Monday, October 5, 2009

C.S. Lewis on 'suffering' and 'happiness'

this weekend was the commemoration of the 'transitus' or passing of St Francis of Assisi, and his observed feast day. i've been blessed to have spent a good weekend both celebrating St Francis, as well as reflecting on my life and my own calling, in light of Francis' way of life.
it was a blessing to be able to spend the transitus with my secular franciscan brothers and sisters this year, to pray and reflect on the life and passing of this "poor man" of Assisi. two years ago i was blessed to be able to spend the feast with the Poor Clares at their monastery, last year i spent the feast day by myself- but with all the animals at home.

i've often contemplated and thought about questions regarding what true 'poverty' was, what it meant to be "poor in spirit", and what it meant to be 'rich'.
i've also been reflecting on the idea of happiness and suffering especially from the christian perspective.

people often philosophise and talk about "being happy" and what brings them "true happiness".
many of these ideas in the popular mind (depending on the culture, to some extent)often involve economic and financial security, socio-economic status, physical health and well-being and of course that elusive thing many call- 'love'.
it is believed by many, if not most societies, that if you have all these things to any extent, then surely you will find happiness, contentment and peace in your life.
i've always sort of felt that the idea of 'happiness' was somewhat over-rated (and to some extent self-serving), especially on how one finds 'happiness' in one's life in the popular mind based on attaining these goals.

to some extent it may be generalisation, that the poor seem to be (often) more content with what they have in life, as opposed to how miserable we sometimes hear the very wealthy can become.
certainly, the saying is accurate that "money can't buy you happiness"; many can confirm that in their experience. i think, however, that it is far more important to contemplate the "other side of the coin"; and that is- (earthly) poverty does not have to make you miserable or unhappy. in other words, just because someone is 'poor' or doesn't have all the 'conveniences' or so-called 'advantages' of wealth and earthly security, does not automatically mean they are unhappy with their life (overall) or miserable.

we don't necessarily have to look at the lives of the saints such as Francis or Clare to understand this, we can go to any poor nation and speak to some of the so-called poor people there and ask them if there is any 'happiness' in store for them in their life. i have met many such 'poor' people in my life, and they were far from miserable or would even consider themselves as 'suffering/ this is plainly because their expectations of what life has to offer is very different from many of us who seek their sense of happiness or contentment from something other than worldly or material things. the simplicity of the "lilies of the field".
i guess it often boils down to holding a belief that somehow life 'owes' us something, rather finding a sense of unconditional gratitude.

these words of CS Lewis rings true for me in how i see it.
i find it encouraging and edifying to read these thoughts on how to see suffering. i see the words of Christ from a new perspective on the "rich man" entering the kingdom of heaven. it makes total sense. it's not that God would deny them heaven, but those who hold on to that contentment with earthly satisfaction could not be satisfied with what God has in store for them because of their worldly attachments. i believe it's true for most of us, and myself certainly.
i guess that's why he naturally concludes that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the "poor in spirit"- those without "high expectations" of earthly satisfaction.

life doesn't owe us something, it doesn't owe me anything; i'm the one who owes a debt of gratitude that can never be paid in full.

someone once asked me how do you see the glass with water in it? is it "half-empty" or "half-full"; i answered- it depends on how thirsty you are at the moment, and how much water you're accustomed to getting.

"Christ said it was difficult for 'the rich' to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, referring, no doubt, to 'riches' in the ordinary sense. But I think it really covers riches in every sense--good fortune, health, popularity and all the things one wants to have. All these things tend--just as money tends--to make you feel independent of God, because if you have them you are happy already and contented in this life. You don't want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness as if it could last for ever.

But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently He may have to take all these 'riches' away from you: if He doesn't, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn't it? But I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a 'cruel' doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were 'punishments.' But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a 'punishment,' it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad.

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimist: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it becomes optimistic." -C. S. Lewis


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riverside, california, United States
please feel free to offer some thoughts and leave me comments if you should feel moved to do so... these are simply my thoughts, rants and ways of reflecting on where i've been and what i've seen. factual corrections and insight from others is gratefully appreciated and always welcome; endless arguing, debates and preachy personal opinion is not. ;-) "pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been? i've been to london to visit the queen. pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there? i frightened the little mouse under her chair"