Leilani Mueller

Leilani Mueller is a lover of all things Inklings, a good latte, long conversations, and visiting new places. She is a teacher, writer, wife, and mother.

Lessons of the Eucharist

In teaching babies, one points to objects:
“Lamb.” “Food.” “Lamp.” “Spoon.”
One guides baby’s hand.

Still splotches of oatmeal smear onto chin,
drips of small drops.
The lamb sits with stitched lips.

Baby babbles, coos, and splatters what he eats.
Till one meal, with arms waving out staccato,
baby says “Foo—” and waits open-mouthed.

Arriving Where We Started

Seven pairs of eyes looked back at me as I settled into the chair at the head of the table. I was a young teacher, barely twenty-four, and this was my first class at my new job. We were studying the works of the Inklings with Genesis, the Gospel of John, and authors who influenced the Inklings thrown in for good measure. “What is the law of human nature?” I asked. Nervously, students began flipping through Mere Christianity. I attempted to keep my own nervousness from showing as I focused on recalling what Lewis said.

Seven years later, I’m still reading C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. They are my yearly companions. And every year I look forward to revisiting them. While reading the Inklings isn’t everybody’s yearly habit, experiences of yearly repetition are commonplace. Moving through time, we look for markers in our lives. During our years of education, those markers are often the school year and its holidays. In our adult lives, those markers change, sometimes still based on the children’s school year, or perhaps the fiscal year or sports’ seasons. Sometimes the markers disappear or change leaving a person unmoored. We need holidays to look forward to and daily work to attend to.

Knowing peoples’ need for habituation, several Christian traditions have an intentional calendar marking the seasons in its members’ lives. Church calendars go back to the beginnings of Christian history. Patterned in part after the Jewish calendar, the liturgical calendar helped Christians habituate their lives into Christ’s likeness. It helped Christians meditate on different aspects of Christ’s life during the year’s changing seasons. Advent is about the incarnation. This season is typically meditative and expectant. It is followed by Epiphany, a time of celebration, because the Christ-child, or as John writes, “the light of the world,”[1] came to dispel the “darkness”. Then comes Lent, a time of penitence, remembering that according to the Christian story, Christ had to die in order to bring life to the world. This is followed, of course, by Passion Week and Easter, where Christians remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Each year the cycle is repeated. One theologian, Gerald Sittser, writes, “The early Christian calendar enabled the church to see time as a medium that belongs to God and unfolds according to God’s purposes.”[2]

Humans change when they reflect upon the same truths year after year. Given the unique experiences of the year and their prior experiences with those truths, the ideas morph and take on new significance. Just as repeated activity allows someone to master an action; so also repeated reflection forms a person’s thought processes and heart. Via habituation, people are transformed. The church calendar’s intention is to help Christians meditate on Christ’s life, enabling them to consciously put on virtue and put off vice as they move through the cycle year by year. Its intention is transformation.

It was several years into my teaching career when I realized the Inklings’ books were forming my gut responses. When I first read The Weight of Glory, some time in college, I was impressed by Lewis’s claim that “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their lives is to ours the life of a gnat.”[3] His words resonated with my belief that I, as a Christian, was called to love people. Revisiting those words year in and year out with students whose eyes lit up as they realized how much glory weighs—the heavy responsibility to love other people as eternal beings—made me understand how little I knew of love when I first read those words. It was then I began to see a pattern.

Like the church calendar, I too am moved through the seasons, but they are seasons directed by the thoughts of the Inklings. I move from wrestling with doctrinal conundrums to wondering at the beauty contained within Christianity. Repeated consideration of the Inkling’s curriculum changed me. I found myself understanding my problems and successes through their ideas and stories.

While discussing the novel That Hideous Strength, Lewis’s claim that it is impossible to remain neutral to what is true about the world hit me with clarity. It came at a time in my life when I flip-flopped in my positions when discussing issues with friends. Jane, one of the protagonists says, “I don’t want to take sides in something I don’t understand.”[4] Her friend Camilla responds, “But don’t you see…that you can’t be neutral? If you don’t give yourself to us, the enemy will use you.”[5] I realized then I needed to decide what I believe with the most current information I have, and I need to act based on those convictions. Because not acting is also choosing.

Periodically throughout the years when faced with broken relationships, the bleakness of CNN front-page news, or unfilled expectations in my life or in the lives of others, I would be encouraged by the pervasive theme of hope weaving throughout the Inklings’ texts. The Inklings believed people are meant to live for something beyond what can be perceived by the five senses or current hardships, a startling claim when realizing these authors lived through two World Wars. They wooed their readers with their commitment to a shared creed: the broken world filled with pain and difficulty is redeemed by God through His Son, and we, each and every person, can choose to participate in God’s offered redemption, joy, and love. When steeped in these stories and faced with small difficulties in comparison, I had to be encouraged. Tolkien writes of Sam in the depths of Mordor, a dark and despairing place, that, “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out the forsaken land, and hope returned to him…the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”[6] For me, these texts are like that star shining high above difficult circumstances.

A teacher’s role is to form the thought and sentiment of his or her students. Yet, I have also been changed. Year in and year out I’ve walked with different groups of students through the Inklings. I’ve seen the ideas of the Inklings anew through the eyes of my students and I’ve seen the ideas afresh through my eyes, as I’ve become an older version of myself. It’s a yearly rhythm, which can be described in the words of T.S. Eliot, in one my most favorite poems to teach: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”[7]

 

 

 

[1] John 1.

[2] Water From a Deep Well, 100.

[3] C. S. Lewis, “Weight of Glory” 46.

[4] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength 113.

[5] Ibid. 113.

[6] J.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings “The Return of the King,” 922.

[7] T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets. “Little Gidding”