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Healing Line

Healing Line

C.S. Lewis And Healing

by Francis MacNutt
September 1994

I hope you have seen the movie Shadowlands, a profoundly affecting film about C. S. Lewis, who in his 50's met and married Joy Gresham, the great and only love of his life. A brief two years after their marriage she died of cancer. Judith and I cried at the movie's end — both times we saw it.

Just as I had hurried to get a biography to learn more about the real Mozart after seeing Amadeus, I bought a copy of C. S. Lewis through the Shadowlands by Brian Sibley (Fleming Revell, 1994) wanting to discover more about Lewis. As I hoped, I found several important parts of the real–life story that were not included in the movie.

For those who may not be familiar with the last ten years of C. S. Lewis' life, you should know that most of his life he was a confirmed bachelor, living with his brother, Warnie. At the height of his career as an author and lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge, he met an American, Joy Gresham, a Jewish poet who had converted to Christianity, and was in the process of getting a divorce from her alcoholic and philandering husband.

Joy made a series of visits to England, and she and Lewis developed a deep friendship. She later moved to Oxford and then, unexpectedly, she fell and broke her leg, which, upon examination, proved to be riddled with cancer. She was immediately hospitalized but there seemed to be no hope of recovery. When she became ill, Lewis realized that his love for her was more than friendship and he and Joy were married in the hospital during her illness.

Surprisingly, she rallied and recovered her health for two years before the bone cancer returned and she later died. Lewis was so distressed that he cried out his anger at God and was tempted to regard God as a sadist, treating us like rats in a Skinner box. He examined his rage and its eventual resolution in his book, A Grief Observed. Initially, he was so ashamed of his emotional reaction to Joy's death that he published it under a pen–name, C. N. Clerk.

I always wondered why had Joy recovered for those two years? In the movie there are no clues. I also wondered if it might have been the happiness of her marriage to Lewis which led to the cancer's remission. It is reputed that couples on their honeymoon are as close to being immune from sickness as humans can be.

Well, in Sibley's book I found out what happened. A young Anglican priest, Peter Bide, a former student of Lewis, told Jack (C.S. 's nickname) that he believed in praying for healing. At first Jack was cautious about the laying on of hands but he was willing to try it. So Peter Bide prayed for Joy and later performed their marriage in the hospital (as depicted in the movie) in March '57.

Lewis was so convinced of Joy's healing through prayer that he wrote an article on 'The Efficacy of Prayer" in the Atlantic Monthly (January '59). "I have stood," he wrote, "by the bedside of a woman whose thigh–bone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of disease in many other bones as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life, the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last x–rays was saying, 'These bones are solid as rock. It's miraculous.'"

Sibley documents that Joy wrote that the hospital "tells me I'm one of their great triumphs and exhibits me to visiting doctors," So there evidently was a healing miracle, but then a relapse two years later. Why? The question anguished C. S. Lewis and proved the greatest trial of his faith.

We will never know why, of course. At Christian Healing Ministries we have seen miraculous cures for cancer, and we have also seen the value of persevering prayer or "soaking prayer" in cancer cases. What is clear is that God blessed C. S. Lewis with a very special love and marriage, when he seemed resigned to live without love. His love for Joy deepened his faith and compassion. Like Jacob, he wrestled with God and emerged wounded but blessed.


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. September 1994 Issue