C.S. Lewis

Stay Tuned for My U2 Conference Ireland Report

Life has taken some wild turns the past couple years (some of them quite grievous) and I've found it difficult to do a large amount of posting as of late. I recently attended the U2 Conference in Belfast, Ireland, and I shall publish a report on it this fall. It was a life-changing event on so many levels.

Stay tuned!

For now here is a picture I took of St. Mark's where C. S. Lewis went to church when he was growing up in Belfast.

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U2’s Link With C. S. Lewis: A Deep Longing for God – Part 3: ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Perelandra’

Originally published on Rocking God's House.

The following is part 3 of a 3-part article series that examines excerpts from a new book about U2 and C. S. Lewis (how their music and books intersect and capture spiritual hunger in powerful ways) called Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey Into Joy and Healing. The series is being published to celebrate the upcoming release of U2’s new album “Songs of Experience.” (#U2SongsOfExperience)

Although a rock band and the author C. S. Lewis might seem unlikely allies, the band U2 has been successful in capturing elements of joy in their music that Lewis wrote about. There’s more common ground between the two than you might think.

Here is a quote from my book about Lewis’s “Perelandra” and U2’s song “Beautiful Day.”

In the first two books, Ransom, a philologist and professor modeled after Lewis’s friend J. R. R. Tolkien, is swept up into a secret journey to Mars and Venus. Lewis himself is a character in the story and the narrator. In Book 2, Perelandra, Ransom travels alone in a coffin-like space capsule and lands in the oceans of Venus, the planet that the non-human inhabitants of the solar system call Perelandra, which is an unspoiled paradise.

Ransom catches his breath as he beholds the planet’s golden sky and emerald sea: “The very names of green and gold, which he used perforce in describing the scene, are too harsh for the tenderness, the muted iridescence, of that warm, maternal, delicately gorgeous world. It was mild to look upon as evening, warm like summer noon, gentle and winning like early dawn.”

Ransom discovers that most of the landmasses on the planet float on the surface of the sea. In order to accomplish anything, he must relearn how to walk because the ground is constantly moving—like learning to walk on a ship during a storm, except with the added challenge of malleable earth that conforms to the shifting contours of the ocean’s swells.

After learning to walk on the fast-changing, unpredictable ground, he tastes some of the food—a gourd hanging from a tree. The intense pleasure of it overwhelms him, and he wants more, lots more. On earth, he would not have hesitated to satisfy the craving and gorge himself. But something about the virgin paradise of Perelandra, something in the mood and spirit of the strange planet, restrains him:

His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favor of tasting this miracle again.…Yet something seemed opposed to this “reason.” It is difficult to suppose that this opposition came from desire, for what desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.

Later in the story, Ransom notes this feeling of restraint again when he encounters bubbles that hang from trees. When he walks through one, the bubble pops and showers him with delightful, soothing sensations. He sees a long line of the bubbles, and he thinks about running through them greedily to make them pop over his head all at once, but then a thought enters his mind: “This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backward…was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself—perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defense against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film.”

As Ransom learns later in his journey, it was not just his virtue that restrained his possessive need for the gourd and the bubbles. The planet itself—or, more accurately, the Presence of One who inhabited it—helped Ransom. In a similar way, in our quest through the Stages of Joy, the House of Longing works to loosen our roots that have grown down into this world.

But it’s not always pleasant.

This unmooring of our roots can be unsettling. Throughout our whole lives we have learned to walk on fixed land, but now we’re staggering across a strange, undulating terrain that moves as wildly and fluidly as the surface of the ocean.

We must relearn how to walk.

We navigate a tricky in-between ground where a part of us lives in the House of Longing, enthralled with the realness of heaven, while another part of us keeps its roots tangled in the passions and pursuits of this world.

The more time we spend in the secret place of the House of Longing—and the more we apply what we learn there to our worldly interactions—the easier it will be for us to do what Ransom did: to let go of our grabby compulsion to “have things over again,” to possess all of this life’s happiness with a white-knuckled grip.

But when our hearts finally relinquish ownership, something surprising happens: we discover that losing everything voluntarily—in other words, letting the hand of God unearth our shivering rootlets from the soil and transplant us—actually results in the most beautiful day we have ever had.

