Thursday, December 24, 2009

The fear of Christmas

I was just reading a Christmas Eve sermon by William Sloane Coffin - the great Riverside Church preacher of the 70's and 80's -- and in it he quotes the German theologian Karl Barth: "Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas". The point being -- that if we are not awed by the reality of God coming in Christ, if we do not embrace "the fear of the Lord" at Christmastime, then we will never let God and the hope of Christmas help us with our little fears. We will remain anxious if Christmas remains a sentimental holiday. We will continue in our worries if Christmas is simply about getting our gifts purchased and given. But if Christmas is receiving the certain truth of what God is doing in Christ -- then all our little fears dissolve into the fearsome awesomeness of God.

Perhaps we'll know we have truly celebrated Christmas by how little or how much we are afraid in the days ahead.

Merry Christmas all.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The awful grace of God

Reading about the life and death of Ted Kennedy this week makes us all think back to his brothers Robert and John and the tragedy of their deaths. When Jack was assassinated his brother Bobby took up reading the Greek dramatists and philosophers trying to understand more the mysteries of tragedy and injustice. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed Kennedy spoke that night without text or notes. He spoke from his heart and quoted from Aeschylus, his favorite Greek writer: "God whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

It's hard to think of suffering that way -- but I believe it's true. God teaches through our hardship. The psalmist says that an acceptable sacrifice to God is a broken heart. It is often in the cracks of our brokenness that God's light can shine into our hearts and reveal to us things we never saw. We learn more from our failures than our successes.

Has that been true for you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Man's Search for Meaning

Every once in a while you read something and words jump out from the page and grab you and never let you go. That happened to me about 15 years ago when I read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I know I am not alone in claiming this book as one that helped to alter my view of life. It was recommended to me by an old Scottish Baptist preacher as a book that changed his life. Frankel was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps and he writes about his attempt to find meaning in the midst of such humiliation and death. Here are the words that grabbed me and still have hold:
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking ourselves about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life -- daily and hourly.
No commentary needed. Thoughts?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The serious business of heaven

In his Letters to Malcolm Lewis speaks of how adoration in its purest form is experienced when we give ourselves over to the simple pleasures of life: a walk with a friend, the sound of a roaring wind, a bite into a crisp apple. These are the moments when the hints of heaven - theopanies (revelations of God) -come our way. "To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore." He later goes on to add that it is only in what we see as frivolous that the celestial qualities are discovered. It is only in our "hours-off," only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of heaven.
What a wonderful picture of heaven! And what a wonderful way to give ourselves permission to enjoy the simple pleasures of life ... without guilt. They are just a preparation for the life of eternity that follows.
I'm not sure I give myself enough of those chances. I've let my compulsive and unhealthy work ethic too often get in the way of the shafts of glory that await me in this world and the next. And when I think back upon it I believe my deepest spiritual moments have come when I gave myself over to experiencing the simple joys or, at least, the remembering of them.
A dear friend of mine is a great teacher in this. I once listened to him wax eloquent upon the breakfast he had just had -- a freshly baked scone and a hot cup of coffee. He savored it and gave minutes of thanks to God for it!! I realized then I had a lot to learn.
What's been your latest simple pleasure?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The great story

G. K. Chesterton in his great book Orthodoxy recounts how he returned to the faith he departed years before. And in his rediscovery he concluded: "I had alwyas felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller." It's a simple, yet grand thought. Do you imagine your life as part of a story being told by a story-teller? Do you see your days as the enacting of a role within a grand epic? Is it possible that the story of the creator hinges upon you? If you don't take your place on the stage the play grands to a halt? It's easy to reduce ourselves in the grand scheme of things and what that can mean is that we feel that we have less to contribute.
We certainly find it to be true in parenting. As a father or mother, whether we like it or not, our role contributes to the story of someone else's life. Our contribution, or lack thereof, means a great deal. How well we do with our lines will effect how well our children do with their lines. That's easy to imagine.
But is it not true with every person with whom we have contact? A friend, a store clerk, a customer, a neighbor. We are all taking clues from one another as to how the story goes.
So what lines do you have to contribute today?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time to look at one another

