C.S. Lewis on Our Task in Troubled Times

“By no means, in peace or warfare, commit your advantage or your happiness to the longer term… The current is the one time wherein any responsibility will be executed or any grace obtained.”

C.S. Lewis on Our Task in Troubled Times

It bears repeating: Proper now, someplace on the planet, anyone is making love and one other a poem. Elsewhere within the universe, a star manyfold the mass of our third-rate solar resides out its closing moments in a wild spin earlier than collapsing right into a black gap, its exhale bending spacetime itself right into a effectively of nothingness that may swallow each atom that ever touched us and each datum we ever produced, each poem and statue and symphony we’ve ever recognized.

Even within the sliver of spacetime that’s our current, perishable like each current of the previous, an infinity of issues are happening suddenly, menacing and sumptuous — an unlimited simultaneity of which we discover solely a fleck, our consideration narrowed by evolution and exploited by the information media. However the truth stays — and this has at all times been so — that even in probably the most tumultuous of circumstances, human beings have managed to divert their consideration and its tendrils of intention away from destruction and towards creation. A number of the best achievements of civilization, from arithmetic to Nina Simone, have sprung up within the darkest of occasions.

That’s what C.S. Lewis (November 29, 1898–November 22, 1963) explores in a sermon he delivered in England on the peak of World Conflict II, later included in his 1949 assortment of addresses The Weight of Glory (public library).

Artwork by Kay Nielsen from East of the Solar and West of the Moon. (Accessible as a print and as stationery playing cards.)

Addressing an viewers of frightened younger students, not sure of what use their mental ardour and inventive labor have in a war-torn world, Lewis provides an elixir of perspective:

The warfare creates no completely new scenario; it merely aggravates the everlasting human scenario in order that we are able to not ignore it. Human life has at all times been lived on the sting of a precipice. Human tradition has at all times needed to exist below the shadow of one thing infinitely extra vital than itself. If males had postponed the seek for information and wonder till they have been safe, the search would by no means have begun. We’re mistaken once we examine warfare with “regular life.” Life has by no means been regular. Even these durations which we expect most tranquil, just like the nineteenth century, prove, on nearer inspection, to be filled with crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Believable causes have by no means been missing for laying aside all merely cultural actions till some imminent hazard has been averted or some crying injustice put proper. However humanity way back selected to neglect these believable causes. They needed information and wonder now, and wouldn’t watch for the acceptable second that by no means comes.

With a watch to our specific evolutionary inheritance, he provides:

The bugs have chosen a distinct line: they’ve sought first the fabric welfare and safety of the hive, and presumably they’ve their reward. Males* are totally different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, focus on the final new poem whereas advancing to the partitions of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This isn’t panache; it’s our nature.

The Dove No. 1 by Hilma af Klint, painted throughout World Conflict I. (Accessible as a print and as stationery playing cards.)

In a splendid rebuttal of the view that tradition is an extravagance — “an inexcusable frivolity on the a part of creatures loaded with such terrible tasks as we” — he provides a salve for our ahistorical rashes of panic:

We’d like intimate information of the previous. Not that the previous has any magic about it, however as a result of we can’t examine the longer term, and but want one thing to set in opposition to the current, to remind us that the essential assumptions have been fairly totally different in several durations and that a lot which appears sure to the uneducated is merely short-term style.


The warfare has probably not raised up a brand new enemy however solely aggravated an outdated one. There are at all times loads of rivals to our work. We’re at all times falling in love or quarrelling, searching for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting unwell and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we will at all times be ready for some distraction or different to finish earlier than we are able to actually get all the way down to our work. The one individuals who obtain a lot are those that need information so badly that they search it whereas the situations are nonetheless unfavourable. Beneficial situations by no means come.

In a sentiment Albert Camus would come to echo a decade later in his insistence that “actual generosity towards the longer term lies in giving all to the current,” he provides:

By no means, in peace or warfare, commit your advantage or your happiness to the longer term. Completely happy work is greatest executed by the person who takes his long-term plans considerably flippantly and works from second to second… The current is the one time wherein any responsibility will be executed or any grace obtained.

Complement with Toni Morrison on our artistic responsibility in darkish occasions and Nick Cave on the need of hope in a fragile world, then revisit Lewis on what we lengthy for in our existential longing.

donating = loving

For a decade and half, I’ve been spending a whole bunch of hours and 1000’s of {dollars} every month composing The Marginalian (which bore the insufferable identify Mind Pickings for its first fifteen years). It has remained free and ad-free and alive due to patronage from readers. I’ve no employees, no interns, no assistant — a totally one-woman labor of affection that can also be my life and my livelihood. If this labor makes your individual life extra livable in any manner, please contemplate lending a serving to hand with a donation. Your help makes all of the distinction.


The Marginalian has a free weekly publication. It comes out on Sundays and provides the week’s most inspiring studying. Right here’s what to anticipate. Like? Join.

Related Posts