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.