The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis - page 6


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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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Where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and the sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it even inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?35

  In times of such bitter sorrow, Lewis admitted that “I am not in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.”36

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door—only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his voice no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want. We ask what isn’t there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love which must despair,
And die, and go down cold into the earth, Before there’s talk of springtide and re-birth.37

  Yes, this is perhaps one of the deepest experiences of prayer, to be able to say to our Heavenly Father, “Lord, not my will but thine be done.”

Lewis’ Theology of Prayer

  If Lewis’ personal experience of prayer has these six traits—an earthy realism, a practical import, a natural and simple attitude, a strong supplicatory concern for others, warm and honest expressions of friendships, and matured by suffering—how do these characteristics shape his theology of prayer? Perhaps two features he stressed most in his writings were: the problem of causality in prayer, and the nature of petitionary prayer. But like other human beings he had first to overcome morbid experiences of childhood before he could enter into a more truthful realism about the nature and exercise of prayer, so this we must consider as a necessary prelude.
  A child tends to relate to God, as he relates with his parents. This correlation, unless corrected and healed, may persist, unconsciously so, throughout life. “My real life—or what memory reports as my real life—was increasingly one of solitude,” Lewis reports. He had bad dreams, “like a window opening on what was hardly less than Hell.”38 As a child of seven, he admits “solitude was nearly always at my command, somewhere in the garden, or somewhere in the house....What drove me to write was the extreme manual clumsiness from which I suffered,” so that he hated sports. His early years he described as “living almost entirely in my imagination,” or at least “the imagination of those years now seems to me more important than anything else.”39 Then at the age of ten his mother died. He remembered what he had been taught, that prayer offered in faith would be answered. Then when she died he shifted his ground to believe he now needed to believe in a miracle, seeing God merely as a Magician. It left him with theological confusion about God for years to come. All happiness left him, and like the solid continent of Atlantis that disappeared under the waves, “all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life...it was all sea and islands now.”40 At boarding school later, Lewis says he began “seriously to pray and read my Bible and to attempt to obey my conscience.”41 But his slight alienation from his distanced father increased, and there was emotionally no solid ground for the child. Sometimes he would awake at night afraid that his only brother had slipped off with his father to America, and left him behind. His prayers became sheer acts of despair. Having said them at night, his conscience would whisper he had not said them properly enough, so he would try and try again until he fell asleep in frustration and lack of abiding assurance.

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