The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C.S. Lewis)

Originally and politely suggested in an ISI email, it nevertheless took a long line at the DMV (sneaky payback for every speed limit I’ve ever scoffed at?) for me to finally resign myself to reading this article. For some reason, I have a hearty disdain and distrust of these kind of articles that sell sweeping fix-alls and revolutionary advice. Perhaps it’s my generation; perhaps it’s just me. But I quickly knew that this advice would be true and truly original, since the opening paragraphs were not afraid to tell me that I was very wrong in my thinking but that someone else was very right. “The Muses do not keep a calendar or follow a plan,” is the summery trap I found myself in recently, but luckily, we are given the antidote:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Funny me for muddling it all together. The river needs strong banks to channel its energy. The author proceeds to cite the fruitful routines of Lewis and Churchill to drive the point home (just mention Mr. C.S. Lewis and I’m all ears).

So– in my funny, long-winded way I’m politely suggesting that you read this article and take it’s advice to heart. Building routines in your life is like what happens in a simple piano piece when you merge the dancing right hand with the undercurrent of the left. Art is limitation. Games only work when we play by the rules. It’s yet another paradox of this life; know first what everything is for and then the mysteries of the world will flower before you.


Source: The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

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C.S. Lewis on Ordinary People

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations –these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

–C.S. Lewis

Cheers to a brand spanking new year! It took me a full 3 seconds to decide that this quote would be the first “Weekly Passage.” If I had the magical power to convince every person in the world to read just one thing, this paragraph would be it. These words reveal the very heart of everything. Clive Staples Lewis (what a name, though!) lends us his eyes in this passage, and through them the world not only makes sense, but we detect the greater story unfolding .

We suddenly see what we have been looking at all along.

The best thing happens with those first two sentences; the questions come bubbling up. Ordinary people. Staring at my laptop, black coffee in hand, boots on my feet and hair in a braid, I feel pretty ordinary (like an ordinary nerd); I don’t know about you. We can interpret this in a few ways, ranging from the things we do every day to our profound human identities. While we all partake in those daily, “ordinary” human tasks that we unknowingly signed up for at our birth (well, except for my mother who I’m quite sure never sleeps and my brother who I’m quite sure never showers), even those mundane things are only the same on the surface. If we pay attention, no doubt we will find that we all sip a cup of coffee literally quite differently, with different idiosyncrasies and in a different spirit. Even here, there are no ordinary people.

Then, we may be tempted to refute his claim by pointing out how the lives of so many people still follow a similar, sluggish pattern, so the little differences don’t seem to have any significance. True, we are sometimes tempted to go about our day-to-day lives as act ordinary, or average, or lukewarm, but I really think that this is more of a cowardly disguise because we are nervous to confront the truth that there is something intrinsically precious and rare in us all. No two are alike, yet all are equal in unfathomable worth. Once you know that, you know that you owe more to yourself and the people around you. It’s scary to think that you are meant to become someone that no one else can become.

Now taken literally, C.S. Lewis was a Christian, and Christians believe that each human soul is eternal. That still sounds very abstract, though, so maybe it is better to emphasize that we believe everyone will live in the presence of our Creator and Father forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever… How often do we think about this? If this is true, this certainly changes things. I think that Lewis would agree that you are most at peace when your daily activities flow from who you are; that is to say, you make daily decisions knowing that yourself and those around you are headed towards eternity. This world is passing away, and we are all one one big family road trip on our way to “a country we have never visited.”

The next portion initially baffled me. What do you mean the life of our great American nation is like the life of a gnat? Here we encounter a concept of time that is unfamiliar, but logical. Our invisible souls are eternal; magnificent, rock-solid kingdoms pass away. Even Rome fell. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinth. 4:18).

We are brought up to desire the glory of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, from our dysfunctional families, to our book clubs, to our universities, to our countries. But all the significance of these nations, cultures, arts, etc. derives from their relationship to humanity. Here, it is easy to see that our purest association, family, grants the most human happiness as we share our works, joys and sufferings with those eternal souls who know us the best of all. The remarkable patentors of the Great American Experiment had it right here, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We must enjoy the vast riches that we can see with our eyes, from wondering at a gentle snowfall, to letting the huge ocean waves knock us off our feet, but we won’t find what we’re looking for until we can see Who they point to.

We must play. I sometimes think this is the best sentence I have ever read. I’m very tempted to set sail at once with my closest friends. You know those moments that you feel exuberant, when the joy bubbles out of you in great guffaws? Better, have you ever caught the mirth in a beloved’s eye, and shared a smile deeper in your heart than has ever spread across your face? It is in our childish play that not only do we find our purest happiness, but we find the feeling of home. When you glimpse the shimmer of another’s soul during such play, you know very well what C.S. Lewis meant.

And now, to bookend this piece properly by sharing with you the glorious passage preceding the above quote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

If you’re reading this, thanks for hanging until the end (though I cannot fathom how you were able to accomplish it.) As the barista in this cafe just boisterously proclaimed to its humble occupants, “New year, new us!”

Here’s to making all things new.

No Mere Mortals: A November Reflection

It is during the month of November, which begins with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day if you are familiar with the Roman Catholic feast days, that we remember our beloved departed. Though I have been so lucky as to never have experienced the passing of someone very near to me, there is one lesson that I always take away from these observances: love the people around you like there is no tomorrow. Because realistically, there may not be. If you hold it true that we are immortal souls housed in our mortal bodies (as I do), then there is a more profound occurrence than mere death in death and a more complex reality than mere life in life. In one of the truest, best and most beautiful passages that I have ever read, C.S. Lewis describes what a person who believes in eternity really sees when beholding the persons around him:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Or, in everyday English: let’s run the thrilling race of life together, knowing full well that we are headed toward eternal joy and glory (and puppies as my little brother likes to remind me).