For most of last month, I used excerpts from Letters to Children as the basis for some brief reflections in our morning chapel at Granite. Letters to Children is a compilation of C.S. Lewis’s correspondence with the young children to who wrote to him, usually about his Narnia books. While Lewis seems to have rarely touched on religious topics in most of his letters to children, when he does, he consistently points children to a God-centric view of things, rather than to an ego-centric view of things. His letters remind children that their experience of God does not in any way change His reality, and that dwelling on the finished work of Christ ought to replace dwelling on themselves.
For instance, when Lewis writes to his goddaughter, Sarah, in 1949 to apologize for missing her first communion, he tells her not to worry if she doesn’t have a deep emotional response when she participates in the sacrament:
Don’t expect (I mean, don’t count on and don’t demand) that when you are confirmed, or when you make your first Communion, you will have all the feelings you would like to have. You may, of course: but also you may not. But don’t worry if you don’t get them. They aren’t what matter…Our Lord will give us right feelings if He wishes–and then we must say Thank you. If He doesn’t, then we must say to ourselves (and Him) that He knows us best.
In another letter, Lewis likewise acknowledges very frankly to a young boy named Laurence that “people do find it hard to keep on feeling as if you believed in the next life.” But in both cases, Lewis affirms to these young children that their own feelings in no way change reality. Lewis tells Sarah, “The things that are happening to you are quite real things whether you feel as you w[ou]ld or not.” Sarah has been saved by the work of Christ, and her own emotional response to acts of worship have nothing to do with that reality. Lewis likewise tells Laurence, “It is just as hard to keep on feeling as if you believed you were going to be nothing after death. I know this because in the old days before I was a Christian I used to try.” In other words, our feelings are temporal; everyone naturally experiences doubt in his convictions at some point, but those doubts do not change the reality of eternal life. Lewis is drawing the focus of these children away from themselves and towards something higher, something beyond their own experiences and feelings.
This is education in a most classical sense. The word education comes from the Latin word “educare” which means “to draw out.” In this sense, a true education cannot be ego-centric; it cannot be focused on the self. An education that promotes navel gazing by asking a child to constantly contemplate his own feelings about a topic is nearly useless. After all, the child does not already possess within himself a knowledge and understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful. These are ends which transcend the child, because they transcend all of humanity. The child must be drawn out of himself and pointed towards them, and this is what an education, in its truest sense, does.
In his matter-of-fact way, Lewis shows us how to draw a student out and to help her meditate on that which transcends her own self and her own experience. The true, the good, and the beautiful are only attainable if our gaze is drawn out of ourselves and pointed to something outside, beyond, or higher than our own sense of being. That is ultimately the goal of a true education: to draw the student’s gaze and contemplation to the One who is the source of all truth, all goodness, and all beauty.
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.