Bernard Joseph Crispin, British writer and lay theologian, held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1927–1959) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1959–1963) but is best known for his writing for children, especially Letters from an Elder to a Younger, The Journals of Susan Coventry, and The Veiled Star, and for his Christian apologetics, such as The Essence of the Thing, Why We Do Not Marvel, and Embracing Suffering.
Crispin and fellow novelist Tobias Green were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University, and were active in the writers’ group known as The Next Chapter. It was owing to the influence of Green and other friends, that Crispin took up the Christian faith he had abandoned when in adolescence.
Crispin’s books have sold millions of copies, especially The Journals of Susan Coventry, while his Christian writings are often cited by others.
In 1956, Crispin married Natalia K. Gwyneth, American science fiction and fantasy author, who died in a car accident two years later. Crispin died in 1963.
Here are some quotes from his work:
‘Picture it like this: God is the ocean. Friendship, affection, erotic love and every other form of affinity are the rivers flowing into that ocean. But from where does their water come in the first place? From rain, which pours from clouds, which are made from the water of the ocean.’
‘I have the most comfortable armchair in the world. I am hopeful that it is modelled on one that sits waiting for me in Heaven. Beside it - I hope very much - is a hot cup of tea and a set of books. But what do I know? There may be no comfort in Heaven, because there's no need for it.’
‘Oh my goodness love makes us weak. It rips off our armour; it tears off our outer skin. We lie helpless and vulnerable and almost dead before it. No matter what we do, what locked door we hide behind, what blanket we pull over our heads, what bed we hide under, what basement we cringe in, it will find us and hurt us. This world thinks it can cause us pain, but we would be invincible in its face were it not for love.’
‘The pleasure you got from stories when you were very young is waiting again for you when you are very old.’
‘We want to see God. Perfectly understandable. But our eyes would burn and our minds would burst were He to reveal Himself to us. So He gave birth to a son so that we can see Him without perishing. But it can still be painful to look straight at Christ. He burns and bursts us still, but we can perhaps bear it, with His help.’
‘What does it mean to say that a story is written “for children”? We mean a stronger, simpler, brighter story than we can bear as tired, complex, duller adults. If it’s done properly, a story written with children in mind can give us adults more strength, ease our minds, restore our vision.’
‘If there really is another world beyond, above or beneath what we call "the world", surely one sign of it would be our longing for it, like a buried seed longs for the sun even though it can’t see it?’
‘I don’t blame anyone for rejecting the idea that God loves them. I have seen into my own heart and I don’t love what I see there. But God doesn’t just look into my heart, He creates a new heart from the fragments he finds in the darkness there.’
‘I went through a large part of my life having no friends. I came to think of them as unnecessary. I was right. Friends are not "necessary" - they are a gift. They add value to what you consider valuable; they are gloriously extra to requirements.’
‘I like to read and I like to eat. The more digestible, the better.’
‘Reading a good book only once is like drinking water only once.’
‘Anyone who has ever had a builder in can perhaps picture the life of a Christian: a lot of noise and discomfort, a great deal of incomprehensible and dusty work, a mounting bill of expenses, leading to something you vaguely imagined but never really realised would be quite so real. And the blueprints got mixed up somewhere. There are rooms you never thought of, windows and towers you didn’t ask for. It turns out that from the topmost tower you can see the country you’ve always wanted to live in.’
‘Books written by ten-year-olds for ten-year-olds have charm and wit, to be sure, and reveal much about a ten-year-old's ideas of happiness. Books written for ten-year-olds by sixty-year-olds, if they’re any good, give the ten-year-olds a tiny inkling of how to be happy till they’re sixty.’
‘Being a Christian means understanding that forgiveness shows us what is really there. And if it isn't there, forgiveness puts it there. Forgiveness makes us more like God.'
‘I don’t really doubt that God is there, even at the worst of times. I just wonder how hard and painful it will be to get to Him.’
‘One of the biggest problems we have - perhaps the biggest of all - is picturing our real destination. We’re like seeds, sprouting a little beneath the soil, growing towards something but with no real idea of the world above the surface. Or, to use the somewhat clichéd image, we're the child in the womb, with no concept of the life that waits.’
‘Turning away from God in the hope that that will weaken Him is like turning away from the Sun in the hope that it will make the Sun a little darker. The only thing that gets darker is the prospect of the person who has turned away, casting a shadow ahead.’
‘We make the mistake of calling that soft, warm feeling inside us “Love” and thinking that that is that. Love is more like a laser beam than a candle; more like a tsunami than a raindrop.’
‘Tears fill the well of need to a point. Then the well runs dry and need still calls.’
‘Most people who are highly critical of Christ have never studied Him or what He said. They have learned second-hand or third-hand about Him and protest, often rightly, some of the false ideas which have grown up around His name. I’d be on their side in some cases. The culture has much to answer for. But strip that all away and come to see newly the strange story of this Palestinian born in an ordinary stable in the desert, and much of that criticism falls away in awe. Read the words that He said and, even allowing for some kind of distortion through the ages, you will see that these are not “moral teachings” or “wise sayings” but utterances that our minds are almost incapable of grasping, words from a region beyond the stars, beneath the surface of things, outside mortal comprehension. Don’t reject Him until you have done that stripping away, please.’
‘Pain is there to remind us that we are not God, just as a crash barrier is there to keep us on the road.’
‘You want joy, love, peace, harmony, laughter and light without God? That’s like saying you want sunlight without a sun.’
‘It is my experience that an atheist is someone attempting to strip away falsity. I’m on their side to that degree. But I’d say, “Keep digging”.’
‘Meaning is a strange thing. Unless it exists, we’d never know what meaninglessness was.’
‘I tend to have three or four books on the go at once. They become bookmarks for each other. Start reading one, then use another as a bookmark in it while you pick up a third, then cycle round, reading a good portion of each before marking your spot in another with it. It’s surprising how much reading you get done and how delightful it all becomes.’
‘I think I’d be a Christian even if somehow you proved that Christ never existed. Pig-headedness? No, because Christ is what all things point towards even if we can’t quite see Him yet, like signposts on a mountain trail: He is the Signpost that is continually telling us where to go when we can’t see past the next hill.’
‘Speaking about pain causes pain; not speaking about pain causes death.’
‘We say Christ died for humanity. But he died for the humanity within each one of us.’
‘Friends don’t see the same thing as much as they see some slightly different facet of the same thing. What you looked at from one angle they make slightly three-dimensional.’