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The summer after my freshman year of college, I volunteered to help the C. S. Lewis Foundation renovate The Kilns, Lewis's former home (then in a state of disrepair) just outside Oxford. I don't remember if I went expecting a spiritual boon from touching the domestic relics of the patron saint of American evangelicalism. What I do remember is a back breaking week of painting fireplaces, carrying bricks, and digging flower beds. I particularly remember the day we ordered "topsoil" and a large dump truck rained down upon us a load of exactly that —the top of the soil, complete with clumps of sod, pebbles, candy wrappers, and broken glass. Years later I returned to find, with great satisfaction, that our labor—and many others volunteers' efforts—had resulted in a proper English garden surrounding a proper English house, a haven for Oxford students and a pilgrimage site for Lewis fans.

If reports are correct, The Kilns of Lewis's day wasn't exactly the Ritz. Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham recalls holes in the roof, rotting wood, light switches that spit fire, ceilings that collapsed, and carpets constantly growing deeper from the accumulated cigarette and pipe ash (since Lewis and his brother believed the ashes kept moths away). Surely not a place for someone whose soaring imagination bestowed upon future generations the stories of Deep Magic and lion-hearted Love. Surely not a place for a brilliant Oxford don whose ability to express complex theological ideas in everyday language has made him the spiritual grandfather of millions.

But, as Lewis knew well, that's precisely what the Christian life is about—knocking on heaven's door while standing two inches deep in pipe ash. It is no accident that someone so ...

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November 2005

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