There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Lewis Tree

But courage, child: we are all
 between the paws of the true Aslan.
~C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

November 22nd, 1963. I remember that day so well, burned like an HD image into my mind. I was in 2nd grade when our school principal rushed into the room and told our beloved Miss Merton that JFK had been shot. Wide-eyed, we watched our young teacher lay her head on the desk and sob. And then we were sent home. 

I remember walking in the front door and seeing the television on during the day, which was shocking in itself, but there was Walter Cronkite, weaving his words with a quiet calm to a nation holding it's breath. What I didn't know was that, thousands of miles away from our little mid-west town, another great voice of the 20th century, another 'Jack', had also died that day--C.S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis, known as Jack to his friends, began life in Belfast on November 29th, 1898, and he went home to what he called the "far off country" on the same day as Jack Kennedy, in 1963. There are endless biographies of Lewis, endless papers published, endless enquiry into what made Lewis the greatest Christian apologist of our age--but that's not where I met Jack, or go to meet him today. I met Jack in Narnia and I meet up with him nearly every day in Oxford.

I grew up hearing Lewis' name in our household and in many of my dad's sermons, but my own reading of Lewis wasn't until I was in my 30's. For some reason The Chronicles of Narnia passed me by as a child (probably because I was too busy re-reading the Little House series about 50 times), but somehow I inherited our family's dog-eared set of the Narnia books. I must have had some extra time on my hands, with three kids running circles around me I don't know where I found it, but I decided to read the entire seven volume set of Narnia, alongside Mere Christianity as a companion. I devoured them and they changed my life. Mere Christianity is now embedded in my brain, and Narnia is imprinted on my heart.

After I finished all eight books, I went on to the rest of Lewis' writings, including The Screwtape Letters, The Weight of Glory, Till We Have Faces, Surprised By Joy, and my second favourite of Lewis' work, The Great Divorce. The Last Battle is my most favourite book and one I return to over and over. When my dad passed away ten years ago, I had to get on a plane and fly across the country, limp with tears, overcome with grief--and my comfort was my old, battered copy of The Last Battle. It sat with me on my lap, open to the last page, not being read; just sitting with me like a comforting friend.
The term is over: the holidays
 have begun. The dream is ended:
 this is the morning.
~C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

And then I moved to Oxford, where Aslan and Reepicheep and Puddleglum were born; where Lewis lived and worked and wrote. Lewis' world became my daily landscape, and again my life changed, my understanding of his writing deepened.

"My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” -Reepicheep, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Addison's Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford
Most C.S. Lewis lovers make pilgrimages to the Eagle and Child pub, or Addison's Walk at Magdalen College, or Lewis' home in Headington, the Kilns--things I've done myself. But that's not where I meet him now.  I meet up with Jack everyday through a tree, a tree I've come to call my 'Lewis Tree'.

The Lewis Tree in it's full,
 summer splendour.
We have an ancient (at least several hundred years old), black walnut tree that hangs over our back garden. It's so gigantic that even though it stands in the garden four doors down, a good part of it covers our garden. It also has protected status which has thwarted the colleges from ever being able build on the property behind our houses while it's still alive and well; without it, the back of our house would be a maze of parking lots and student housing. So right from the start, eight years ago when we moved in to No. 14, I've thanked our tree on an almost daily basis for all it adds to our life.

The Lewis Tree is what I look
 out our kitchen window and see.

In the Autumn it fills our 
garden with a pure, golden light.

This is about one quarter of the tree and not
 even half of what hangs out over our garden.

In the winter months, when storms rage and the wind blows in from the North Sea, I love to go out and watch the tree. It doesn't bend in the wind, it dances. Each large limb moves on its own in a wide circle, moving in unison with the other branches, like so many arms of a ballerina troupe.

The Lewis Tree dances it's way through a storm.
During storms each limb moves in a wide circle,
taking up the wind and turning it into a dance.
Why is an old walnut tree a 'Lewis Tree'? When Lewis first came to Oxford he lived just around the corner from us at No. 1 Mansfield Road. He had the little garret room right at the top of the house, which looks out over all of the back gardens on Holywell Street, and looks out onto our walnut tree.

C.S. Lewis' window looks
right out over our garden.

The garrett room at
No. 1 Mansfield Road

Lewis was completely taken with Oxford from his very first visit, calling it impossibly beautiful. During his time on Mansfield Road he wrote to a friend and described the beautiful view out his window, detailing what he saw, marvelling at our tree. He too watched the old black walnut tree dance in the wind, and was captivated.

It is well that there are palaces of peace 
And discipline and dreaming and desire, 
Lest we forget our heritage and cease 
The Spirit’s work—
to hunger and aspire........
~From Oxford, CS Lewis

Knowing Jack Lewis looked out onto our tree and garden keeps him alive for me, keeps his words close to my heart. When I'm sitting in the garden with the chickens, having a cup of tea, I think of Jack; "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." I look up at his little window and picture him immersed in a book but giving me a little wave; "It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." 