I've been away on vacation for a little time and had the chance to catch an Off-Broadway production of Thorton Wilder's Our Town. It's one my favorite plays and this particular company does an excellent job. The play culminates with the death of Emily Webb/Gibbs and her reflection upon life in her hometown, Grover's Corners. She's given a chance to go back to a day in her life -- her 12th birthday -- to remember how life really was. She's stabbed by the joy of seeing her childhood home and her young parents. But she's saddened by how we brush past each other without really noticing. In her monologue she says, "It goes so fast; we don't have time to look at one another ... Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you." She turns to the stage director and asks, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?" "No," the stage director responds, "the saints and the poets maybe, they do some."
Maybe it's because I'm on vacation ... but the truth of Wilder's play sinks in more deeply than it ever has. We are so busy moving life along that we don't see each other. We don't ponder each other. We don't give ourselves the chance to take it all in. Maybe it was never meant to be. Maybe it's just another example of how small we really are in the midst of the the grand experience of life. Time rolls on and with it the opportunities that God would give us to savor. But the savoring comes never in the moment. The world at hand is too wonderful to realize. Savoring come in the remembering. This is grace. Grace comes when we remember.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You can never be too careful

Lewis in his Surprised by Joy talks of the years leading up to his conversion in 1931 and the ideas he was leaving himself open to:
In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
You are never so sure what God might use. Sometimes, though, I wonder if Christians forget that. I worry that we might become too careful of what we read. We're afraid to push the envelope and let God speak again and again. It's Scripture that remains the authoritative voice, but are there other voices that help amplify what's there?
A sound Christian can, perhaps, be too careful of what she reads.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The presence of the Lion

In The Horse and His Boy, on of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, he tells the story about a boy and girl and their respective horses who are trying to escape the evil land of Calormen and flee to Narnia. At certain points along the way the children and their horses sense an imminent threat from one or more lions. In each of these encounters they instinctively sense that the lions' presence spells harm or disaster. They fear for their lives. In the first instance Shasta and his horse are chased by what seem to be two lions. The harder they gallop the closer the lions seem to draw. What they don't realize is that the lion's pursuit is all for the point of drawing them closer to their future traveling companions -- Aravis and her horse Hwin. Had not the lions (we learn later it was just one lion, Aslan, whose presence felt like two lions) given chase, the horse and his boy may never have found their companions nor Narnia.

Life is filled with scary moments. We seem to be surrounded by a lot of them these days. Some of them feel like lions ready to pounce on us. We fear for our lives. Our prayer might be to cry for rescue -- to deliver us from the feline pursuit. But maybe it is the pursuit that is driving us to something or someone greater. A friend of mine tells of working in a "hostile environment" and feeling like there was nothing he could do but run. He did. He left the job without any prospects. He wondered where God was in it all. But then came the new job and though it didn't pay as much money, he found a lot of good people. Good people were more important. And he realized, in hindsight, that he was being chased by the Lion into a new group of work companions.

Sometimes when we're afraid, it's not such a bad thing. It's a scary thing, but not a bad thing. "He's not safe," said Mr. Beaver, "but he's good." Scary times are the times to trust the presence of the Lion who may be chasing us to Narnia.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A grief observed

In respect to the topic I last addressed about pain, Lewis came face to face with it in the grief he experienced in the wake of his wife Joy's death. Lewis had allowed himself to fall in love in the latter years of his life and just as he did, his love was taken from him. He wrote about his pain in A Grief Observed and there he deals very honestly with his struggle with understanding how God could let such a thing happen and why wouldn't he do anything about it. He writes, But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a 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 window. It might be an empty house. Was it ever 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? .... Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there is no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.' Later Lewis writes, When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.'

Next week is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birthday and Calvin was big on the sovereignty of God -- that nothing happens without the foreknowledge and permission of God. So when the bad things happen we are compelled to delve into the mystery of God and wonder -- what is God up to? How can "all things work together for good"? The answer are never easy, but if we believe in a God who has a purpose for each of our lives -- then we must "live into" both the good and the bad and be willing to let God say to us, "Peace, child; you don't understand." All along believing that God is at our side even when we don't feel him. More on this later.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is pain an answer to our prayers?

