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Last may I found myself at Houston's Intercontinental Airport, about to undertake the kind of journey I never thought I'd take—a group tour. At least we were calling it a tour; in reality it was a pilgrimage. I had allowed my husband to lure me into the company of 16 other travelers, all bound for England to visit former haunts of C. S. Lewis, the British writer who comes as close to canonization as any Protestant of the twentieth century is likely to. Nevertheless, I was nervous about committing myself to this enterprise.

Lewis was not the problem. He had been important in our lives for many years and many reasons. We had depended on a number of his books as moral and ethical compass points when we found ourselves struggling to regain our metaphysical bearings. We had read the Narnia Chronicles to our children and his adult fiction to one another. Other works had provided cogent cultural critiques. His autobiography describing the gradual conversion of an academic aesthete was a story with which we felt some affinity. Plus, he had sustained—at our present age—a love life worthy of a major motion picture.

In short, what Elvis Presley is to some people, C. S. Lewis is to us. It wasn't the man, but our mission—a pilgrimage—that made me uneasy. I cringed at a possible comparison between our little band of pilgrims boarding the plane and Elvis devotees entering the gates of Graceland.

Americans talk about pilgrimages these days but rarely make them. In fact, we use the term primarily as a metaphor, interchangeable with "spiritual journey." We mean the analogy to convey how our souls change throughout our lives, as if they move through time the way our bodies move through the countryside. While I respect the struggle to find some ...

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February 7, 2000

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