would be a pity to fly in the face of all the Apostolic Church, especially just now when we are at last seeing some prospect of understanding with the Eastern Church – and so on…

You can find the full part of Lewis’ side of the conversation, and more of Sayers’ side, in the second volume of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper.

The reasoning both Lewis and Sayers used – that a church should take into account “the rest of Christendom,” throughout time and space, when making decisions about its ecclesiology – was unfamiliar to me. As a Protestant, I had not been raised to temper my interpretation of Scripture according to the great body of Church teaching over the past 2,000 years, or to feel hesitant to separate myself from other denominations when they were united in a particular (opposing) view. (Besides, in the world in which I grew up, I thought Protestantism was the prevailing view.) My church was not arrogant enough to teach that one’s own interpretation of Scripture, if one felt it to be Spirit-filled, was always right. However, the Tradition of the Church was just not emphasized, much less explicitly offered as a corrective to too much solitary Bible reading and interpretation. It may have been so among the older, wiser, or more educated in my denomination, but as a young person growing up in Protestantism I felt that “the Tradition of the Church” was seen as a set of out-dated beliefs and practices that we were slowly starting to outgrow and “make relevant to today’s world.” (Needless to say, as a child raised on King Arthur and C.S. Lewis at home, I didn’t necessarily see Tradition as a bad thing.)

The sense of the sacramental; the use of seemingly archaic terms of reverence and devotion; the willingness to humble oneself before the Authority of Christ’s Church – all these were new experiences that I found in Lewis, and later came to find in the Catholic Church. They awakened me to the old desire for Camelot, the sehnsucht of my childhood – similar to the longings for “the North” that Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy. And as in Arthur’s court long ago the knights briefly gazed upon what they most desired, turning towards Rome I glimpsed the Grail.

Next up: Charles Williams, Taliessin, and the Grail.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

New C.S. Lewis Manuscript Found at Oxford

There’s been some very big CSL news shooting around the blogosphere this week. Apparently awhile back, Texas State University professor Steven Beebe was doing some research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and found a CSL notebook marked “Scraps,” which contained early bits of Narnia stories, among other materials. He recently discovered that one of the “scraps” is part of a planned collaboration between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on “Language and Human Nature,” which even had a publication date set, but was never published. (No Tolkien contribution to the planned project has been found.) Read about it here!

“New C.S. Lewis Manuscript?” – Bruce L. Edwards’ C.S. Lewis & Inklings Resource Blog

“Tolkien Studies 6 has arrived – and an exciting discovery!” & “The Lewis/Tolkien Collaboration that might have been (but never was)” – Jason Fisher’s Lingwë: Musings of a Fish. The second post has comments by renowned Tolkien scholars David Bratman, Wayne Hammond, and Christina Scull.

“Steven Beebe Discovers Fragment of C.S. Lewis Manuscript”The C.S. Lewis Foundation Blog

And the press release from Texas State University.

Dr. Beebe’s article on the fragment will be published next year in the Wade Center’s journal Seven.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – Jesuits & C.S. Lewis

After graduating with a B.F.A. in Theatre and Psychology from New York University, I moved to Baltimore to enter a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at Loyola College in Maryland. As evidenced by the name, Loyola is a Jesuit college (soon to become a university). During orientation, we were introduced to the concepts of cura personalis (care of the whole person) and Ad majorem Dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God), two of the mottoes of Jesuit education.

Loyola was the first Christian school I had attended. I had been accepted to Wheaton College in Illinois outside of Chicago for undergraduate work, which is where my father, grandfather, and a number of cousins had attended college. I had loved Wheaton, and had been in awe of its existence as an intentional Christian community of scholars “for Christ and His Kingdom,” as Wheaton’s motto goes. However, I also wanted to study to become a professional actor, and Wheaton did not have a theatre major, much less a professional training program. As a matter of fact, there did not seem to exist a Christian college of Wheaton’s faithfulness and academic caliber that also provided professional arts training. (This gap is one I hope the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s C.S. Lewis College can fill.) The other school to which I had been accepted was NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which has one of the top undergraduate theatre programs in the country. I asked my dad, who I knew was pleased that I had fallen in love with his alma mater, for his advice. He said:

“What do you want to do?”

“Become an actor.”

“Then go where they do that best. In this case, that’s not Wheaton.”

So, I went to NYU, filled with great excitement at having been chosen for a spot, but part of my heart still belonging to Wheaton. I don’t regret that decision, because I received an excellent practical education and gained friends who are very close to my heart, but many times I wish I had not been exposed to the profane and lascivious content that made up a significant amount of the curriculum.

The dirt and filth that ran thickly through the veins of NYU’s artistic culture sullied my spirit enough that I gladly welcomed the refuge of a small Christian college, with grey stone statues of saints lining the walkways of the grassy quad. On the south end of the lawn stood the large stone chapel, with a cross rising on a pinnacle above its main door. I attended a couple services in that chapel, but while I always felt welcome, I always felt separated, and a little embarrassed, because I knew I was a Protestant worshiping as a guest within Catholic space. (I had applied to the Psy.D. program at Wheaton, but, though interviewed, was not accepted. I’m glad now of it, because I think that I would no longer be comfortable in an Evangelical Protestant atmosphere. That, and I would not have wanted to disappoint Wheaton by possibly leaving clinical psychology partway through the first year, as I did at Loyola.)

