Saturday, October 20, 2018

CRC Blog Analysis on BECOMING MRS LEWIS: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan

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Becoming Mrs. Lewis:
The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis
By Patti Callahan
“The Christian Conversion of A Woman In Love”

Thomas Nelson (https://www.thomas published Patti Callahan’s historical novel Becoming MRS. LEWIS:  The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis on October 2, 2018.
Throughout BECOMING MRS. LEWIS the reader  hears Helen Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis’s voice, describing her childhood with a superficial mother who was more worried about exterior appearances than interior and a father who demanded the most perfect behavior – and when his daughter came home with a B instead of an A -he punished her by slapping her across the face.  In the Davidman family, he said, only the utmost best and perfect was accepted.
       One could call Joy a feminist of her day – she was Jewish, atheist, communist, and progressive in her views – one of which was a woman had just as much right as a man to speak her mind and she spoke her mind.  
      We learn of Joy’s promiscuity and her reason behind her promiscuity with other men – to find love, to search for love.
When she meets fellow atheist and fellow writer William Lindsay Gresham she is truly in love and the two marry on August 24, 1942. 
The two continue to earn their living from writing, and have two boys, David “Davy” Lindsay and Douglas Howard.  
Joy is faithful to her husband, but is torn between the rules of motherhood and wifehood and the desires of being a writer -  she would rather write her poems and fiction than spend the day arranging her dining room table with the most fashionable dinnerware.
Her most severe heartbreak is due to her husband’s alcoholic rages and his chronic serial infidelities.  In the spring of 1946, Bill refuses to come home, claiming another one of his alcoholic binge breakdowns.  Joy, out of sheer desperation, falls on her knees, tears rolling down her cheeks, praying to God:  the Someone she never believed in until that vey moment of desperation.  (Left: Holland jacket cover of Becoming Mrs Lewis)

 (God) he entered the fissures of my heart as if he’d been waiting a long time to find an opening.  Warmth fell over me, a river of peace passed through me.  For the first time in all my life, I felt fully known and loved.  There was a solid sense that he was with me, had always been with me.
       The revelation lasted not long, less than a minute, but also forever; time didn’t exist as a moment-to-moment metronome, but as eternity.  I lost the borders between my body and the air, between my heart and my soul, between fear and peace.  Everything in me thrummed with loving presence.
       My heart sowed and the tears stopped.  I bent forward and rested my wet cheek on the floor.  “Why have you waited so long?  Why have I?”  I rested in the silence and then asked, “Now what?”
       He didn’t answer.  It wasn’t like that – there wasn’t a voice, but I did find the strength to stand, to gaze at my children with gratitude, to wait for what might come next.  Pages 10 – 11 (Timeline of Jack and Joy's life.  Copyright granted by Thomas Nelson Publishers).

Bill eventually returns home and the Gresham family attends the local Presbyterian Church.  Joy voraciously reads everything she can on history, philosophy and religion trying to figure out who this God is and how she is to commune with Him but she still has no answers. (Left:  September 1946 issue of Atlantic Monthly)
Then in the spring of 1949 she comes across an old issue of Atlantic Monthly from September of 1946, which contains an article called “C.S. Lewis:  Apostle to the Skeptics” by Beloit College Professor, Poet, and Episcopal Priest Chad Walsh. (Right) 

The article “C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics” was a feature about C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles Of Narnia series, who had converted from atheism to Christianity.  
Joy was inspired and read every book she could find by C.S. Lewis particularly his books on philosophy such as The Great Divorce, Pilgrim’s Regress, and The Screwtape Letters.  Over the dinner table one night Joy and her husband Bill decided to write to C.S. Lewis and question him about God.

       Joy’s spirits lift the winter of 1950 when she and her husband finally receive a letter from C.S. Lewis (Right) where he describes God the Father as the “Hound of Heaven.’  He also feels a connection with Joy because both were atheists before their conversions and both are searching to make sense of God and who He is:  I believe I have spent my heart since that moment attempting to make sense of it all. But are we to make sense of it?  I’m not quire sure that is the reason for our encounter.  Page 24
Joy responds to C.S. Lewis almost immediately:  my soul will not let me rest until I find answers to some of my spiritual questions – questions that will not go away, questions that have every right to nag at me until I find peace.  Page 26

