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The Wings of Christendom at Riverside by Peter Searby

By December 19, 2023

First and foremost before I proceed, let me say that I believe each wing has a gift and charism that is good, and someday the great prayer of us all should be that we are one. The scandal of separation in the body of Christ is something the enemy loves, and in order to build the Kingdom, we must find a way to come back together, however long that takes. This should be the fervent hope of any Christian. 

Riverside began with a wonderful coming together of the wings of Christendom, and I pray this coming together will continue for many years, and bear much fruit. From the start I named C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien the patrons of Riverside. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is the fact that one was Protestant and one Catholic, and yet they shared so many of the same hopes, dreams, and yes, beliefs in the reality of the Kingdom. 

One of my favorite moments in this legendary friendship took place on what is called the Addison Walk, a wooded footpath on the grounds of Oxford University. Lewis was an atheist when he first met Tolkien. He, like many other scholars, saw the story of the Messiah as one myth among many, and he believed that all myths were “lies breathed through silver.” It would take an act of faith to break through this prejudice, so what happened on that walk was a miracle of sorts. Tolkien explained that though many myths express fragmented truth, scripture is the True Myth—the myth through which and in which all myths find their goodness, beauty, and truth.

Stories give us hope. But no story, song, or poem can truly satisfy the longing in our hearts. They all seem to fall short. It is like watching a sunset. Though you appreciate the beauty of it all, it fades, and is gone. It becomes a memory, but that memory is not enough to save one from the darkness that ensues. There must be a memory of something that is so powerful that it lives within you as a vital presence—a life that will never die but will well up in one’s heart to the brim and give light and hope no matter what comes. What Tolkien spoke to Lewis about on the Addison Walk was one of the deepest conversations friends could have. It was Evangelium (the proclamation of the Gospel). The great story of salvation is what unites all the wings of Christendom.

There is a longing in our hearts for Eden, as Lewis came to understand. After walking with Tolkien on that Addison Walk Lewis had an epiphany. He knew from that moment on that God gave us good dreams after the fall for a reason—not just to be a balm on the wound of separation, but a salve that is eternal and healing. He realized on that walk with his friend that stories, or myths, were not just lies breathed through silver, but inklings of a dream devoutly to be wished. This thought haunted him for the rest of his life, and he sought to express it through great works like Mere Christianity, the essay Weight of Glory, the Chronicles of Narnia, and so many others. He realized that Christianity is not just one good story amongst others but the true story that transforms…a memory that lives within us.

At Riverside, we have the wonderful gift of friends from the various wings of Christendom. When I began to form Riverside, I prayed with evangelicals and Anglicans at a specific property where we hoped to form this new approach to education, culture, and community. It was inspiring to hear the way these parents and advocates for Riverside prayed for the vision. It was from the heart, personal, and sincere in the deepest of ways. As a Catholic, who grew up with the traditional rote prayers, it was wonderful to hear prayer from the heart. But, I had already known the importance of deep reflective and meditative prayer where one is alone with God, and thoughts and hopes must come through without recourse to words. Silent awe before God, where words and rituals fail to express, can be one of the deepest moments of epiphany. This is a point which must be reflected upon, for it is a connection between Catholics and all the other wings.

The most essential connection, however, is the intimate relationship each of us has with Jesus Christ. When He walked the paths of this world, He knew above all that close personal connection with Him was the way many would come to see the Kingdom, and find their way to follow Him. He did not choose to found a political Kingdom but instead a fellowship of creative endeavor bound to incarnate the Spirit on earth through the great variety of charisms we humans have. 

The friendship of Lewis and Tolkien, though wrought with the same misunderstandings that have come with the trappings of the great separation of Christendom, shows that fellowship and understanding is the way to come together once again. They found a way to do this through poetry, song, story, intellectual discourse, and yes, there were some pints at a local pub and walks along the English countryside. It is my great hope that through the arts, memory, and a shared story we may come to realize that we are all on this adventurous pilgrimage to Heaven together, and not “strangers bound on other journeys” as Charles Dickens once said. We are friends in Christ, and this, above all, must be the balm that heals the wound of separation.

Peter Searby

Author Peter Searby

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