…With “Beautiful Day,” the goldmine of meaning lies in the beat—in the song’s soaring schematic of boom-boom-boom. And that’s exactly how the song begins: a heart-like thump-thump of a Euro kick drum put together by producer Brian Eno, along with the murmuration of synth chords floating behind. This launches “Beautiful Day” into a steady, brisk walk—a driving, levelheaded tempo with a tinge of urgency like the hurried pace of a New Yorker on the sidewalk. (We’ll call this rhythm the New Yorker’s Walk.)

When the chorus hits, as Bono shouts the song’s title, the whole song is thrown off-balance. The driving rhythm of the New Yorker’s Walk vanishes, and an off-kilter upheaval takes its place. The song suddenly feels like a ship at sea when it lurches on a wave and everyone on deck staggers to one side of the boat. U2 achieves this by using dotted rhythms—notes with rhythmic values that hold their note and suspend in space for a moment instead of striking every beat of the song.

This technique makes it harder for the ear to pick out every beat of a tempo, and it adds a funky sense of syncopation, as if a businessperson walking with fast, determined steps down the avenue had suddenly halted and started dancing to James Brown, hopping a little or sliding here. An odd analogy, perhaps, but that’s how dramatic the rhythmic contrast is between the verses and the chorus in “Beautiful Day.”

The contrast—on one side is the even, driving New Yorker’s Walk, and on the other is the funky, off-balance syncopation—shows us what Joy does. It disrupts our sense of balance. The further we go on this journey, the more we will find ourselves treading on the islands of Perelandra, the ground that shifts with every rise and fall of the ocean. Everything is in transit, including our hearts.

But that’s a good thing.

The One who has hurtled us forward with Deep Longing has a glorious destination in mind. If we surrender, if we learn to let go of our treasures instead of clinging to them, our sense of heaven’s permanence and accumulation will grow. As Jesus said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matt 10:39 NLT).

Click here to read other published installments in this 3-part series.

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Excerpts in this article come from the book “Shadowlands and Songs of Light.”  Text LIGHT to 54900 to get a preview of Shadowlands and Songs of Light. You can also try the new YouVerse Bible App devotional plan written by Kevin called C. S. Lewis and Joy now available in the Bible app.

How U2 and C. S. Lewis Both Capture a Deep Longing for God – Part 1: Stabs of Joy and ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’

The following is part 1 of an article series that examines excerpts from a new book about U2 and C. S. Lewis (how their music and writings intersect and capture spiritual hunger in powerful ways) called Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey Into Joy and Healing. The series is being published to celebrate the upcoming release of U2’s new album “Songs of Experience.” (#U2SongsOfExperience)

Possibly the most wonderful, intensely blissful emotional sensation that can happen to us in this world–maybe even more wonderful than falling in love–is something that C. S. Lewis called “stabs of joy” in his autobiography “Surprised by Joy.”

This “stab of joy” is a longing so intense and sweet and melancholy all at once that it’s overwhelming and ecstatic, and it can strike at any moment, as I wrote:

[This stab of joy] is close to the intense sensations of homesickness—the pangs that come when we see a place from our childhood or hear an old song that’s tied to our past. Yet it’s not quite nostalgia. It goes beyond that. When this strange Longing stabs us, we feel homesick for a home we’ve never had. 

For each person this moment is different–maybe you felt it once while watching a sunset or stargazing or when you saw your newborn child for the first time or when you read a certain book or smelled a certain fragrance of flower on a rainy day in the garden. The pinprick that causes the longing is different for everyone and it changes as we get older, but it is common to the human experience. (And this bittersweet yearning for something we don’t know and can’t describe can often be the catalyst or precursor to what philosophers call existential angst.)

One of my earliest memories of a stab of joy happened while backpacking as a kid. My family had just reached the summit of a mountain at the same moment when a fighter jet flew over it, so close that the pilot saw me and gave me a thumbs up. The next moment I turned and reached a vista overlooking the California Sierra mountain ranges and the Nevada deserts.

That’s when the stab struck, as I....Click here to read the full article.

