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A Grief Observed - C.S. Lewis (1961)

A Grief Observed is simply the journal of a man consumed with the pain of the loss of his wife to cancer. Perhaps the preeminent Christian author, scholar and philosopher  of the 20th Century, C.S Lewis scripts out his thoughts, struggles, questions and emotions during his time of grief.  He punches you with logic on one page and languishes in his own emotions on the next.  The book is not a model of how to be consistent during tragedy- quite the opposite. Lewis gives us raw, untainted pain.  And along with it, he questions the entire scope of his experience and situation- he questions the logic, questions his own capacity to be seeing clearly, even questions God with abruptness.

Reading A Grief Observed reminds me that we will always struggle with the task of reconciling our experience in the world with what we believe about God.  Lewis takes us to task for assuming that our experience hasn’t interpreted who God is completely wrong, and what we think of Him.  But he also lashes out at times to tell God just how difficult it is for the human life not to be struggling and confused. Early in the book he makes sure that we understand clearly that we (as friends/counsellors) are not the one suffering and shouldn’t pretend to be :

You can't really share someone else's weakness, or fear or pain. What you feel may be bad. It might conceivably be as bad as what the other felt, though I should distrust anyone who claimed that it was. But it would still be quite different.[1]

Lewis, eventually turns his brilliant mind on his own emotions and comprehension.  He finds that his desire to “see” something of his former wife is itself idolatrous (not in so many words).  While doing so, he clearly punches at our propensity to iconify and envision a reality that is not really real.  In his words:

Images, whether on paper or in the mind, are not important for themselves. Merely links. Take a parallel from an infinitely. . higher sphere. Tomorrow morning a priest will give me a little round, thin, cold tasteless wafer. Is it a disadvantage- is it not in some ways and advantage- that it can’t pretend in the least resemblance to that with which it unites me?

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.[2]

The book winds down to Lewis having an evening of intense connection with the reality of his wife.  Not a vision or visit it seems, but something remarkably close that comforts him in a way.  He realizes he needs the real thing in every context saying:  “Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour”[3]

Wow! Taking in the reality of life, not as we perceive it erroneously to be, but accounting for the fact that they may actually be (that is - our neighbor, God, and even ourselves) something completely different than our perception has made them appear to us.  Lewis's prose is no less muted in this classic than any of his other books, it simply just bleeds with the reality of his intense pain. Beautiful.


Book Link on Amazon: A Grief Observed


Review by
Kim Gentes


[1] Grief Observed”, (New York, NY: Harper Collins 1961), Pg 13

[2] Ibid., Pg 65

[3] Ibid., Pg 67

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