Recently, Heather and I watched the movie “Shadowlands,” directed by Richard Attenborough. I am sure we saw it in the theatre when it first came out in 1993. But I had forgotten what a profound and touching film it is.
“Shadowlands” tells the story of the relationship between the American poet Joy Davidman and the British writer C.S. Lewis. They met in 1952; she was thirty-seven years old, he was fifty-four. In the “Shadowlands” version of the story Lewis (played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins) is portrayed as a stiff, remote, self-contained academic. He has organized his world so that he never has to deal intimately with the unpredictable complexity of people. No one has access to his heart, until the brash and brilliant Joy Davidman comes crashing into his life. After two years of friendship, they come together in a marriage of convenience in order to enable Davidman to remain in Britain. But, when it is discovered that she has cancer, Lewis is no longer able to contain his feelings and a deep loving relationship develops between them until Joy’s death in 1960.
C.S. Lewis was man of prodigous intellect. Before he allowed Joy Davidman to gain access to his heart, he had been a man who had crisp clear answers to all the questions and mysteries of life. Twelve years before meeting Joy, Lewis had written a brilliant intellectual examination of The Problem of Pain. After Joy’s death, pain was no longer merely a problem in need of a precise rational solution. Pain had become a lived reality over which Lewis found himself utterly powerless. So much of his intellectual pursuit had been a device to avoid facing the reality of suffering. He had struggled in his brain to contain the world, make it controllable, understandable and tidy. In the death of the woman he loved, Lewis faced a reality he could not tidy up. Her death was too big to fit neatly into Lewis’s rational formulations.
Near the end of “Shadowlands,” C.S. Lewis says,
Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choce: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.
When we open ourselves to the possibility of love, we open ourselves to the inevitability of pain. “That’s the deal.” We cannot have the one without the other. Human relationships are not tidy and predictable. Entering into any relationship involves the inevitability of suffering. If we remain determined to exercise control over our lives and if we are unwilling to accept the risk of relationship, we condemn ourselves to a life that is smaller than the luminous reality for which we were created.
Love has the power to create a larger space in our heart. But the space love creates does not open easily. We have learned so well the lessons of self-protection. We go through life fearful that there are malevolent forces stalking the universe intent upon our destruction. We feel a deep need to keep the walls up, to guard ourselves from harm, and to resist those forces that we perceive to be a threat to our well-being. We struggle to maintain the illusion of control over the forces of life, but know deep in our hearts that our efforts are futile.
Through his relationship with Joy, C.S. Lewis discovered a deeper reality within himself. He came to learn that he could not control his world and he could not keep himself safe by the intellectual slight of hand in which he had so long taken refuge. He found that truly living involves the reality of unexplainable, unsolvable suffering.
Advent is the season in which we acknowledge the reality of darkness in the world and in human affairs. It is a time in which we are called to acknowledge the profound and difficult realities that are part of the human condition. But, Advent also holds out the promise of light dawning in the darkness. As we open ourselves to the reality of human suffering, we experience the dawning of new light and hope in our hearts.