Comforting Thoughts in Times of Sorrow

(This post originally appeared on RockinGodsHouse.com)

The late Lauren Bacall -- Hollywood silver screen legend and wife of Humphrey Bogart -- once said, "Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that."

Anybody paying attention to the world right now will have added a few more lines of sorrow to their face. These are times that try our souls.

This week, besides losing one of the most beloved personalities in American culture (Robin Williams), we lost one of the last icons from the Golden Age of Hollywood (Bacall). As an ardent fan of movies and of these actors in particular, this was a painful week for me. And, if these losses weren't sad enough, journalists are reporting new horrors and tragedies on a daily basis -- both near and abroad.

It's times like these when we need to keep an eternal perspective. The Christian believes that his or her true home is not this earth but Heaven. When we remember our true citizenship, it helps us push through times of great sorrow in this world, which C.S. Lewis called "the valley of tears." Speaking of Lewis, here are a few moments from Lewis's writings that help us see our true Home with vibrant colors and greater clarity:

1. The magnificent "solidness" of Heaven in The Great Divorce.

In the short fiction work of The Great Divorce, when a group of lost souls in "grey town" (Hell, perhaps, or a sort of transitory "holding tank" until Judgment Day), are given leave to visit the foothills of Heaven, they find that Heaven is so solid compared to their ghostly forms that not even the blades of grass will bend under their weight; and, in fact, the grass pierces their feet like swords. They're also unable to lift the leaves, as if the smallest leaf weighs two tons.

Encouragement: Although the book is a work of theological fantasy fiction, Lewis makes a profound observation: Heaven's substance is the true reality, and all other places below it, whether this temporary universe or Hell, are flimsy in comparison -- so much so that a soul cannot even bend a blade of grass in Heaven unless they are one of its citizens. It's a powerful reminder that this world is not our true home, and that we "seek a better country," as Hebrews 11 puts it.

2. The tears of Aslan in The Magician's Nephew.

In this book, which is the first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, the boy Digory asks Aslan the lion to heal his dying mother. He pleads with Aslan in fear, as if he were petitioning a frightening, distant monarch. But when Digory looks up from his tears and sees Aslan's face, he's shocked to find Aslan crying bigger tears than Digory over his mother. Digory realizes that Aslan has a greater love for Digory's mother than he does.

Encouragement: Although the Narnia books are not a strict allegory, Aslan is certainly a Christ figure. This scene with Digory reminds us of a powerful truth that Scripture supports: Christ loves our loved ones more than we do, and He feels our grief more keenly than we do. This realization strengthened my heart when I lost my mother.

3. The glimpse of unspoilt paradise in Perelandra.

In Book Two of Lewis's Space Trilogy, the hero Ransom finds himself in a paradise world untouched by the Fall (the sin of humanity).

Encouragement: If a mortal writer can dream up a world like Perelandra that fills the heart with such awe, imagine what God can do with Heaven. In an indirect but powerful way, Perelandra reminds us that our true home -- Heaven -- will be more wonderful than anything we can imagine. Here's a description from Perelandra when Ransom eats one of the fruits of paradise:

"Moved by a natural impulse he put out his hand to touch it. Immediately his head, face, and shoulders were drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, 'die of a rose in aromatic pain.' Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake. When he opened his eyes— which had closed involuntarily at the shock of moisture— all the colors about him seemed richer and the dimness of that world seemed clarified."

Lewis, C. S. (2012-04-03). Perelandra: (Space Trilogy, Book Two) (Kindle Locations 727-731). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

What C. S. Lewis' Birthday (i.e. Today 11/29) Has in Common with the Oldest Woman Alive (117 yrs)

Today, Nov. 29, 2016, Emma Morano celebrated her 117th birthday in Rome, Italy, where she lives. She is the oldest person alive, the only living person on earth born in the 1800s, and the only living person who has been alive at one point during the last three centuries (1800s, 1900s, 2000s). 

She also shares a birthday with C. S. Lewis, who was also born on Nov. 29. (Side-note: November is a significant month for Lewis fans. He was born in this month and also died in this month on Nov. 22, 1963.)

But this is where it gets mind-blowing (at least for me). This is where the amazing reality of her longevity--and all that it implies--really sinks in.

