The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis - page 7

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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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  A deepening pessimism eventually led him at university to decide he was an atheist, which for many has been the cold comfort of forgetting God in a conversion of relief. Perhaps the dread of frustrated prayers at night-time never fully left him, and the issues of a reasoning faith about prayer were colored perhaps as much from his early alienation as from his heightened intellectual search for the appropriate enquiry that would serve the logic of the mind, more than the rest of the heart. Perhaps Lewis’ cure was to rest in the presence of God, rather than be always enquiring about its appropriateness.

1. Lewis’ Emphasis upon “Festoonings in Prayer”
  The bad situations of imagination and conscience that Lewis had placed himself in, as a child, explain perhaps the emphasis he placed later in life upon the importance of placing one’s self in what he called “prayerful situations,” or “festoonings.” Perhaps he learnt this from his own failures as a child to ever pray “properly” at all. Francis de Sales might also have helped him when he advises that in meditation, “place yourself in the presence of God.” In honest humility, Lewis also learnt to see that at prayer one is in a more “real” situation than ever one could be in the “real world.” Prayer is the struggle to come to grips with “rock-bottom realities.” Prayer, then is the struggle for the “real I” to meet with the reality of God. Prayer then is saying, “may it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.” This is the prayer that precedes all prayers. Then, as the great Iconoclast, God in his mercy may shatter all our false ideas and conceptions of him, that so hinder our real prayer in life.
  Another area where “festoonings” of prayer are needed is in the realm of causality. Several times in his writings, Lewis recites the Pensées of Pascal: “God instituted prayer in order to lend his creatures the dignity of causality.” Lewis’ comment is that God perhaps “invented both prayer and physical action for that purpose.”42 For God has granted us the dignity of both work and prayer together. So a proper attitude to both is to pray as we work responsibly with the gifts that God has given to us, as well as to go on praying when we can work no more. Indeed, prayer is a stronger force than causality, not a weaker form. For if it “works” at all, it does so unlimited by space and time. Prayer then, is not a direct action over nature, it is action in co-operation with God, so we are most in harmony with God’s provident action when we are in prayer before him. Perhaps the post-Einsteinian worldview ahead of us, still little appreciated in Lewis’ day, now frees us from being so “hung up” with causality, as some of his contemporaries were, but neither is God. Our relationship with God in faith that pleases him, is therefore still the vital prayerful situation for all praying.

2. Lewis and Petitionary Prayer
  Wisely then, Lewis argues that it is a wrong kind of question to ask, “Does prayer work?” It misleads us about the true nature of prayer. The quiet composure of heart before God rests in a relationship that is deeper, far deeper than words can ever express. This is where Lewis so clearly rested, and explains why so little need be said really about prayer. It is to be experienced rather than superficially talked about. At the same time Lewis honestly had difficulty with the apparently inconsistent character of petitions he noted in the gospels. For he observed two different types of prayer which appear inconsistent with each other.43 Type A is the prayer taught by our Lord: “Thy will be done.” In the light of the great submission of his passion, nothing can be asked for conditionally, only submissively so. It is asked in the Garden of Gethsemane, without any reservation whatever: “nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” Type B is the petition in faith, able to “move mountains,” to heal people, to remove blindness, and do much else. The apostle seems to advocate it when he urges us to “ask in faith, nothing doubting” (James 1:6-8).
  Lewis asked many wise people about this apparent inconsistency and received no clear answer or solution. Hesitantly, Lewis suggested himself that until God has given us the faith to move mountains, it is perhaps to leave them alone, for he created them, and that is his business. Instead, it is advisable to concentrate more attention on Type A prayers, that indicate the surrender of self-will and self-love is more important than getting our own way, for we can easily misinterpret our perception of things in foolish, willful ways. Perhaps what Jesus actually did when he prayed submissively as he did on the night of his betrayal, was actually to identify himself with our weakness, so that even the certitude of the Father’s will was withdrawn from him, so that in his extreme humiliation, Jesus prayed as we tend to pray in our weakness. Our struggles may be, says Lewis, to even believe that God is a Listener, not just that he is an Enabler.

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