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Thanksgiving and Desire, Ordinary Time and Advent, and C. S. Lewis Week

I have always thought it a happy coincidence that in my country Thanksgiving Day occurs the fourth Thursday in November. That same Thursday happens usually to be the last Thursday in Trinity Season, at the end of what the Church sometimes calls Ordinary Time. That makes it the last Thursday before the season of Advent, the first Sunday of which is the Church calendar’s New Year’s Day. As such, the American Thanksgiving Day is an ideal occasion to reflect upon blessings given us in Ordinary Time before proceeding into Advent and the New Year.

This summing up of Ordinary Time in Thanksgiving, by another happy coincidence, falls somewhere between November 22 and 29—a week I sometimes call “C. S. Lewis Week.” The earliest day on which Thanksgiving Day may fall is November 22, the anniversary of Lewis’s death; the last day on which Thanksgiving may fall is November 28, the eve Lewis’s birthday. So just as the approach of Thanksgiving Day reminds me that a resetting of the Church calendar is just around the corner, it also reminds me that I may be overdue for some extended meditation on some essay or story by Lewis.

I give thanks for Lewis every time I read him, which is often. I give thanks for him because he has taught me much of what I know about how to give thanks, and to Whom I give thanks. Take, for example, this passage from Letters to Malcolm:

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun . . . If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.[1]

Perhaps more than anyone else, I owe Lewis thanks for showing me the connection between thanksgiving, adoration, and joy with arduous discipline and labor. It takes work to see the extraordinary things in “ordinary” time: to see a sunbeam shining through a cracked door into a dusty shed as a parable for the modern world; to see praise as “inner health made audible”; to see a world in a wardrobe. Lewis never shirked the hard labor of looking at things with his eye lighted by imagination, and his imagination disciplined by sense, with sense and imagination both tethered to love.

There is more, though. Just as Ordinary Time gives way to Advent, at some point the term ends and the holidays begin. We perceive that day by hope and faith, not yet by sight. And here I find that Lewis trains my appetite to desire every bit as well as he trains my eye to gratitude and adoration:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[2]

“Far too easily pleased.” And yet the “displeasure” into which Lewis would train me is a thousand miles from that of the malcontent or crank. To an age whose solons and sages called discontent the mother of progress and Christian hope the opiate of the masses, Lewis spoke a word both sweeter and truer: as discipline produces gratitude and adoration, so gratitude and adoration whet, and do not quench, desire.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer 90-91 (Harcourt 1992)(1963).

[2] Lewis, The Weight of Glory 26 (HarperOne 2009)(1949).


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