She was born only one year after C. S. Lewis. He was born in 1898; she was born in 1899. If she had been born in Belfast, Ireland or England instead of Italy, she might have been in the same school as Lewis. They could have met and dated. She was only a year younger than Lewis, easily within the range of age to have been "on his radar," so to speak, if they had been classmates.

In other words, a person who was a part of Lewis' generation is still alive today. Emma Morano shared Lewis' vantage point of life and history. They learned to walk and talk around the same time. They were mischievous teenagers at the same time. They were strutting through the peak of their youth--20s and early 30s--at the same time. They were dealing with the angst of mid-life at the same time as they reached their 40s and 50s, all the while celebrating their birthday on the same day every year, he in England, she in Italy. Their lives moved through history in parallel motion.

Except for one minor detail: C. S. Lewis died in 1963.

Emma Morano kept living for another 53 years and counting. If she stays alive eleven more years, she will have lived twice as long as Lewis.

You can read her story here.

Besides sharing the astonishing facts above, in honor of C. S. Lewis' birthday I'd like to share a quote from his novel "The Great Divorce." It describes a soul's journey into Heaven. I believe on this day 53 years ago Lewis experienced something akin to the following description:

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider that they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got ‘out’ in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair.

Today C. S. Lewis, JFK, and Aldous Huxley Died Within Hours of Each Other

Today I must memorialize one of the most astonishing days of modern history in terms of famous death. On the same day--Nov. 22, 1963--within hours of each other, beloved professor and Christian author C. S. Lewis, American president John F. Kennedy, and author Aldous Huxley (who wrote "Brave New World") died within hours of each other: C. S. Lewis first at 11:38am Central Time, JFK at 12:30pm Central Time, and Huxley that evening at 7:20pm Central Time.

I recently had a chance to see, in-person, the presidential limousine that carried JFK when he was shot on that fateful day. I saw it at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, and I made a video of it:

The amazing coincidence of the three famous figures dying on the same day inspired a book by philosopher Peter Kreeft:

In 1982, philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote an imaginative after-death dialogue between Lewis (an ancient Western theist), Kennedy (a modern Western humanist), and Huxley (an ancient Eastern pantheist). He entitled it, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. Trevin Wax has a good summary of the book with excerpts.

In addition, an excellent article about that fateful day--11/22/63--can be found here: The Death of Narnia, Camelot, and The Brave New World: A Timeline of 11.22.63. This article is where I got my information for the timeframe above.

Are you a fan of C. S. Lewis? See my new book Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing which explores excerpts from 18 C. S. Lewis books and songwriting critique of songs from 13 albums by the Irish rock back U2 to answer one question: how do we experience our joy in Christ--not just theorize or talk about it--during times of sorrow?

New Book about U2 and C. S. Lewis: Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing

The writing of C. S. Lewis. The music of U2. Longing. Grief. Hope. And, finally, a Joy in Christ that cannot be defeated. Author Kevin Ott invites you on a life-changing journey.

The Bible tells Christians not to grieve as the world grieves and to rejoice in their sufferings. But when author Kevin Ott lost his mother unexpectedly in 2010, he sank into a wintry depression.

And then something surprising happened, just when life seemed the darkest.

While exploring 18 C. S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums, he experienced tremendous "stabs of joy"--the unusual heaven-birthed joy that Lewis wrote about--in the midst of grief. This revelation not only pulled Kevin out of depression, it forever changed the way he experienced the love and joy of Christ.

Shadowlands and Songs of Light takes the reader on a quest--with beloved literature and epic music as companions--in search of joy and healing in the midst of the great sorrows and disappointments of life. As the reader explores 18 beloved classics by C. S. Lewis, from Narnia and "Mere Christianity" to the Space Trilogy and "The Four Loves," and 13 studio albums by the legendary band U2--uncovering the secret recipes of music theory that make their music so powerful--the destination of the quest becomes clear: true joy means having a deep, all-consuming longing for God.

