It was a Navigator’s summer training program, and together with college students from all over Illinois, I lived for about 8 weeks at a sorority house on the Butler University campus. We worked during the day – I managed to find work through Manpower, the temporary employment agency – and we all did Bible studies and heard messages in the evenings and on weekends. It was a busy summer, and I grew a lot.
But it was that summer (most likely at the end of our time together) that I first remember hearing Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are friends forever,” a great song, even if it does seem a little cheeky three decades later.
The song came back to me after I spent some time with Elisabeth tonight. We were reading A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, the fascinating love story of Sheldon (“Van”) and his wife Davy, and how they came to know Jesus partly through the ministry of C.S. Lewis. The couple was studying and living at Oxford when they began to research Christianity. A seeker, Van wrote C.S. Lewis, by that time a famous Oxford don, and they all ended up becoming friends. The book contains 18 letters from Lewis, and recounts some of his many conversations with Van. Lots of fun for C.S. Lewis buffs.
Anyway, in the chapter we finished tonight, Van and Davy are leaving Oxford, and Van takes time for one last pint with his friend. The theme of Michael W. Smith’s anthem song is resonant in their farewell:
On that last day I met C.S. Lewis at the Eastgate for lunch. We talked, I recall, about death or rather, awakening after death. Whatever it would be like, we thought, our response to it would be “Why, of course! Of course it’s like this. How else could it have possibly been?” We both chuckled at that. I said it would be a sort of coming home, and he agreed. Lewis said that he hoped Davy and I would be coming back to England soon, for we mustn’t get out of touch. “At all events,” he said with a cheerful grin, “we’ll certainly meet again, here – or there.” Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged on to the busy High with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. “Besides,” he bellowed with a great grin, “Christians NEVER say goodbye.”