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A Grief Observed

  • Author:  C. S. Lewis
  • ISBN 10:  0060652381
  • ISBN 13:  9780060652388
  • Publisher:  HarperOne
  • Published:  February 6, 2001
  • Pages:  76
  • Language: English
  • Format:  EPUB MOBI
  • Price: $6.51

 

C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period: “Your bid for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,” Lewis writes. “Nothing will shake a manor at any rate a man like me out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is the book that inspired the film Shadow lands, but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly homest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

C.S. Lewis joined the human race when his wife, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford don whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains his epigrammatic reflections on that period: “Your bid–for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity–will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,” Lewis writes. “Nothing will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands, but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings. —Michael Joseph Gross

“A very personal, anguished, luminous little book about the meaning of death, marriage, and religion.” — Publishers Weekly

“I read Lewis for comfort and pleasure many years ago, and a glance into the books revives my old admiratation.” — John Updike

From the Publisher

C. S. Lewis’ classic confession of near-despair and rediscovered faith probes the issues of life, death, and hope in the midst of loss.

Most helpful customer reviews

Difficult, but somehow comforting for those in grief

By M. Todd Hall

Lewis’ book (journal, really) captures the feeling of those in grief, there is no doubt about that. June 16, 2000 my wife left this life, 8 weeks to the day after our first child was born. In the midst of our struggle, there were several books that my family and I found comfort in, and this book was one of them.

I rated this book 4 stars because it’s difficult. It’s not difficult to read, it doesn’t contain long arguments or technical language. The content is hard for those in the throws of grief. And yet it is somehow comforting to know that you’re not alone, the feelings that you feel aren’t the signs of insanity. I remember several times thinking I was going insane, that I’d finally lost it…only to read those exact thoughts from Lewis’ journal.

Lewis’ experience with grief was different from mine, too. I suppose everyone’s is different in some way. Lewis is angry with God, and he struggles with his faith. He explains that it wasn’t that he was in danger of losing his belief in God, but that he “was in danger of coming to believe such terrible things about him.” You may identify with Lewis’ words, and I truly believe you’ll find comfort in this book.

If I may, I would like to recommend another book for those who suffer and those in ministry to the suffering, as well. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s LAMENT FOR A SON captures the intimate details of grief, and in many ways I identified more with Wolterstorff than I did with Lewis.

For those who’ve lost, this book is a difficult and yet rewarding right of passage. You travel down the narrow path, on hallowed ground. You make a journey that those who haven’t made cannot speak of, and you can find comfort in the experience of those who travel with you.

For those in ministry, this book is an excellent insight into the pain of those to whom you minister. Lewis attempts to coldly analyze his grief, and in the end he cannot. He simply expresses his grief without even attempting to gloss over it. The information you can glean from this book for your ministry is immeasurable.

God bless you as you travel down this long and painful road. Remember, as Lewis did, the hope that will sustain you: God who raises the dead. The journey is difficult, but in the end we will see and hold them again. God be with you.

My favorite C.S. Lewis book…

By Rosemary Thornton

After having read several of Lewis’ books, I read “A Grief Observed” which quickly became my favorite. It is his journal – and almost too personal – where you bear witness to Lewis’ progress as he sloughs his way through the deep mire of sorrow and grief.

In the first pages of the book, he tells of going to God, seeking relief from the agony he feels in his heart over the fresh loss of his beloved wife, Helen Joy, only to find – the door slammed and the sound of the door being bolted and doubled bolted from the inside.

He rails against God and his faith is stirred to its core.

In the end, he finds his way back to God, but it is not an easy journey or a primrose path.

For all of Lewis’ intellectual reasonings and scholarly attainments, I find “A Grief Observed” to be his best work because it comes from the very heart of a man seeking to find the answers to life’s hardest questions. It is not a philosophical insight or an intellectual wrangling, but a spirit-filled work that lays bare the heart of a man who loved his wife completely.

This is an important book. Read it. You’ll be changed.

An honest book that doesn’t try to simplify grief

By bethlovesbooks

This work chronicles Lewis’ struggle to come to terms with the death of his wife. Because it comes from his private journals, it may not seem as “polished” as some of his other writings. Personally, I appreciate the way it reveals the innerworkings of a very emotional and private man.

In contrast to many works, this book doesn’t try to simplify grief, justify it, or dance around the issue with pat observations or cheery reminders. Instead, it dares to question those very tactics. Lewis allows himself to feel a broad range of emotions, including doubt and great despair. I love this quality in Lewis: he is one of the few Chrisitian writers who is brutally honest about his fears and anger. His writings allow that God is big enough to handle our toughest questions.

This little book is full of images and ideas that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. Lewis takes feelings that you can’t quite pinpoint and eloquently puts them into words. As I read the book, I kept thinking to myself “Yes, THAT’S what I feel too!” Misery does love company, and Lewis is excellent company.

As usual, Lewis is full of astute observations and points to ponder, but don’t expect a bunch of clean and pretty answers. At the end, his grief is still very much a work in progress, which is definitely how it has been in my life….a journey.

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Categories: Criticism, Theology
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