However much I felt out of place as a Protestant, though, I always felt part of the mission of Loyola as a Christian. I loved being in an academic environment in which I could trust that the faculty and staff, and the majority of my fellow students, shared the same basic worldview as I did – which was definitely not the case at NYU, in which the religious worldview, much less the Christian, was in the minority among the faculty, and became less prevalent among the students in my program as the semesters went by. It was nice to have allies again.

Sadly, though, I left Loyola after only a semester. I loved the school and the faculty, but I realized that the practice of clinical psychology was not for me. I loathed doing psychological testing, and didn’t trust it, but it was about half the curriculum for the first two years. I decided that I was not willing to put up with it for that long, partly because my conscience rebelled against it, and I took a leave of absence to decide whether I would transfer to the pastoral counseling program, or another program at Loyola or elsewhere. In the meantime, I went back to acting, and that became my career after I withdrew from Loyola and did further career discernment, which has lasted for two years (and which you could say is still going on).

When I decided to take a leave of absence, I signed up for an Ignatian silent retreat held in January at the Loyola Jesuits’ retreat center in southern Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac River. I hoped to spend the week in discernment about my future academic path, hopefully with a decision made by the end of the retreat (hah!).

Well, I ended up failing miserably at the silence requirement, to the (charitably unexpressed) annoyance of my spiritual director and some of the other retreatants, but I learned three very important things from that retreat:

1) My prayer life was that of an absolute beginner, and I was not nearly so advanced in the spiritual life as I had thought myself.

2) I was chockful of pride, and rebelled against obedience to spiritual authority. Every time my spiritual director gave me suggestions on how I should spend my time at the retreat, I bristled, gave him reasons why they wouldn’t work (and inwardly thought, “He just doesn’t understand me and how deep my thought really is,”), and did what I wanted anyway.

3) C.S. Lewis’ theology was a lot more Catholic than I realized.

Next up: C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church.

Read part 1 of my multi-part series on my journey to the Catholic Church here.

C.S. Lewis Blog Post Round-Up

Last time I posted a round-up of C.S. Lewis blogs; this time it’s a round-up of particular posts of interest. I’m still working on the series about my journey to the Catholic Church; Part 2 will be up soon.

The Inklings posts an article from the Church Times on the history of Perelandra the Opera, which had its first performances in 40 years this weekend at the Keble College Chapel in Oxford. (If anyone attended, please let me know, and I’ll post your account of the event in full.) More information is available at the Perelandra Project website.

-The C.S. Lewis Foundation Blog announces that Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia, will be speaking on theories of astronomy in Lewis’ books at Oxford Science Live on July 2.

-Not completely Lewis-related (though there is a Lewis quote at the end), Victor Reppert has a must-read post on “Some confusions about truth and religion”:

[I]f we define God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then either God exists or God does not exist, and if God does exist, then the people that believe that God exists are correct, and the people that do not believe that God exists are mistaken. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then the people who believe that God does not exist are correct, and the people who believe that God does not [sic] exist are mistaken. The idea that if you truly believe in God, then God exists for you, but if you don’t believe in God, God does not exist for you, is nonsense.

This “subjective truth” argument is one I have run into several times, and it’s infuriating. Dr. Reppert (the author of C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason) does a good job of showing why God either must or must not exist, however “intolerant” it may be to insist on that fact.

-The C.S. Lewis Society of Frederick, MD has a brief post on Joy Davidman’s Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments.

Enjoy!

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Beginning

On Monday, May 11th, 2009, I decided to become a Roman Catholic.

The pin-pointing of a particular date and “conversion moment” may sound a little Protestant (even evangelical) of me, but it was far from a road to Damascus experience. It was more like the road to the Whipsnade Zoo. If I may be permitted to reference the conversion story of our beloved C.S. Lewis:

I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

Surprised by Joy

Like Lewis, I was on a relatively unimportant car trip, mine from home to my job as an actor with a touring children’s theatre company. It was about 7:00 in the morning, and I was just at the start of my 20-minute drive. Rolling down a gentle, forest-shaded road near my Baltimore apartment, I was thinking about states in life, vocations, and what I could and could not do if I joined the Church. I had the thought, “Well, I’ll just wait and see what I decide about joining the Church. Option A is open to me if I determine the Church has the authority it claims to have, and Option B is open to me if I determine the Church doesn’t have that authority.” My next thought was, “Wait. I already believe it has that authority.” It was at that moment that I realized that my spirit had already submitted to the claim of the Church upon me some time ago, and was simply waiting for the rest of my mind and heart to catch up.

I was raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a mainline Protestant denomination. I was baptized around my 14th birthday, at the same time I was confirmed, because the church we attended in Texas when I was a child practiced adult baptism only (I don’t remember its denomination). In confirmation class, I remember learning about total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints (the five points of Calvinism, i.e. TULIP). The idea of limited atonement (that Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone) didn’t seem quite fair to me, but my pastor gave me what I now know is an Arminian understanding of atonement and of predestination. (He basically said that God is like a parent who knows that, given a choice between peas and carrots, you will choose peas, because he knows that you hate carrots. He doesn’t make you choose the peas, he just knows that you will.)

I love my church (especially the bagpipes on Heritage Sunday!), but it always bothered me a little that the Presbyterian Church and other Protestant churches came out of schism. I respect the reformers for taking a stand on conscience, but there were also reformers who stayed in the Church and worked from within, and since the Body of Christ is meant to be whole, it always made a little sad. But I had never even thought of leaving my church until I came to Loyola College, a Jesuit institution, as a doctoral student in clinical psychology.

This is Part 1 in a multi-part series of my journey into the Catholic Church. Next up: Jesuits and C.S. Lewis.