In The Problem of Pain Lewis makes the case that pain is God's way of taking things from us that have been making us insufficiently satisfied. He imagines that God is preparing his faithful ones to be content only in him. He writes, Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call 'our own life' remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interest but make 'our own life' less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of happiness? It is just here, where God's providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. This serves as one of the themes in The Great Divorce -- the only ones who will not enter heaven are those who refuse to because they are not willing to surrender everything.
This is a hard view of God. We don't like to attach pain to God. The truth is, I'm not sure I want to either. I'm afraid to consider God as the source of all things. But I'm not sure I want to think that he has lost control, or that he never had it. Rabbi Kushner in his When Bad Things Happen to Good People wants to let God off the hook and say that some of the really bad things God has no control over. They happen, and God's role is to be with us as we journey through the consequences.
But where does the change come in? Is God trying to change us in the events that take place? Even the pain? Is pain an answer to our prayers?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Approaching the Lion

Continuing on this theme of "safe and good" I am reminded of my favorite Chronicle -- The Silver Chair -- in which Jill Pole, ravished by thirst, sees a babbling stream of clear, cold water but lying at the edge of the stream is the great lion Aslan. Aslan knows that Jill is thirsty and invites her to drink. Terrified of the lion, Jill asks, "Will you promise not to -- do anything to me, if I do come?" Aslan replies: "I make no promise." Often implied in many of my prayers is the same hope -- that I can drink from the living water without God doing anything to me. It's kind of like my strategy for shopping -- get in and get out. Richard Foster in his book on the spiritual disciplines said one simple thing about prayer that has forever altered my view of the practice: "To pray is to change." That altered the whole tenor of my conversation with God. My relationship with God was designed around the changes he wanted to make in me. To get to the cool water, I have to encounter the good, yet unsafe lion. Think of it: to pray is to enter the lion's den. We're likely to come out a little different than when we went in.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

He isn't safe, but he's good.

In our C.S. Lewis reading group this week we discussed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and savored together the wonder of that story. While Lewis never wanted to claim any type of originality in respect to his thoughts, I think when Susan asks Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan the Lion is safe and Mr. Beaver replies, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe, but he's good." -- Lewis is interjecting an original thought about the nature of God and our relationship with him. It provides a constant corrective for me in my prayer life. How often I go to God for safety. How often I go to God to "cover" me. How often I go to God as the domesticated lion. Yet, it's not why God wants us to come. God wants us to come for his goodness -- and often his goodness is not safe. His goodness will often send us to unsafe places or to explore unsafe regions inside and outside of our hearts.
Think of when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He was looking for a safe answer or an answer that would get him to a safe place. Jesus gave him a good answer. He told him the truth of what he needed to do: Sell everything and follow him.
When Peter and John came back to the community after being arrested and grilled by the Sanhedrin, Luke tells us that the community prayed and asked -- not for safety -- but for boldness!!
When you pray are you prepared for the kind of goodness that will take you to wherever you need to be, regardless of its safety?

Friday, June 19, 2009

The dark night

Each time I read Letters to Malcolm I am struck by the depth of Lewis' spirituality. Here is a disciple toward the end of his life who has seen the peaks and valleys of the spiritual walk. He is weathered. His views on prayer are unlike most of what you read today. God is not -- contrary to what you often read today -- someone who necessarily wants to give you whatever you want. In fact the deeper we grow in relationship with him the less we might receive. I alluded earlier to Lewis' speculation that God seems to grant less to the mature in faith than to the novitiates in faith. In Letters he talks of how the very act of creation results in separateness and ejection. "Can it be," Lewis asks, "that the more perfect the creature is, the further this separation must as some point be pushed? It is saints, not common people, who experience the 'dark night'". Just turn to Jesus' dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross to understand his point. The perfect creature experiences utter abandonment.
Lewis, of course, writes out of his own dark night of losing his beloved Joy to cancer. When he prayed to God for her healing what he received was the sound of bolting and double-bolting on the other side of the door. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in the flesh to be removed and it wasn't. Is this God's way of revealing his power in our weakness?
Prayer can teach us things we may not want to know about God!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Did you pray before you prayed?

