Because life is a series of edits

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

In Books, Writers on July 2, 2008 at 2:57 am

Despite his stated belief in purgatory (albeit somewhat qualified) and some interesting linguistic gymnastics on the topic of bodily resurrection, C.S. Lewis‘s last book (published post-humously), Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, offers insight and comfort regarding the duty (and sometimes drudgery) of prayer. Some favorite quotes:

“We have long since agreed that if our prayers are granted at all they are granted from the foundation of the world. God and His acts are not in time. Intercourse between God and man occurs at particular moments for the man, but not for God. If there is – as the very concept of prayer presupposes – an adaptation between the free actions of men in prayer and the course of events, this adaptation is from the beginning inherent in the great single creative act. Our prayers are heard – don’t say ‘have been heard’ or you are putting God into time – not only before we make them but before we are made ourselves.” (p. 48)

“I have never met a book on prayer which was much use to people in our position. There are many little books of prayers…but you and I wouldn’t know what to do with them. It’s not words we lack! And there are books on prayer, but they nearly all have a strongly conventual background. Even the Imitation [of Christ by Thomas a Kempis] is sometimes, to an almost comic degree, ‘not addressed to my condition.’ The author assumes that you will want to be chatting in the kitchen when you ought to be in your cell. Our temptation is to be in our studies when we ought to be chatting in the kitchen. (Perhaps if our studies were as cold as those cells it would be different.)” (p. 62)

“It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for, without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and ‘big with God’ will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment. But if these holy places, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush (could we but perceive it) a Burning Bush, then the hallows begin to do harm. Hence both the necessity, and the perennial danger, of ‘religion.'” (p. 75)

“An omission or disdain of petitionary prayer can sometimes, I think, spring not from superior sanctity but from a lack of faith and a consequent preference for levels where the question ‘Am I only doing things to myself?’ does not just out in such apparent crudity.” (p. 87)

“William Law remarks that people are merely ‘amusing themselves’ by asking for the patience which a famine or a persecution would call for if, in the meantime, the weather and every other inconvenience sets them grumbling. One must learn to walk before one can run. So here. We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.” (p. 91)”

“The truth is, I haven’t any language weak enough to depict the weakness of my spiritual life. If I weakened it enough it would cease to be language at all. As when you try to turn the gas-ring a little lower still, and it merely goes out. Then again, by talking at this length about prayer at all, we seem to give it a much bigger place in our lives than, I’m afraid, it has. For while we talk about it, all the rest of our experience, which in reality crowds our prayer in to the margin or sometimes off the page altogether, is not mentioned. Hence, in the talk, an error of proportion which amounts to, though it was not intended for, a lie.” (p. 113)

“I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps, being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling. In feeling there is so much that is really not ours – so much that comes from weather and health or from the last book read. One thing seems certain. It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when He catches us, as it were, off our guard. Our preparations to receive Him sometimes have the opposite effect. Doesn’t Charles Williams say somewhere that ‘the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else?'” (p. 117)

A kindred spirit (but an incomparable writer)…

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