When I dig in the dirt, the tree swaying overhead, I think of my favourite character, Puddleglum, fashioned after Lewis' gardener at the Kilns; "I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."(The Silver Chair

When I turn to my roses and lavender for comfort when I'm homesick or missing my dad, I look up into the tree and Lewis is there reciting, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”..........except through Lewis' eyes I have a much better idea of what that landscape will look like.

Friendship is born at that moment
when one person says to another:
What! You too?
I thought I was the only one.
~C.S. 'Jack' Lewis

The homemaker has the ultimate career.
All other careers exist for one purpose only ~
and that is to support the ultimate career. 
~Jack Lewis

So thank you Jack and tomorrow I'll meet you at the tree and we'll talk........."Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."


  1. Oh, wow! What a wonderful blog. I resonate with every word. I'm so grateful that if I never get to Oxford, I have a better view of what has been in my heart and dreams since 1978 when I happened to be in the "right" place to take a post graduate course on Christian Imagination and was initially immersed in the magical, wonderful, holy and spiritual worlds of Lewis and Tolkien. While I'm totally "in love" to this day with their literature, it was the Chronicles of Narnia that, like you, transformed my thinking and capacity of love for God and his Kingdom. I, too, have a clearer view of what heaven will be like even though, as Lewis said, he certainly did not have a "corner" on what it actually will be like; none of us do; but he gave it the best vision, I believe, that any on earth could have. I,too, have plumbed the depths of his books; read and re-read them; taught them; lectured on them; and found an amazing number of children in our classes who grasped the deep abstract truths of Scripture in a way none could have without the stories and pictures that Lewis gifted us with, and whose lives, to were forever changed by walking into Narnia with us. In fact, just last week, I had a note from one who said, that now as a mother, herself, the lessons sowed seeds that have born fruit, and her prayer is that her children will be as blessed to have this kind of teaching, too. That was gratifying and humbling. It's interesting that you did not enter Narnia until 30 years of age; I, too, was an adult of 36. But whether young or old, once entering Narnia, never the same! I love your story about the tree and along with all the other treasured sites, I'll certainly look forward to seeing Lewis's tree if God grants me my desire. Thank you so much for this; and I feel like I have stumbled upon another treasure; a gift from God to have found your blog! I share it with my friend each time -- who does not blog; but has been in Oxford and to England many times in years gone by; she says everything you share is exactly as she remembers it; she loves how you describe it; and like all of us has fallen in love with Jack, your puppy! May the American side of you have a wonderfully blessed and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! Jane xoxo

    1. Thank you Jane for sharing your own journey with Jack and the voices of faith that resounded from the Inklings--that still do today. One day you WILL be here to see the Lewis Tree, walk his footsteps--you know we have a guest room with your name on it--it's for friends and family and it's always available. Like next September (heavy hinting--when Susan is here in England.) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving as well--our world needs extra helpings of Joy and Gratitude right now so bring on the pumpkin pies!!! xxxoooCarrie

  2. Me too (I was 13 in 1963), me too (I was introduced to the Chronicles of Narnia through my son's 4th grade teacher ~ and then my children and I read them all together, a chapter each evening), me too (everything else ~ "What! You too?"). Wish I could better say how much I love this post, so I echo Jane's words: "I have stumbled upon another treasure; a gift from God to have found your blog!" xoxoxo Christie

    1. You said it beautifully Christie and I'm so glad I found your lovely, poetic heart. xxoo

  3. Oh, I love this blog post!You are so fortunate that your world today intersects with Lewis's world of yesterday.I'm glad I came here and found this entry. There's just something about those who create special worlds for the rest of us to enter. Susan Morgon (On Twitter )

    1. Susan I'm so happy you felt transported into Lewis' world here in Oxford. I'm grateful every day for the blessing of meeting 'Jack' in a way few are able--and more importantly, to be able to share it with others. Thank you for stopping by and onward and upward! xxxoo

  4. Carrie, this is a beautiful post. Am just now reading it today, the 22nd anniversary of my mother's passing, so very sweet words from C. S. Lewis, whom I discover shares my birthday. I already felt a kindred spirit with him when I read the quote that he felt he was made for another world. I've always felt that way. We share Louisa May Alcott's and her father's birthday as well. It is so very special that you are able to look upon the same tree C. S. Lewis looked upon and wrote about. I felt that way about the White Oak tree in Emily Dickinson's garden when I visited. Her father planted it and now it is a huge, sprawling tree. Just to know she gazed upon it and perhaps even walked under it was exciting to me.

    1. Thank you Cathy and I'm glad you discovered this post today, especially to receive some succour from our mutual friend, Jack. I know from experience the passing of parents may get easier to bear as the years go on, but the pain stays with you. You mention all wonderful kindred spirits in Lewis, Alcott and Dickinson--their spirit lives on in us still--as your mother's spirit lives on in you. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your lovely thoughts. xxxooo Carrie