Here's a quote from Lewis out of Letters to Malcolm that has profound implications concerning our prayer relationship with God:

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.

Humans have a sequential view of time. It's hard for us to understand time in any other way. It's what gives us the thought that prayer is a part of some human-divine cause and effect, i.e. "I prayed, and God delivered." I've heard many say, "Prayer works." But is it prayer that works or God that works? God, of course. And the point that Lewis suggests is that if we believe that for God all time -- past, present, future -- is one moment then the events we see in sequence, God sees them happen all at the same time.

I liken it to the Big Bang. In the moments prior to the Big Bang all of what creation was, is and will be was held together. It was in one moment -- and then the Bang put it into linear motion. Maybe that's a way to think of the difference between our experience of prayer and God's experience of prayer.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The duty exists for the delight

It's hard to be disciplined in praise. At least I find it so. Maybe there is enough Type A in me to want to speed to the prayers of confession and intercession. I want to make my sins and requests known and then got in with the rest of the day. But to be a pray-er of the Psalms is to find a discipline in praise. As Lewis reminds us, God would have us praise him in order that we might discover the joy of discovering more of who he is:

"In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. Meanwhile of course we are merely, as Donne says, tuning our instruments. The tuning up of the orchestra can be itself delightful, but only to those who can in some measure, however little, anticipate the symphony. The Jewish sacrifices, and even our own most sacred rites, as they actually occur in human experience, are, like the tuning, they may have in them much duty and little delight; or none. But the duty exists for the delight. When we carry out our 'religious duties' we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready.' (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 97)

Maybe a disciplined reading of the Psalms would be our channel digging?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Psalms

I've been taking a little time and rereading Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms. It's a real treasure. While reading it you discover the role that the Psalms played in Lewis' prayer life. Simply, they served as the framework of his conversation with God. He assumed that the 150 psalms are there not just for God to speak to us, but for us to speak to God. They are to serve as our prayers. Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his litte book on the Psalms -- Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible -- in that same spirit says, "if we wish to pray with confidence and gladness, then the words of Holy Scripture will have to be the solid basis of our prayer. For here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words which come from God become, then, the steps on which we find our way to God."

I grew up being taught that the best words we can offer to God are the honest words from our hearts. No one ever suggested that the words of the psalmist were the place to begin. Bonhoeffer adds that if we really believe that scripture is the word of God, why wouldn't we want to use those words when we pray?

Lewis' favorite was Psalm 19. It's a great exercise to let that Psalm be your prayer in the next few days.

What do you think?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Someone once said, “Pray as if all depended on God and work as if all depended on you.” Somewhere in the middle of all that is likely a balance for the spiritual life. It’s the like the story of the woman who was ill and received a visit from her church friends. At the end of the visit the friends told her that they would be praying for her. “That’s all well and good,” said the woman, “but I’d like it even more if you could empty the dishwasher and do a load of laundry.”

I guess it would make us wonder about the topic of our prayers. Do we end up with a yearning to understand not what we want God to do, but what God wants us to do? “What fruit, Lord, do you want me to bear in this situation? How can I be a faithful disciple through the concerns I have?” At the end of the day, as Lewis mentioned earlier, it won’t be God who has to answer for his deeds, it will be us. God has done all he could – dying on the cross. Now what about us? Has God’s saving grace resulted in our loving fruit? This will be the crux of the matter.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In what I believe to be the greatest sermon ever preached (my Lewis bias once again exposed), The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis said this about the day when we come face to face with God:

In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other; either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us.

A lot of spirituality these days spends a great deal of time reminding us over and over again about the grace and love of God. And so it should be. As an extension of that thought we also talk a lot about how God accepts as we are and that God loves us unconditionally. And so it should be. The prodigal son is the parable that speaks best to all this.