       Joy also asks Jack questions about theology and mythology and Jack responds:  It was Tolkien (have you yet read his work?) who convinced me of the one true myth – Jesus Christ.  It wasn’t an easy conversion for me, but one of an all-night conversation at the river’s edge.  Page 37 (Right Tolkien)
Over the next two years the two abandon their last names and call each other Joy and Jack and write to one another about God, literature, intellectualism, philosophy, theology, mythology, the Bible, and their own writing works.  Joy also reveals her past to Jack – her being Jewish and her former communism.   She also reveals to Jack the state of her marriage to Bill – who by now has returned back to his drinking and cheating.  
       By the winter of 1952 Joy’s health is deteriorating due to an abnormal thyroid and severe fatigue, in addition to the stress and trauma of living with Bill, which now include his verbal rages.  Joy’s deteriorating health is nothing new to Joy – she’d been having health problems all of her life, but this time she feels completely depleted emotionally, physical and mentally.
The doctor warns Bill that if Joy does not get her rest she will never recover from this bout of illness.  As a result, it is agreed that Joy will take a recuperation trip to England where she will do research on her non-fiction book she is writing on King Charles II.
     Joy’s first cousin
Renee Rodriquez comes with her own two children to reside in the Gresham household (Right) and take care of Joy’s two boys while Joy is away.  Joy and her cousin Renee were reared like sisters and
Renee was the sister that Joy’s father and mother wanted her to be – beautiful, fashionable, submissive, love of domesticity, and not having the need to speak her mind. And yet she never had resentment toward Renee – and considers Renee her most trusted confident.  In fact, both woman come to a deeper intimacy of friendship when they realize both of their marriages are failing.

       In the second week of August of 1952 Joy boards the SS United States and sails to England where she resides for six months.  During her six-month stay she meets with C. S. Lewis and his brother, Warren. (Left:  C.S. and Warren)   Jack and Joy develop a friendship that is based on their love of God.  They also have deep conversations that are intellectually stimulating, allows for friendly debate, and a mutual respect that is not found in most male-female relationships.
In December of 1952 she waits to receive money from Bill so she can return home.  She senses Bill is extremely cold to her in his letters and suspects something.  When she reads Bill’s letter her suspicions are well founded – Bill reveals to her that he and Renee are in love and want to get married.  He recommends that she should find her own lover.  Joy is devastated, feels nausea boiling, feels her body chill cold, and yet deep inside she had suspected.  Even still all she can do is slam her fist on her typewritten pages, scream, and weep.  She finally resists the urge to lay down in bed and instead dresses and ventures out into the England cold: 
I walked the streets like the dove from Noah’s ark in search of mooring but finding only water, endless miles of ocean and nowhere safe to land.  It was of course all my doing, the ruin in which I found myself.  What did I think would happen if I left Bill with the perfect Renee?  What id I think would happen if I chased peace and health across an ocean?  I had destroyed my own ark.  Page 168 (Left:  Noah Sent Out This Dove attributed to Julius Schnorr young Carolsfeld in 1860. )
       On January 9, 1953 Joy finally returns to the Gresham farmhouse and refuses to leave.  She is determined that she will be brave, claim her children, claim her right to her own home, and then decides that eventually she, Davy and Douglas will move permanently back to England.  She files for a separation from Bill and in November of 1953 she and her boys sail to England.
She falls more deeply in love with Jack; and Davy and Douglas (Left:  with C.S. Lewis) develop an intimate father -son relationship with Jack: both boys now view Jack to be their true authentic father figure. 
       The British Government sends Joy a letter stating that she is no longer a legal immigrant of England and if she is not married to an Englishman she will be deported with her two boys back to New York.  Jack insists she cannot leave and the two marry in April of 1956 in what is a love of marriage but lacking any sexual consummation.
       Then something happens – something that shocks them to their core and even questions how much time they have together on this earth.  Finally Jack admits he is in love with her and wants a real sexual marriage;  for Joy she finally realizes the Man she truly has fallen in love with is the Trinity God, and this falling in love with the Trinity God enables her to love Jack with an abounding, pure, love that encompasses all four loves that exist –

Eros (sensual, romantic, sexual love),

Storge  (love between family members such as parents and children, and siblings),

Philia (Love shared between Christian brothers and sisters),

Agape (the highest of the four loves, which defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for humankind.  It is divine love that comes from God.  Agape love is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure).

       All along Joy had been craving a real marriage with Jack; but deep down inside what she craved for was her love for God to be all encompassing.  Finally she can say to Jack what Ruth says to her mother-in-law in the Book of Ruth Chapter 1 Verse 16:  For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.     

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