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Sweet Freedom (Or, the End of the School Year)

CS Lewis ended many of his books by admitting that he couldn’t really end his books. That is to say, all of his thought tended to culminate on the topic of heaven. Whether is was Chronicling the End of Narnia, anticipating Til We Have Faces, charting a Pilgrim’s Regress, or counting down The Four Loves, Lewis enjoyed visualizing the Beatific Vision. In all of these works, he acknowledges the purely hypothetical nature of these endings. He, like any sound Christian, was more than will to confess his utter ignorance on “what eye has not seen and ear has not heard.” Still, he also insisted that it was good, even necessary, for the Believer to dream of what that final Day will be like. It sets our hearts and minds on the hope that we so desperately need. And among these different visions of the End presented by the Oxford Don, Lewis’ admits that his original metaphor for heaven came while he was still a school boy. Summer vacation stood was his most vivid way thinking about what heaven will be like.

The Last Battle and Until We Have Faces give us some pretty beautiful pictures of heaven. Still, it was summer vacation that the pupil Lewis, and then the professor Lewis, personally used to contemplate the joy of entering our Homeland. Who would not agree? No matter how moving or descriptive a work of fiction, can any feeling compare to the freedom of finishing exams, passing out the doors and leaving school behind for a few months? There indeed is something of the Last Trumpet in the last bell of spring semester. We “strain forward” out the classroom, “looking to what lies ahead” (see Phillipians 3:13). We know that whatever it may be, whether its a beach or a mountain or a summer camp or a theme park, it will be more exciting a place full of many a good friend. The thrill of discovery matched by the comfort of companionship: what greater goods could there be! What greater contrast from the classroom, where everything is practice and precision and patience? There is no greater distance than the space between those tediums and the tenacity of summer fun. I write these words as both a teacher and a student. I know well what summer vacation means for both of us. And I do not envy those who are in other professions: they know not or have forgotten this singular joy. The end of the school year is a sacramental action. It prefigures the Climax: when human training, trial and test will produce the fullest fruit for the Kingdom.

Only one thing more. Forty-four days ago, Christ rose from the dead (liturgically speaking). Soon, I will rise from my desk and steal away for two-and-a-half months. Yes, my rising is not like His, but does that mean there is nothing I can learn from it? Yes, the culmination of my lessons are unlike his “consummatum est,” but what of it? It is for freedom that He sets us free. It is for love that He loves us. So what if there is an Analogy of Being, a dissimilarity between creature and Creator!? What of it! My beach sandals are waiting for me. Both John of the Cross and Augustine contemplated God while walking on the dunes. I am going to swim and sing of my salvation. In baptism, I think He has told us whether the water and the Spirit are incompatible.

The Vision of St. Augustine, by Botticelli