When someone refers to something as “spiritual” it often conjures the image of something ascetic, disembodied, or concerned with something other than the physical world. That impulse is a result of gnostic impulses that are foreign to biblical Christianity. In truth, while there is certainly division between body and soul in the human, our earthly life is a significant part of our spirituality.
C. S. Lewis’s writing is powerful on many levels, which is part of the reason he remains popular today. One of the themes that makes Lewis so helpful is idea that joy is attainable on this earth as embodied beings. That is, Lewis teaches his readers that our bodily lives have value, can bring glory to God, and can be a source of delightful worship as we live, eat, and love.
Gary Selby traces the theme of embodied worship in his book, Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality: C. S. Lewis and Incarnational Faith. Selby contrasts an earthy spirituality to a “negative spirituality,” which emphasizes solely spiritual goods.
After a brief introduction, the book is divided into eight chapters with a short conclusion. Chapter One begins, not surprisingly, by analyzing what Lewis meant when he wrote of Joy. The second chapter considers the nature of God as a good creator who wants his creatures to delight in him through creation. Chapter Three explores the negative spirituality Lewis grew up with, which still plagues so many Christians. In the fourth chapter Selby considers a Lewisian spirituality, which calls believers to be both conscious of good things and to choose the good over the lesser. Chapter Five delves into the formation of character through a Lewisian spirituality. The sixth chapter applies the positive spirituality found in Lewis to the physical life, especially to eating, which is a significant topic in Lewis’s fiction. Chapter Seven deals with seeking out community with those whom we might otherwise avoid. In the eighth chapter, Selby explains an earthy spirituality can positively impact our hope of heaven. The conclusion ties the book together by revisiting the topic of joy.
More than five decades after Lewis’s untimely death, many of the possible topics about Lewis’s life and work have been written. There have been favorable biographies, critical ones. Dissertations of varying content and quality have been composed. For the most part, books about what Lewis said about particular topics have been written. There is, within the field of Lewisiana, a growing danger of repetitiveness or digression into meditations about “what Lewis means to me.”
Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality manages to avoid the status of retread. There is a great deal in this volume that overlaps other treatments of Lewis, but Selby writes well, thinks clearly, and presents Lewis in a way that is both helpful and interesting.
This is a book that does well by pointing the reader back to Lewis. It should be read after one has already read a great deal of C. S. Lewis, since Selby is integrating themes from across Lewis’s canon. Readers who have read The Chronicles of Narnia and a few of Lewis’s shorter non-fiction works will probably feel a little lost in this book. Those who have feasted on the Space Trilogy and many more of Lewis’s essays and non-fiction books will find Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality very engaging and delightful.
As such, this is a volume that belongs on the shelves of those who enjoy and have deeply read the work of C. S. Lewis. I expect to find myself referencing this volume in years to come as I continue to think and write about Lewis’s work.
NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.