The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis - page 3

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From the Summer 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis

by James M. Houston
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute


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3. His Natural, Simple, Unstructured Attitude to Prayer
  As we have noted, Lewis was a private person, concealing his soul in the midst of convivial friendships. He remarked on one occasion that friends are not like lovers who look at each other, but in what they hold in common. So friendships were outward looking, not introspective for him. Several times he observes the importance of “looking at,” rather than looking “through” things. So he would never have analyzed his prayer-life as we are attempting to do. He would bury us in a loud guffaw of the absurdity of such action.
  While still agnostic, in October 1929, Lewis read the Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald. “He seems to know everything,” Lewis confided to Greeves, “and I find my own experience in it constantly.”

My surgent thought shoots lark-like up to Thee,
Thou like the heaven art all about the lark.
Whatever I surmise or know in me,
Idea, or symbol on the dark,
Is living, working, thought-creating power
In Thee, the timeless Father of the hour.
I am Thy book, Thy song—Thy child would be.11

  By the following summer term he had also perused The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, and Centuries of Meditation by Thomas Traherne. By the following term he was attending 8 a.m. chapel regularly. But on Christmas Eve, 1930, he writes his friend Greeves, “I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence; but the irrational deadweight of my old sceptical habits, and the spirit of the age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feelings of the truth; and often when I pray, I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address.”12 The reason for the remoteness of Lewis’ faith at that time was he was still a deist rather than a Christian. So after a long talk one night with Tolkien and Dyson in July 1931, Lewis wrote Greeves further: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity—my long talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”13 Later that year he also read William Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. Lewis was now finding it meaningful to pray for his brother Warren in Shanghai. So he wrote to him at the end of 1931:

When you ask me to pray for you—I don’t know if you are serious, but the answer is yes, I do. It may not do you any good, but it does me a lot, for I cannot ask for any change to be made in you without finding that the very same needs to be made in me; which pulls me up also by putting us all in the same boat, checks any tendency to priggishness.14

All this may seem to be biography about prayer rather than theology. But to Lewis the one was impossible without the other. To look at prayer in detachment from its exercise was inconceivable. And since most of one’s existence is usually pretty dull and routine stuff, one’s prayers are not exceptional either. Indeed, the more honest we become with ourselves, the more “normal” our prayer life will be. As Lewis said early on in his BBC talks on Christian morality, at first Christianity seems to be all about rules and regulations, guilt and virtue, only to find its members are really living in another country. “Every one is filled full with what we would call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they don’t call it goodness. They don’t call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.”15 So too, in prayer, Lewis sees that it should become so natural to the believer, that we do not make any fuss about it, but simply do it because that is the nature of the Christian life. Speaking about the struggles we may have in prayer, the distractions and dryness in our lives, he comments: “The disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is that it should have to be numbered among duties at all.For we believe that we were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And if the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then?...if w were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be a delight.”16 Clearly our sins handicap us from the openness that prayer requires, while the unreality of the unseen realm of prayer only shows how distant we may be from God and his ways. Like friendship with a dear friend, however, prayer is never forced nor irksome. It grows as the relationship grows too.

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