The great divorce

Friday, August 17, 2018

It’s time for school to be starting. All summer, I’ve been encouraging the children I meet to read a book. There are many good books out there, and many can be found at the local library.

You might expect a Catholic priest to recommend the Bible for reading. I have read and studied the Bible extensively, and there is much to be learned there. I also recommend “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis.

Today, however, I would like to mention one of my favorite books, “The Great Divorce,” written by C.S. Lewis. The book does not talk about divorce as in the end of a marriage. Rather, it talks about the spiritual distance between heaven and earth — and what life after death might be according to the author’s imagination. It is a good book which promotes spiritual reflection, and is not to be taken exactly or literally. I am quoting here some excerpts from an online review of the book found at https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-great-divorce/summary.

An unnamed narrator finds himself in a grey town waiting for a bus. He boards the bus, along with a small number of other people, and the bus proceeds to fly over the grey town. The narrator then talks with some of the other people on the bus, some of whom remember dying in various ways. One man, Ikey, tells the narrator that the grey town is always getting bigger as more and more people enter it. Some of these people get closer to the bus stop, so that one day they can drive away. Others drift farther from the bus stop — indeed, some people in grey town must be millions of miles from the bus stop by now.

The bus lands on a huge cliff, and the narrator and the other passengers get out. They find that they’ve landed by a beautiful river, surrounded by grass and trees. However, the narrator quickly discovers that everything in this place is motionless — even the blades of grass are rigid and hard. This makes walking around very painful. The narrator also realizes that he no longer has a solid body — he and his peers are ghosts. The narrator slowly realizes that he’s in the afterlife. As he realizes this, he sees a group of spirits approaching the ghosts. The spirits are bright and have solid bodies — they’ve come to try to convince the ghosts to come with them toward the beautiful, majestic mountains in the distance. But most of the ghosts refuse to do so. One, the Big Ghost, notices that one of the spirits is Len, a man he knew while they were both alive. Len killed a man, and yet has become a spirit, while the Big Ghost has led a supposedly virtuous life, and yet was sent to the dreary grey town. Len tries to convince the Big Ghost to “love,” but the Big Ghost refuses, and walks back to the bus, eager to return to the grey town.

The narrator witnesses other spirits trying to convince the ghosts to stay by the river, regain their solid bodies, and eventually climb to the top of the mountain. Each time, however, the ghosts refuse to stay, and walk back to the bus.

Just as the narrator is thinking of returning to the bus, he sees the spirit of one of his favorite authors, George MacDonald. MacDonald greets the narrator cheerfully and promises to show him around.

The rest of the book you’ll have to enjoy for yourself. School is starting, please drive carefully.