But often the conversation ends before we talk about what God fully thinks of us. He loves us – but is there a yearning on his behalf that we would be different? Not unlike the father that goes to bail his son out of jail. He loves the boy – unconditionally. That’s why he stops at the ATM along the way to get the necessary cash to spring his offending offspring. But that is just part of the story. What he fully thinks of his son is that he better get his act together or a wasted life is ahead.

If, as Jesus tells us, he is the vine and his Father is the vinedresser and he prunes the branches that don’t bear fruit and throws them into the fire – then it seems that we should be paying a lot of attention to what the Father thinks of us.

Or to put it another way -- I guess each day God loves us enough to try to keep us from becoming the branches he might throw away. In that spirit prayer is the effort to explore with God what he fully thinks about the fruit of our life and to ask for the Spirit’s help to produce more of it. Prayer is the continued conversation with the Almighty all the way to the point when his face is turned upon us. We wouldn’t want to be surprised at his expression.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I talked earlier about how prayer’s ultimate goal is to know and obey the will of God and perhaps the greatest thing that God wills is to “know” us. Immediately we might say that God already knows us, but then there are the words of Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount when he anticipates that there will be the day when many will say to him: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” And Jesus’ response will be: “I never knew you.”

What are we to make of this? It seems that Jesus is putting a high priority on relationship. There’s a difference between giving someone information “about” you and giving someone “you”. In his Letters to Malcolm Lewis suggests that it is not until we will ourselves to be known before God that we treat ourselves as true persons. “To put ourselves thus on a personal footing with God could, in itself and without warrant, be nothing but presumption and illusion. But we are taught that it is not; that it is God who gives us that footing. For it is by the Holy Spirit that we cry “Father.” By unveiling, by confessing our sins and “making known” our requests, we assume the high rank of persons before Him. And He, descending, becomes a Person to us.”

How often have you thought of it that way? That we are not fully persons until we make ourselves known to God – the good and the bad. Isaiah put it into his own words as he stood before God: “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” It was his biggest step toward becoming a real person.

It may be the greatest gift we have for God -- our unalloyed selves. How much of your prayer life is spent in letting God know you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

When and how do you pray? The truth is we can be as theoretical as we want about prayer, but it boils down to the when and how. For so many of us this is where our spiritual journeys get tripped up. We know it’s a good idea, but we don’t carry through with the execution.

I pray best in my journal. It’s always been the case. When I am writing I am focusing on what I want to say to God and I can scribble what I perceive God saying to me. The psalmists, in a real sense, were journal-ists. They thoughtfully reflected upon what their hearts had to say and then they wrote it.

When and how do you pray? Do you have an answer you’re happy with?

Lewis gets practical about this question in Letters to Malcolm. First, he says, don’t try it at bed-time. When we are “off to sleep” is the worst time to bring your heart to God. “I’d rather pray sitting in a crowded train than put it off till midnight when one reaches a hotel bedroom with aching head and dry throat and one’s mind partly in a stupor and partly in a whirl.” Don’t try it in church either, he suggests – you’re bound to be interrupted by the organist practicing or the cleaning woman cleaning. What one thing he strongly advocates is kneeling – “the body ought to pray as well as the soul.”

I’m not sure there’s a universal answer to these things. The point is, what’s your answer?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In his Letters to Malcolm Lewis expands more on the topic of prayer and discusses, among other things, how to pray. It is a question that pastors get a lot of times: I’m not sure what to say when I pray? I have a hard time concentrating when I pray? What are the kinds of things I should ask for?

Lewis suggests that there are three ways to pray: 1. praying without words, 2. praying using your own words, and 3. praying what he calls ready-made prayers, i.e. the Lord’s Prayer, prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, and other liturgical guides. Lewis believes that prayer without words is the purest form of prayer in that wordless prayers can be offered without the constraints of language. When we put words to things we filter the truth. It’s best to lift our hearts alone to God because it’s the prayer likely to get us to prayer’s ultimate goal – hearing from God more than God hearing from us. Nevertheless it is hard to be “still and know that God is God”.

When was the last time you went before God and didn’t say a word?

