Tag: C.S. Lewis

How to Listen to The Great Courses

Well, gardening season is here.

And that means one thing: I need lots of listening material.

I’ve mentioned it (quite a few) times: One of my favorite activities is to listen to lectures, podcasts, and audiobooks while I garden. My favorite source: The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series. (Caveat below.)

I spent awhile reviewing the various options for acquiring these splendid lectures. I believe there are four (besides just buying each lecture independently at enormous cost):

1. Subscribe to Audible through Amazon. $15 per month. You get a free book once a month, plus offers. It appears the entire Great Courses catalogue is available.

2. Subscribe to Audible independently with its Audible Plus Plan. For $8 monthly, you get access to its “Plus” catalog, which is a misnomer. It means, “Our 500,000 audio selections, minus 489,000.” Only 11,000 titles. There are very few Great Courses books, but there were dozens of audible books that greatly interest me (including a big selection of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Sowell). With this plan you can listen to any of them at no additional charge.… Read the rest

I Found C.S. Lewis Reincarnate in a Flimsy Paperback My Parish was Giving Away Free

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

A few years ago, I stumbled across a video by some guy with an Australian accent. I listened for awhile and thought, “Man, this guy has a thorough grasp of what he’s talking about.” That guy, I learned later, was Matthew Kelly.

Whenever I pick up one of those flimsy Matthew Kelly paperback books that seem to proliferate and litter the back of churches, and read a few pages, I’m normally edified.

But I’ve never been a Matthew Kelly fan.

I guess I’ve never been able to get past the self-promotion, the pop “Dynamic Catholic!” trademark, those exclamation points, the relentless “be-the-best-version-of-yourself” admonition that sounds like it came from Tony Robbins.

To be honest, I have always kind of looked down my nose at his works, like they’re pablum.

I then picked up I Heard God Laugh. It was lying on our kitchen counter, stained and wrinkled because my wife just grabbed it while walking out of church one day and tossed it in the backseat of her minivan, to be ravaged by the exigencies of being a housewife.

I read a few pages and liked what I read.

It then hit me. “This guy is C.S. Lewis for the 21st-century Catholic.”… Read the rest

George MacDonald: Grandfather of Middle Earth?

Fantasy literature wasn’t even “a thing” until George MacDonald came along. Timothy Larsen flushes it out.


One of my favorite “browsing books” is C.S. Lewis’ Anthology: 365 Readings of George MacDonald writings.

I’ve also long believed that the fiction of George MacDonald is worthy.

Alas, I’ve never been able to “get into” his fiction.

A small collection of his books sit on my shelf: Phantases, Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin. The only thing of his I’ve read: “The Golden Key” short story, which is probably his most famous short story but still, just a short story.

A lot of it is no doubt the prose. It’s simply from a different era.

But part of it might be that MacDonald wrote like a 19th-century version of a psychedelic trip.

Indeed, that’s how it seemed to contemporary readers.

Timothy Larsen flushes all this out in this splendid essay: Why George MacDonald Matters.

“To this day, readers often find Phantastes to be a deeply strange novel. Nevertheless, we are steadied and orientated by all the fantasy literature that has grown out of it like realist novels suddenly animated by magic. We have Tolkien, but Tolkien only had MacDonald and his followers. To put the point bluntly, no MacDonald, no Tolkien.  It is still a curious book, but as it was the starting point of something new, Phantastes was immeasurably weirder for its original readers.  In fact, MacDonald had gotten ahead of the market.”

The whole essay is splendid and points out that, without MacDonald, no Narnia, no A Wrinkle in Time, and probably no GKC’s The Man Who was Thursday . . . or even Harry Potter.

“George MacDonald is the fairy godfather of the Inklings.  None more so than C. S. … Read the rest

How to Live Like a Zen Master

Lessons from spiritual adepts from various traditions tell us the same thing: Cultivate the eyes of a child

In the seventh century, Hung Jen, the fifth patriarch of Chinese Zen Buddhism, neared death. In order to choose a successor, he asked each monk to compose a verse that testified to the monk’s Zen insight and post it on the wall. Shen Hsiu, the illustrious heir apparent, composed the following:

The body is the Bodhi-tree,

The mind is like a clear mirror standing.

