I was thinking about this site’s Mission to create a place to go for spiritual input and fellowship with like-minded people. Some of us were talking about the atmosphere of camaraderie when sitting with friends and talking about the thoughts, wonderments, joys, victories, and blessings we have in this life, while maybe also enjoying a glass of wine, a cold beer, or a dram of nice Scotch, and I thought of something I’d read about C.S. Lewis and his close friends. It’s the same and it’s different …
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C.S. Lewis’ entire life, early and late, was marked by sustaining friendship, but right in the middle of his life, at the very heart of it all, was a group of fellow writers called the Inklings. The group started informally—Lewis and Tolkien found that they greatly enjoyed one another’s company, so they cultivated the habit of meeting on Monday mornings for beer and conversation. Lewis wrote about it in one of his letters: “This is one of the pleasantest spots in the week. Sometimes we talk English school politics; sometimes we criticize one another’s poems; other days we drift into theology or the state of the nation; rarely we fly no higher than bawdy and puns.”
Lewis and Tolkien continued to meet, week after week, to talk and joke and criticize one another’s writings. Over time, these literary critiques proved to be so interesting and so useful that they invited other writers to join them. The group just kept growing. Eventually, a total of 19 became members of the Inklings.
When half a dozen members had assembled, the men would sit down and light their pipes, and Lewis would call out, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” Someone always did. Out would come the rough draft of a story or a poem, and the others would settle down to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt, to argue and advise. They’d continue this way, reading aloud, energetically critiquing, until two or three in the morning. Meetings went on like this every week for nearly twenty years.
The range of manuscripts that the Inklings brought to meetings was rich and remarkable. Lewis read Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, and others, many of them chapter by chapter as they were written. Tolkien brought along each new chapter of The Lord of the Rings week after week as they were written. Others read poetry, plays, literary studies, academic papers, biographies, histories.
Listening to drafts and poems and offering energetic feedback occupied the better part of every Inklings meeting. Nothing could be simpler—a small group of tweedy British men, meeting week after week, sitting on a shabby grey couch, drinking, reading, and talking. But as they met throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, extraordinary things began to happen. They generated enormous creative energy. They forged strong personal connections. And together, they helped bring to light some of the greatest literary works of this past century.
Lewis was effusive in expressing his appreciation for the Inklings. “What I owe them all is incalculable.” And to emphasize their enjoyment, he asked, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” Lewis was a man with friends—a man with friends who made a difference.
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The best things in life are shared. Many’s the time I’ve wished I could overcome the constraints of distance and time and just be with friends, to eat, to drink and be merry, and most importantly, to speak from our hearts and actively listen to each other. We have much in common in our shared experiences and time, unique perspectives on things that really do enrich us.
I remember reading about the palpable lack C.S. Lewis felt in those meetings of the Inklings after Charles Williams died. It wasn’t just a matter of missing a dear friend; it was that Charles’ particular contribution to the whole group was a key ingredient in making it what it was. He was both a contributor and a catalyst that brought content out of others.
That’s one of the beauties and mysteries of fellowship, each of us are literally members one of another and have an effect on each other. The group dynamic runs far deeper and way more complex than the human body, marvelous as that may be. We are each living stones, being fashioned after the likeness of The Cornerstone, and the idea behind assembling together is so that we might be a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
— David Bolick