However, if one must revert to language Lewis isn’t sure that it makes any difference whether you use your own words or someone else’s. Using his own words was Lewis’ preferred second choice, simply because in the end there is no one else whose prayers would represent more completely his own soul and desire. God does want it to be “us” who prays, and not someone else. However, Lewis points out, the prayers of the Church and of the spiritual giants are important to use and consult because they remind us of “what things I ought to ask”.

I can resonate with this. When I take the time to examine my prayers – I find that they are not only much more about me, but much more about a very small part of me. And while I think God is glad to hear about me, I think he would be much happier to hear much more about me. And he would even more glad for me to hear about him – especially as it might help me to be more the creature he wants me to be.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It is interesting, but not surprising, that often our approach to prayer is out of self-interest. Our need usually is what makes us think to pray. Not just our need, but often someone else’s need. Our laundry list is filled with names of people and conditions we want God to act upon. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing but, as Lewis reminds us, in our Lord’s Prayer all the petitions are preceded by the yearning for “thy will be done.” But how much time do we spend on that petition? It might be interesting to think of the Lord’s Prayer as a school lesson (it was originally offered in response to a question about how to pray) and that the point is we have to hear God on the first things before we can move on to the other things.

In fact, it might be an interesting thing to begin all of our prayers with the petitionary phrase – “Dear God, I’d like to hear you on the following concerns: my brother’s healing, my job interview, my decision at work.” None of it suggests that there is an agenda we need God to fill, but rather there is an unfolding mission of God that may or may not include the things on our list.

On top of all this, at the conclusion of his Efficacy of Prayer essay, Lewis asserts something troubling about our growing maturity as disciples and prayer-ers. He suggests that the more we grow in our faith the less chance that God will grant us our requests. Quoting a Christian acquaintance: I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic. In his own words Lewis goes on to say, Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

Now there’s a thought that might change our whole way of looking at things.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The questions posed in my last entry might suggest that that I’m putting little stock in the efficacy of prayer. In other words, that I’m doubting that God wants or needs us to be his partners in his unfolding will. The Lewis words I quoted seem to head that direction as well. But Jesus would lead us another way. Lewis goes on to say:

Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And not doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”

Lewis goes on to suggest that it is no stranger to think that our prayers have some causal effect in God’s unfolding will than any of our other actions. What is to separate my feeding a hungry woman a piece of bread and my praying that hunger shall vanish from the earth? Does not God welcome us in both circumstances as his partner? I suppose it bespeaks the mysterious relationship between the sovereign God and his free-agent creatures.
What do you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I’m starting a blog today. I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m getting myself into by doing this, but I thought it might be fun to throw some thoughts out there from day to day and time to time that might provoke some thought and response as we journey along the path in faith and life.

I’m calling this blog Inkling because a lot of what I’ll reflect on will be the perspective of faith shared by C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a 20th century Oxford don whose academic focus was Medieval Literature. Upon his adult conversion to Christianity, however, he became one of the centuries most widely read Christian apologists. He was encouraged in his faith and writing by a group of Christian companions with whom he met weekly for years. They called themselves The Inklings. The group included none other than J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams.

Lewis provides us with an endless source of thinking and opinion when it comes to the Christian journey but I thought I would start with the subject of prayer. Prayer is perhaps the most widely employed instrument of Christians. No one seems to be against it and just about everybody invokes its aid on behalf of others. Whenever we come across a human need it appears to almost be an automatic response: “I’ll pray for you.”
But what does this mean? Time and time again I hear people tell me that “prayer works”. And while I am quick to affirm the statement – I suspect that what each of us means by prayer working can be as varied as the number of people who make the assertion.

Toward the end of his life Lewis wrote an essay for the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Efficacy of Prayer.” It is an honest effort to get at what we can reasonably assume about the way “prayer works”.
Here’s a small part of what Lewis says:
The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine – something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What he does is learned from what He is.

What do you think? Is the criterion for “working prayer” the simple establishment of personal contact with the true, concrete person? Is it solely the means of discovering God’s revelation to the lowly likes of you and me? Or is there more to it than that?
More later.