Take care to wipe it all the time,

Allow no grain of dust to cling to it.

An uneducated kitchen worker named Hui Neng disagreed with the verse, and wrote beside it:

The Bodhi is not like a tree,

The clear mirror is nowhere standing.

Fundamentally not one thing exists:

Where then is a grain of dust to cling?

The Patriarch favored Hui Neng’s verse and appointed him successor. Zen at this point split into two schools, the Northern School (under Shen Hsiu) and the Southern School (under Hui Neng). The Southern School became the dominant school and the doctrines now associated with Zen are from the Southern School. Although this popular account of a famous split in early Zen is often disputed the key lesson remains: don’t wipe the mirror.

Pure Self is Still Self

Zen as it developed in the Southern School has always disdained mirror wiping because, by emphasizing the mirror, the “mirror wiper” asserts that he or she is renouncing the self in order to create a pure self — with the result that either way he or she is focused on him or herself. His or her self may become more pure, but it continues to stand strong.

It’s the religious version of having your cake and eating it, too.

Zen tries … Read the rest

Seven Days Make One Weak

The past 11 days made me weak.

You might recall that I had COVID the first week of November.

I didn’t. Or if I did, I caught it again on December 1st.

I got tested this time and it came back positive. Plus, I lost my sense of taste and smell and had the fully spectrum of problems (short of going to the hospital). It’s not fun. It’s the third sickest I’ve ever been.

The good news is, I have virtually no symptoms at this point and most of my strength back. I also now flaunt my bullet-proof immune system.

Well, maybe not “bullet-proo.” Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University who has been working both on the epidemiology of COVID-19, says I’m “almost-certainly immune.”

That’s close enough for me.

The link above goes to an episode of The Tom Woods Show. If you want a synopsis on how well lockdowns and other government responses have worked, I recommend it.

So, one of my favorite websites, Zero Hedge, announced “Zero Hedge Premium” yesterday.

The gist of ZH Premium: “Because Facebook and Google are censoring us, we need to have a premium webpage option that doesn’t rely on ads. The cost for subscribers: $1 a day.”

The Facebook and Google censorship is real enough. Even someone as amiable as Tom Woods started a MeWe fan site because Facebook had started to demand that he censor his fan comments. From that perspective, it’s believable Zero Hedge needs to have a self-funded site.

But $365 annually?

We’re at the beginning of a self-publishing gold rush. If you have a lot of publishing cred, you can demand a lot of money from fans. Mark Steyn charges $160 a year for his “Club.” Matt Taibbi has used Substack to create Read the rest

How Many Beers Does It Take to Find the Tao?

C.S. Lewis would’ve said “zero.” It’s the Tao that helps you find the beer.

It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.

That’s C.S. Lewis writing about the Tao in his famous book, The Abolition of Man. Since the book’s publication in 1947, Lewis’s name has been associated with the Tao because of his love and respect for the natural law it embodies.

But I associate Lewis with the Tao for a different reason: his beer drinking.

You see, Lewis spent many Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child public house drinking beer with J.R.R. Tolkien and other friends.

It’s vintage Lewis. Although he was at times melancholy, Lewis could find enjoyment almost anywhere doing almost anything: attending church, taking long country walks, living at his humble Kilns, tutoring students, writing theology or children’s fiction, teaching.

The difference between enjoying and enjoying the enjoying

Lewis’s capacity for enjoyment stemmed at least partly from the early influence of a little-known Australian philosopher named Samuel Alexander.

Alexander pointed out the distinction between enjoying something and being aware of the enjoying. Here’s how Lewis put it:

“Enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment. Of course, the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity, but they are distinct and incompatible. . . The surest way of spoiling a pleasure [is] to start examining your satisfaction. . . [N]early everything that was going on a moment

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