November 22, 2013
Today, fifty years to the day from the date of C.S. Lewis’s death, Lewis received the ultimate tribute given to a British writer.
He was given a permanent place of honour in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poets’ Corner.
In an exceptionally beautiful service rich in every component, from the readings of scripture and passages from Lewis’s works, to the hymns and the exquisite anthem composed by Paul Mealor and specially commissioned for this service using Lewis’s own poem ‘Love as Warm as Tears’, to the marvelous address by Rev Rowan Williams, to the placing of the remembrance bouquet on the memorial stone by Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis was given a level of honour that in his lifetime he would never have imagined or sought for himself. With nearly 1,000 people in attendance for this historic event, the formality of Westminster Abbey surprised me with an unexpected kindness in its ancient architecture and gloriously beautiful interior. The deep sense of God’s presence there held a profound sense of welcome into a space that I had expected to be cold and austere. Instead a gracious elegance welcomed every visitor, adult and child, and its high vaulted ceilings gave room to rise high for every voice in song or reading. And no voice raised had a more compelling impact than the voice of C.S. Lewis sounding through the air from the sole surviving recording from his BBC radio broadcasts reading from BEYOND PERSONALITY: THE NEW MEN. I was not alone in experiencing shivers, tears and wonder.
Beautiful voices in such a range spoke and sang within those old, old walls of Westminster Abbey and each voice seemed held mid-air respectfully and with love by those listening and by God Whose presence was everywhere present. I delighted in hearing Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s younger step-son reading from The Last Battle, and equally delighted in hearing Professor Helen Cooper, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English, ( the Chair held by C.S. Lewis at Cambridge) reading 2 Corinthians 4:5-end.
I was not alone in weeping when Walter Hooper placed the flowers on the memorial stone, watching him stand so quiet and dignified, knowing how very emotional and significant this day must be for him. This day must surely be as much a milestone moment for Mr. Hooper in some ways as it is for Lewis himself. Without the life long efforts of Walter Hooper it is possible millions of readers would never have read Lewis at all. He stands as a remarkable example of faithfulness, kindness and quiet courage.
By Dr Michael Ward’s account, the beautiful commemorative bouquet was made up of 64 white roses (one for each year of Lewis’s life); 7 sprigs of holly berries (one for each Narnia book); 3 sprigs of rosemary (one for each of the Ransom trilogy); and a single red rose (for the great medieval poem, the Romance of the Rose).
At the close of the service with hundreds of attendees streaming quietly out of the great arms of that sanctuary, a small cluster of Lewis friends gathered to pray and in that single, simple act brought something humble and essential into view.
We are on the edge of a great watershed moment in history. It is not just Lewis’s legacy that is now being defined for the days ahead. How will each of us who bear the spiritual “DNA” of Lewis carry the legacy forward? And of all that he has given us in word, image and example, what is now uniquely ours to faithfully and courageously carry on?
My deepest personal thanks to Dr Michael Ward, and all those involved in bringing this event to fruition. It is an honour well-deserved and well-given.
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Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.
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