Friday, March 6, 2009

Bare Branches

"He remembered as though it were but a few days ago that winter night, himself too young even to know the meaning of beauty, when he had looked up at a delicate tracery of bare black branches against the icy glittering stars: suddenly something that was, all at once, pain and longing and adoring had welled up in him, almost choking him. He had wanted to tell someone, but he had no words, inarticulate in the pain and glory. It was long afterwards that he realised that it had been his first aesthetic experience. That nameless something that had stopped his heart was Beauty. Even now, for him, 'bare branches against the stars' was a synonym for beauty."

Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, Prologue: Glenmerle Revisited

Monday, October 8, 2007


This is one of my favorite photos of our time with Doug and Merrie Gresham at Rathvinden House in County Carlow, Ireland. Our boys were small enough three years ago that they could all fit in the wheelbarrow together! But the other reason this is one of my favorite photos is because I love autumn!

In my love of autumn I feel I am in good company. C. S. Lewis often mentioned his enjoyment of the season.

In the first chapter of Surprised by Joy Lewis mentions how his second glimpse of joy came through reading Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin. He says the book troubled him with what he could only describe as the idea of Autumn. "It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible--how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it."

It is fascinating to note that Lewis's memorable talk with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien, which eventually led to Lewis's conversion, took place in Addison's Walk at Magdalen College, Oxford on an autumn evening. Lewis described the event in a letter to Arthur Greeves on September 22, 1931:

"It was really a memorable talk. We began (in Addison's walk just after dinner) on metaphor and myth -- interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We all held our breath, the other two appreciating the ecstasy of such a thing almost as you would."

Then, in one of the very last letters from Lewis's pen, he wrote to Jane Douglass on 27 October 1963:

"Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons; and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like autumn, it doesn't last."

One could read that last line assuming a note of despair. But knowing C. S. Lewis, one can't read it that way. He was looking forward to walking through death's door and seeing for the first time what would be on the other side. Apparently autumn, throughout Lewis's life, was a haunting reminder of heaven. And I think it can be so for us as well.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cair Paravel?

Is it the ruins of Cair Paravel in Narnia? Actually it is the ruins of Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. C. S. Lewis grew up not far from here in Belfast and as a child he often went on holiday with his mother and brother to the Antrim Coast. Thus Dunluce, perched prettily on a cliff above the ocean, may have served as inspiration for Cair Paravel.

The ruins of Dunluce are intriguing in their beauty, and the ruins of Cair Paravel at the beginning of Prince Caspian are intriguing in their mystery. C. S. Lewis once said that Prince Caspian was a story about recovering faith in an age of unbelief. When the Pevensie children return to Narnia and land at Cair Paravel they do not recognize the place, at first, as their old home. But slowly the reality dawns on them. Perhaps recovering faith in God in an age of unbelief is kind of like that. As T.S. Eliot once wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Monday, August 20, 2007


Birthdays are very special in our family. They are always celebrated with a cake, usually homemade, presents, and often with a party or some special activity. The birthday person gets to have whatever meal they want on their special day.

Birthdays are a reminder of God's precious gift of life and the fact that God is our creator. Jesus also talked about another kind of birthday. He said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3)

So the question is: do you have two birthdays? If you want to learn more about how to have a second birthday click on the link:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Three Trees

There are not many trees in Ireland since the land was deforested four hundred years ago. This tree, standing alone, reminds me of the three trees of the redemption story--one at the beginning of recorded history, one in the middle of history, and one at the end of all things.

The tree at the beginning of history is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. By disobeying God's direction our first parents made all humanity subject to sin and death.

The tree at the middle of history is the tree on which Christ died to free us from the power of sin and death.

The tree at the end of all things was also present at the beginning of history--the tree of life. It is by Christ's death and resurrection that we will one day have the privilege to eat of the fruit of that tree.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keepers of the Light

This is the view from Hook Lighthouse on the southern coast of Ireland. Built in the early 13th century, Hook is perhaps the oldest lighthouse in the world, operational for 800 years except for a brief respite in the 17th century. Interestingly enough, the original keepers of this light, warning sailors away from the treacherously rocky coastline, were monks. Somehow that seems very appropriate since Jesus said that all of his followers were to be keepers of the light:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A-maze-ing Grace

This photo was taken near the ruins of Dunbrody Abbey, County Wexford, Ireland. My son Joshua is atop my shoulders and we are standing inside a maze. Upon looking at this photo again today it occured to me that it contains a message: life is a maze--but when our heavenly father lifts us up on his shoulders we get perspective to see our way through.