The Dancing Puritan

Friday, November 29, 2013

Someone to Walk With: A Meditation on Friendship

Remembering C.S. Lewis on the Date of His Birthday
Born: November 29, 1898, Belfast, United Kingdom
Died: November 22, 1963, Oxford, United Kingdom



The Pasture
Robert Frost

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I enjoy the simple pictures painted in the artistic poetry of Robert Frost.  His thoughts, inked onto paper in The Pasture, reflect our innate desire for friendship. Friendship, at one level, is simply having someone to walk with.

Friendship as someone to walk with, finds a literal example in the life of C.S. Lewis.  

Humphrey Carpenter, wrote a great book (The Inklings) on the friendship of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others.  Lewis was fond of annual walking tours in the spring with a few friends.   Carpenter writes: 

It was an idyllic way to spend three of four days.  Footpaths were plentiful, . . . inns were numerous and cheap, . .  .and pots of tea and even full meals could be bought in most villages for the smallest of sums . . .  But though the route was different every year their habits were almost unvarying. They did not attempt to cover vast distances each day, in the manner of fanatical hikers. Lewis said he disliked the word 'hiking' because it was unnecessarily self-conscious for something as simple as going for a walk--but they certainly set a good pace, and would reckon to do perhaps twenty miles a day, maybe a little more on easy country or rather less if the going was tough.  

Lewis refused to allow the party to take packed meals, insisting on plenty of stops at pubs. He and his friends always made a mid-morning halt for beer or draught cider, and there was more beer at lunch time as an accompaniment to bread and cheese.  Lunch was always concluded by a pot of tea, and more tea was drunk at an inn or cottage in mid-afternoon. Indeed Lewis cared for his tea just as much as for his beer, if not more so.
Lewis like to argue with his companions as they walked.  They were all of them well matched ... but too much serious talk was discouraged. The kind of day they really liked was one such as in Dorset when they 'got through the serious arguments in the ten miles before lunch and came down to mere fooling and school-boy jokes as the shadows lengthened.'  (34-36).

The walks and the ongoing discussions by C.S. Lewis and his friends were instrumental in making him the man that he was, and that we honor today.  His thinking and his speech were not developed in isolation but were cultivated in the warmness of lively conversation. Part of the greatness of C.S. Lewis is found in the fact that he had friends to walk with.

It is important to be alone. In the chaos of human existence it is life-restoring to withdraw for a time to rest, reflect, read, pray, meditate, and to just be alone. However, being alone can be dangerous if  isolated from friendships.  Minds have warped, dreams withered, vibrancy dulled, and in some cases lives completely destroyed, due to withdrawing from others and failing to make friends.

God has designed us for fellowship, for friendship.  In the gospel, God reconciles enemies to himself and makes them friends.  He then makes his friends members of a community of friends (the church) and gives specific instruction as to how those friendships are to work.  Jesus regularly withdrew from the crowds and from his closest companions.  Yet much of his earthly life was spent in the presence of his friends.  Should we choose a different path?  Do we not need time alone before God in prayer and meditation? And do we not need the accountability and encouragement that comes via friendship?

J.R.R. Tolkien in his diary wrote of C.S. Lewis, "The unpayable debt that I owe him was not influence ... but sheer encouragement."

Friendship is having someone to eat and drink with, someone to debate with, and someone to laugh with.  It is having someone to encourage and to be encouraged by. And, like Jesus and the disciples, we need a variety-pack of friends; folks that share core convictions with us but who nevertheless are different from us. Friendship is having someone to walk with.