The Deep Magic

Eulogy for Louis H. Anders, Jr.

My fondest childhood memories are of drinking in the stories my father read to me by the fireside at night. With one foot propped on the hearth, and his elbow on the mantelpiece, dad opened his own heart to me and my brother through the books he loved. None touched me more deeply than C.S. Lewis’s series of children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia.

When I was a child, Lewis’s books were more to me than fiction. They were almost Scripture and religious ritual, tied as they were to my father, to family, and quite literally to hearth and home. Lewis’s delightful prose, wrapped in my Father’s faith and love, created an irresistible and hypnotic sense of trusting surrender. I could sooner have devoured my own brain from within than to deny those feelings.

Lewis, like the Philosopher Plato, thought that when we respond this way to values like justice, love, or honor, it tells us something about the structure of reality, a structure Lewis once referred to as the “deep magic.” And so it is that my father did more than entertain me. He poured into me every notion I have of faithfulness, honor, fortitude, perseverance, integrity, and above all, love. He poured into me a “deep magic,” if you will, that I think I will never lose.

To faithfulness and honor, my father’s life was a testament. Whether at home or at work, everyone knew my father as a man who honored his wife with undying faithfulness. Every meal she cooked was “the best tasting food he had ever eaten.” Even at the age of eighty-one, he still called her his “new wife.” The only two Scriptures my father ever quoted to me were about marital fidelity or the care a father should take of his family. Perhaps the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was their example of faithful, loving, long-suffering Christian marriage.

Of fortitude, I hardly need to speak. My father endured pain and hardship with heroic, supernatural constancy. He never complained, even when disease wracked his body with what must have been atrocious pain. When asked, “How are you?” he always responded, “Doing fine, doing fine. How are you?”

But above all other virtues, love was truly his way. In the smallest but best way, he gave himself to others by listening, really listening. He wanted to hear what you had to say, about hobbies, politics, books, friends, joys, or sorrows. He gave gifts to friends. If my dad liked something, a book, a jar of olives, a bottle of wine, he would buy twenty of them and give them away. Even as I cleaned out his house this week, I found a stack of books, a single book he read this year and wanted to share with others.

He loved also in deeply sacrificial ways. He gave to the poor and to charity, sometimes quite lavishly. He would give even when it hurt. Once, when I was crushed emotionally by a failed adolescent romance, I called my father at the office when he was about to leave on a business trip. “Dad,” I said, “Could you come home instead? I need you.” He never asked why. He simply responded, “I’m on my way.” To this day, I have no idea what that decision cost him.

Many people knew my father as a lawyer or businessman, for he was one of the greats. He learned “horse-trading” from his father, an entrepreneur, and it was this commonsense wisdom, more than law school, that made him one of the best negotiators. More than one young lawyer has told me, “I learned the law in law school, but I learned to practice the craft from your father.”

Others knew him from Church, which he faithfully attended all his life. My father’s faith was deeply held and deeply lived, though it was not showy, ostentatious, or proud. As a young man, my father read deeply in theology, history, and Scripture study, trying to make sense of the world, and to bring his faith and his reason into alignment. He continued this study long after, and was especially passionate for books about biblical history and covenant theology.

It is because of him that I studied theology and philosophy and took the career path I now follow. Dad grew up Baptist and raised me a Presbyterian, but he never once criticized me when I decided to become a Catholic. Instead, he listened. And we had many long conversations about the deep truths we always held in common.

My father’s faith, his philosophy, and his business sense were summed up in the only three admonitions he ever gave me: 1) Don’t leave your wife. 2) Study the liberal arts. 3) Never co-sign a loan.

In the last days of his life, I sat with my father and shared memories with him. I thanked him for loving my mother, for reading to me, for taking us on trips, and seeing that I received an education. We reminisced about old times. I told him over and over than I loved him, and that he was the best father in the world. And in what must seem to many to be the one lapse in his otherwise rational mind, he said I was the best of sons. Finally, I placed his hand on my head. He could not raise his own arms. And I said, “Dad, will you please forgive me for everything I ever did wrong against you.”

“Of course,” he said.

In the very last book of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The last Battle, the heroes pass from the world of Narnia into a new world which looks, surprisingly, just like Narnia, only deeper, richer, and more real. The farther in they go and the higher up, the more beautiful it becomes. Finally, they realize they have now passed from the shadowlands to the real story they will read for all eternity. The deep magic has now come alive. The intangibles are now close at hand. Beauty you can drink, and faithfulness you can feast upon. And old Professor Kirke remarks, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato. Bless me! What do they teach them in these schools.”

This text has done more to shape my view of heaven than any Scripture, and I have always treasured it. In the last week of Dad’s life, I took up this book and I read it to him. I spoke to him about heaven and the life to come. But really, it was my father who has spoken to me. His life was a witness to the deep magic, For the virtues of my father shine more brightly than the stars of heaven, and it is unthinkable to me that they will not endure.

Dad, you are the greatest man I have ever known. Take up now a cup of righteousness and drink deeply. Term is over. The holidays have now begun.

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