A Grief Observed | Book Review Jan 15, 2017

A Grief Observed Book Review - Book Cover
A Grief Observed; C.S. Lewis; 2015 (1961); HarperOne; 76

Growing up, I often came across many quotes from the name C.S. Lewis. They were all brilliant and always had the ability to challenge my thinking in ways I could not imagine. I was stunned by the amount of intellect in his words. His quotes felt like beautiful creative concepts filled with simple common sense.

The late C.S. Lewis certainly needs no introduction. People in this generation, and even more in generations past have most likely been exposed to this iconic name. Whether directly through any of his over 30 published works or indirectly through famous quotes or major motion pictures from the Chronicles of Narnia series, hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people have experienced some of the greatest words of wisdom from one of the greatest intellectual and influential writers of the 20th century. Just as his writings and words of wisdom continue to fascinate the world many years after his death, the journey of his life is just as fascinating in itself.

Lewis was nearly 10 years old when his mother passed away. 3 years later, an adolescent Lewis abandons his Christian faith. At 18 years of age, he received a scholarship to University College, Oxford. One year later, he enlists in the British Army during World War I. The following year, Lewis was wounded in the Battle of Arras and was eventually discharged from the army. Nearly 15 years since Lewis abandoned his Christian faith was when he met a friend by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien who became a major influence to Lewis converting back to Christianity. At the age of 30, Lewis' father passed away. It was also when Lewis abandoned atheism. At the age of 32, Lewis eventually converted back to Christianity which led to an explosion of writings that spawned throughout the remainder of his life.

I am not sure why I am starting with A Grief Observed as the first ever book to have read from Lewis' expansive catalogue. With its releaseone year after Lewis lost his wife, in 76 pages he shares his pain, anger, remorse, reflection, and a whole series of other emotions that is involved from losing his wife named simply as "H" which was short for her rarely used first name Helen. I am reading the most recent edition with the most recent cover art which came out in 2015. The cover to me is by far the best cover from all the editions. It has a beautiful combination of orange, white, and blue colours with a script font for its title. The background has leaves falling from an empty tree which is a perfect symbol to its title.

When taking the effort to look up the chronological timeline of when A Grief Observed was published, I was stunned by the significance of the timing given the backstory. In 1956, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham who was currently battling bone cancer. With the cancer being in remission, their marriage was extended for almost 4 years until she finally passed away. Nearly one year after her death, Lewis was diagnosed with kidney inflammation, and it was one month following that he published A Grief Observed. This ended up being Lewis' second last book before he passed away.

A Grief Observed is Lewis' open and honest understanding of life, death, love, and faith while trying to make sense of it all in the midst of tragedy and pain felt through the death of his wife. His vulnerable transparency is what shines in this book. Lewis does not shy away from his brokenness and frustration while challenging his own presuppositions. While I have never experienced loss the way Lewis has, his insights allowed me to resonate with Lewis. His blunt honesty of being able to share his own observations helps readers relate to the complexities of God, death, love, grief, and sorrow that are often void of comprehension.

"You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?" - page 22/23

"Sometimes it is hard not to say "God forgive God." Sometimes, it is hard to say so much. But if our faith is true, He didn't. He crucified Him." - page 28

"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down." - page 52

"When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.'" - page 69

For the two hours taken to read Lewis' words, it felt like I was in the same room with him as I listened to him explain the philosophical challenges he faces. There is nothing I can offer nor respond to when reading a book like this. If anything, the reader turns into a listening friend, with nothing to offer Lewis except their presence, attention, and to see and understand perspectives never shared before. Perhaps some readers are already dealing with similar grief and are comforted from being able to listen and relate to Lewis' observations.

Aside from the comfort of relating to Lewis, the most help he provides through the misery and pain of his words is how God and love is understood more accurately when dealing with the inescapable process of grief. This is the hope readers can walk away with.

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