In "Shadowlands and Songs of Light," you will:

  • Learn fascinating details about C. S. Lewis, discover his unique definition of joy, understand how to apply his revelations about joy to suffering, and learn to recognize and cooperate with God's strategic use of joy.
  • Enjoy a grand tour of U2's discography, with a special emphasis on their exploration of joy and suffering.
  • Clearly understand, from the perspective of music theory explained in common terms, why the music of U2 is so emotionally powerful and how it serves as a perfect analogy for Lewis's concepts of joy and the Christian ability to rejoice in suffering.
  • Find inspiration from the personal stories of U2, especially the tragedies that engulfed their youth in Dublin, and see how they worked through that grief and discovered a joy that has kept the band together for over thirty-five years.
  • When the out-of-control nature of the world and your weaknesses throw you off-balance, you can experience God's grandeur and joy-- discovering heaven's perspective until it becomes your instinctive, default vantage point every day.

Text LIGHT to 54900 to get a preview of Shadowlands and Songs of Light

Find "Shadowlands and Songs of Light" online at AmazonChristianBook.com, Barnes & Noble's Nook or in-store at Family Christian or Barnes and Noble.

About the Author

Kevin Ott is the co-owner and editor of Christian entertainment site Rocking God's House and a lifelong fan of C. S. Lewis and U2. He has a degree in music composition from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his articles about music have been recognized by world-class institutions such as Yale University, leading voices in the U2 scholarly community, and AtU2.com, the most prominent U2 fan site in the world. In addition, Kevin's writings about the works of C. S. Lewis have caught the attention of some of the finest Christian minds today, and he has guest lectured about the life and writings of Lewis.

Raised by a Bible scholar and a music therapist, Kevin developed his love for theology, writing, C. S. Lewis, and music early in life, and he has been a worship leader since the early 2000s. He lives in Santa Barbara County with his wife and daughter where he serves as a worship leader and pastoral assistant at his church.

Connect with Kevin:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/stabsofjoy/

Twitter: @KevinOttAuthor

Instagram: kevinott777

Endorsements for Shadowlands and Songs of Light:

“‘Grace makes beauty out of ugly things,’ Bono sings, and Kevin Ott writes with openness, passion, and hard-won insight about the grace he found in U2 and C. S. Lewis when walking through one of life’s most troubling episodes. Readers will receive the gifts of Ott’s honesty, wisdom, and enthusiasm for life from this book, as I did, and will find that at the intersection of U2, Lewis, and scripture, he has built a richly layered playlist.”

—Scott Calhoun, Professor of English, Cedarville University, director of the U2 Conference and editor of Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll? Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2

“U2 and C. S. Lewis! What an amazing combination that guides the soul soaked in sorrow into a place of illuminated peace. Kevin Ott brilliantly takes a deep emotional dive that surfaces in the presence of Jesus. I am so pleased to recommend this book to everyone who has known depression, suffering, and sadness. Kevin artfully combines his skill as a worship leader and inspirational speaker to help us understand the liminal space between brokenness and healing.”

—Randy Phillips, of the musical group Phillips, Craig & Dean

“Kevin writes about music in a way I’ve never seen before. It brings all the deeper things of our existence—joy, philosophy, theology, imagination, and hope—to life. It transforms you.”

—Moses Sumney, acclaimed recording artist and songwriter, and a frequent collaborator with the Grammy-winning artist Beck and other major artists.

“Ott’s insightful analysis and personal testimonial result in a persuasive and powerful presentation of the ability of artistic expression and spiritual exploration to aid in healing and growth. The author’s own training and experience as a musician, composer, songwriter, worship leader, author, blogger, and film critic give him a unique perspective on creativity and the Creator. Readers will discover how it is possible to tap into unexpected depths of joy even while wrestling with profound loss.”

—Rev. Jon Eymann, MA, Marriage and Family Therapist, Psychotherapist, and Manager of Crisis Services, Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness

“Kevin’s intense hunger for God comes through on every page. This book does more than just bring joy into times of sorrow. It will change your life and awaken a deeper hunger to pursue God with all of your heart.”

—Dr. Kodjoe Sumney, Founder of Mission Africa Incorporated, an award-winning humanitarian group in Africa, and the presiding pastor over the Annual Parliamentary Conference, a national prayer conference held in the parliament of Ghana, Africa