Archive Page 2

Let’s read it again!!

We’ll be continuing in Lewis’ address “The Weight of Glory” at our next class meeting on May 6. This will give us some time to go through the entire piece together, which will definitely help us all gain a better understanding of it all! It’s posted as a PDF under “Essays for Discussion” up top.


Lewis’ “Joy” vs. Happiness, Grief

Last Wednesday at our first class meeting (4/22), some really great discussion emerged around Lewis’ concept of “Joy” – and there is a lot going on there. This is a seemingly constant recurring theme in Lewis, which is understandable considering the sort of experience he is trying to describe.

Yesterday, Scott and I were chatting about the distinction between Lewis’ “Joy” – happiness, pleasure, and then added a component of grief. He asked if we could provide some basic definitions of the concepts, which I’ll try to do here. The conversation was helpful for me, and served to clarify some of the issues in discussing these things.

1. The difficulty. These concepts are inherently hard to understand and describe, let alone box them up for quick consumption. This is in no wise a bad thing; if they were easy, we wouldn’t be so apt to call Lewis a literary or intellectual master. And such is our experience, as Lewis points out: this is a longing for a longing. A deep desire to feel “that particular deep desire.”

2. Jack’s many terms for it. As for Lewis’ word choice and definitions, again – hard to pinpoint. But I hope this clears up some confusion (it did for my own): When Lewis says “Joy” (the uppercase kind) he does not mean joy. He means something very specific, and using a word like joy is the best way he thought he could identify it in Surprised By Joy (1955). Note that he discuss this concept “Joy” elsewhere in his writing without even referring to it as such. He calls it “Romantic experience” and “sweet desire” in The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933). He calls it “the inconsolable secret” and “longing” in “The Weight of Glory” (1941). He almost surely calls it other things elsewhere.

The point: the terminology is entirely practical: to try to help us get it!, because he is suspicious that “the experience of longing” which comes through all sorts of media (poetry, memories, inanimate nature, buildings, etc.) is a common human experience.

3. “Joy” is different; wholly singular. What this means is that what we normally think of as “joy” (lowercase, general non-Lewisian usage) is not at all what Lewis is thinking of when he says “Joy”. And as I mentioned, because of it’s difficulty, it’s more likely that we’ll spend our entire lives (as Lewis did) trying to clarify our understanding of the experience (and more importantly living life in light of it, having paid it due attention) than figure it out in 9 class meetings. Note also that we should not necessarily assume that Lewis “Joy” is anything like the biblical meaning of “joy” (see 4C and 5 below).

But what a lovely and worthwhile place to start!

4. What it’s not. Remember, the standard for this is what Lewis is talking about; we’re just trying to understand his claims. After we understand, then we can disagree if that’s your cuppa joe.

A. It’s not “happiness” – a positive feeling or emotional state, associated with physical or non-physical pleasure, or favorable circumstances; note that under this same term, there is a wide range of intensity, from winning a board game to winning the super bowl, to winning the fair maiden’s hand in marriage.

B. It’s not “sadness” or “grief” – a negative feeling or emotional state, associated with physical or non-physical pain, unfavorable circumstances; note, however, that “the Experience” Lewis describes is one of desire, yet not having, which in other circumstances would produce sadness – yet this is not the case with the longing that Lewis is thinking about.

C. It’s not “joy” – a (lowercase) Christian virtue/disposition/experience that does not depend on the circumstantial events of one’s life, whether happy or sad; note that other virtues can serve to support this experience, such as peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc.; I would closely associate “joy” with “hope”; the sentiment of “joy” doesn’t necessarily include “longing” or “deep desire” or “inconsolable secrets.”

This last “What it’s not” is controversial – I need to think more about it, and expect that plenty of people would disagree with me about it. Certainly it’s tempting to think

5. Afterthoughts. Last week, two minor points came up that I wanted to follow-up on. That’s the etymology of the word “happy” and biblical references to “joy” (lowercase).

A. “Happy” does in fact contain a subtle reference to circumstance, and comes from Old English (and originally Old Norse “happ”) meaning “luck”; same roots as “happen” or “perhaps” etc. (References: OE, myEtymology,

B. “Joy” (lowercase) in the bible means something different than Lewis’ concept. (Again, a reason to maybe not call it that!, but he does though.) Here’s a decent overview of the concept of “joy” (lowercase) in the Old and New Testaments. There is a covenantal distinction though: joy in the OT is “exultant gladness” (which somehow makes perfect sense to me), and joy in the NT is:

“no mere gaiety that knows no gloom, but is the result of the triumph of faith over adverse and trying circumstances, which, instead of hindering, actually enhance it”

A notable NT reference that almost suggests a meaning similar to Lewis’:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2

Syllabus v1.0

Here is the class syllabus; click here for the PDF of the syllabus.

An Invitation! Class Starts Wednesday, April 22

Welcome to the blog/website for the Regeneration School of (the) Rock class, Clive Staples: The Life and Work of C.S. Lewis. If you have any interest in this wonderful person’s life, religion, philosophy, poetry, fiction, literary criticism… or maybe you just liked Shadowlands… stick around and check back often! I’ll be posting thoughts, articles, photos and more pretty frequently.
And if you live in the Bay Area, the class will meet Wednesdays at 7 p.m., at Regeneration in Oakland, CA. The first class will be April 22.

I’ll be posting a course description and syllabus sometime in the next two weeks.