I have, in recent posts, been revisiting a sermon given by C.S. Lewis titled, Learning in War Time. Delivered in 1939, This message was intended to address the issue of whether normal, usual vocational pursuits should continue to take place in a time when the very existence of England was at stake.
I don’t for one minute put our current pandemic in the same category as the situation in Europe in WWII. I do, however, feel that what Lewis said in this address can provide enormous perspective and wise counsel for us today, as we attempt to navigate the new normal in a time of national and global turmoil. Check my profile page for access to the previous posts. Allow me to give a brief recap.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are arguably two of the most influential writers of the last century. The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are classics that have inspired millions. As I pointed out, Lewis and Tolkien had much in common
- They both served in the trenches in WWI.
- They both were wounded about five months into their deployments. Lewis was hit by shrapnel, and Tolkien almost succumbed to Trench Fever.
- Later they met at Oxford and became friends and colleagues. Their friendship and their collaboration produced some of the most inspiring literature in the English language. Many scholars and commentators believe that it was the horror of trench warfare that inspired the creation of Narnia and Middle Earth.
Because Lewis endured one war and found himself in the position of addressing the nation facing another one, his insights carry a certain gravitas. As I have listened in recent days to the President and his advisors refer to the present pandemic as a War, I thought back to Lewis’s sermon on Learning in War Time and have gleaned what I hope are encouraging insights for us all as we face this different kind of War.
Lewis pointed to three enemies we face when trying to stay on task while facing the threat of a war. The first enemy is what Lewis refers to as
“Excitement—the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defense is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them. Getting ill and recovering or following public affairs.
If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work…”
I’m not proud to admit that at least twice since starting this post, I checked my phone and turned up the volume on a newscast running in the background. The coverage of this crisis is the epitome of what Lewis described as excitement. It is entirely possible to become immobilized, even traumatized by speculation and conflicting coverage of things that will affect our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. This is new territory for us all,
What then is the work to which C.S. Lewis refers? How does excitement mitigate against our focusing on our work?
In our present circumstance I feel that our work is best defined by what it is not. Our work is not to attempt to function as amateur epidemiologists or economists or public policy experts. Our work is try to not touch our faces, wash our hands and observe social distancing. But it is much more than that.
What were we about before we ever heard of Wuhan China? Engaging others? Sharing our faith? Attending to the mundane duties of life? The question C.S. Lewis posed to Londoners could be adapted to us and our war and our excitements
“Dare we get about our duties and vocations despite the limitations; resisting the excitements of news flashes and Breaking News alerts?”
Are we still called to do whatever we do to the glory of God? Does the scripture “Whatever your hand finds to do… do it with all your might” still apply?
I think our work has not changed…to know love and serve God. The most powerful weapon in our arsenal may well be the T.V. remote and the Off button on our smart phones.
Now…if I can just find the remote…