The Importance of Small Things: Two Letters from The Major and the Missionary
Editor’s Note: After the death of C. S. Lewis, Major Warren Lewis lived at The Kilns in Oxford, spent time with friends, edited his famous brother’s letters, and did a little writing of his own. Then, out of the blue, he got a letter from a stranger on the far side of the world.
Over the years that followed, he and Dr. Blanche Biggs, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, shared a vibrant correspondence. They discussed everything: their views on faith, politics, humor, the legacy of C. S. Lewis, and their own trials and longings. Enjoy a sample of their letters and a small window into their close friendship. Read the full collection in The Major and the Missionary.
3 August 1969
My dear Major Lewis,
This correspondence has come a long way from the discussion of writing books which began it. I am too busy these days to think of writing except as a far-off dream; certainly not until I retire. I had serious thoughts about retiring after the present term of service, but our canny Bishop has given me a new job as Diocesan Medical Co-ordinator, and it is like creating a new portfolio; there is a fair amount of organizing to be done. I can’t foresee handing over to someone else in less than four or five years, so long as I have health and energy to keep at the job, so the Bishop will have me for longer than I planned, and my nice little cottage by the sea is fading into the future…sick patients still have to be nursed!
Your holiday in Ireland sounds delightful; other people who have been there love the country too. Of course, you would look on it as your home. Have you relatives or friends still living there? I must confess that the news lately has shown up the Irish in a bad light, with their fights and riots on religious matters. It takes centuries to live down old injustices and prejudices. But our hustling cities are creating a bad kind of society too. Our Papuans are infuriating in their failure to value time, but in our more sober moments we realize that they have values that we have not. They rarely suffer from high blood pressure, coronary disease etc.…
We are trying to help us all spiritually and to grow in Christian love by having weekly Bible Study classes. They are not my line of country at all, but anyway we are all trying. After a rather unfruitful study of St. James’ epistle we have now come on to Joy Davidman’s Smoke on the Mountain, a book that I have read and admired several times. We seem able to build more on her than on St. James!
Basically of course, spiritual renewal must depend on prayer, and one has so little time and less energy for it. Life has been full to the brim of activity in the past three months, very interesting but very wearying. Today is the first day when I have declared war on “jobs” and determined to be social—on paper.
If you will forgive my curiosity, I would love to know how the Gresham boys are faring. There is little mention of them in the book you edited about your brother…
With all good wishes,
28 August 1969
Dear Dr. Biggs
What a pleasant surprise it was to open your magazine and there to meet you, if not in the flesh at any rate by camera. I cannot say that I found the articles to be “simple” in the sense of being written for simple reads; to me they were just well-written and informative…
I have also to thank you for a letter dated 3rd of this month, which was very interesting, though I’m sorry to see you in such an unsettled state. To an outsider it looks rather like a case of “too many cooks.” Anyway I hope and trust that the whole “tohubohu” (delightful and self-explanatory French word!) will sort itself out to your satisfaction. To get on with the job in a period of re-organization is one of the hardest things I know.
Yes, my poor Ulster is passing through a bad patch, but I’ve seen many such before. The tragedy is that Protestant and Catholic are, one can say, born hating each other. I’m 3rd generation Ulster on my father’s side and on my mothers, 5th; I’ve lived out of Ulster for fifty years; and the other night when I saw on Telly the Protestant boys marching and heard the band playing “The Boyne Water” I felt as if I could throw a bomb with the best of them. Of course I said an instant prayer for forgiveness, but if I can react like that, imagine what the uneducated living cheek by jowl with their detested neighbors must be like! A sad, sad business…
One great thing about retirement is that you do have the time for prayer but alas, not always the inclination; but one must stick doggedly to a routine and pray for inclination. My plan is to get up at 6 a.m., make a cup of tea, then pray while the whole world around me is quiet. I’ve long ago given up the almost universal habit of saying my main prayer last thing at night—about the worst hour one could choose, I think.
I’m glad you like Smoke upon the Mountain which my brother thought highly of both before and after he met Joy. You ask about the Gresham boys for whom I’m glad to say I’ve no responsibility, they both being over 21. Douglas, the younger one is now a farmer in Tasmania and appears to be making a success of it—married to a nice girl (English) and with two children. The elder boy, David, is something of a problem. He is a strict orthodox Jew, intelligent, with no vices, but who at around the age of 28 has never earned a penny in his life, though he works hard. He is just back from a year at Jerusalem University and is now in England where instead of looking for a job, he is about to enter Cambridge University—to study the Talmud and Arabic! He inherited about £6,000 from a grandmother and it is I suppose on this that he has lived ever since. But even £6,000 does not last forever, and what then? We are all troubled about him, but he himself is as unconcerned as if he had inherited £6,000 a year…
In case you have any curiosity about what I look like I enclose this snap. I’m the old gentleman in glasses and the other is my houseman. It was taken at a village on the Suffolk coast where we sometimes borrow a cottage. We go back there for a fortnight at the end of next month. I don’t expect you have gorse in Papua—the lovely rich golden wild stuff at our backs.
With all best wishes, yours, Warren Lewis