30 December 2009

Not Who, But How Are You Going to Serve?

that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse-though mercy it may save – those who do the simple evil. And this distinction is central ...

The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.

We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbour’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously co-operating with ‘the simple good.’

[Another] man...in doing..evil...is used by God, but without his own knowledge or consent, to produce complex good –

The first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool.

For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.

- C.S. Lewis Problem of Pain

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
Psalm 139:1-12

26 December 2009

Feelings, ooooo, feelings....and Christ the Lord

And now as a Christian I tend to (like many of my Christian friends) create an unreal dichotomy in my mind between "me" and "Christian me." That is, I either assume too much of my feelings (making too of them) or push them aside as worthless (making too little of them). They are either inherently unnecessary to human life or else they are everything-the sum total of my presence before God. Yet neither of these is true. It is certainly an unbalanced viewpoint. Yet I think there are plenty of Christians who think this way. We continually misunderstand the proper place of feelings. Christ, we know had feelings-he had strong feelings:
“While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God.” [Hebrews 5:7-10 The Message ]
Christians – and knowledgeable nonChristians tend to restrict Jesus' feelings to religious contexts. The preceding verse his feelings are exhibited while in prayer – which puts us in mind of His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.
However there is no indication that Jesus Christ's feelings were restricted to prayer alone (prayer and feelings is an interesting topic in itself). In fact, it is quite the opposite. From the gospels we know Jesus exhibited anger, pity and sorrow. All these have legitimacy as good religious feelings, as long as anger can be labeled as “righteous” anger.
Let’s not forget Jesus did have a friend he felt (feelings) especially close to: the disciple "Jesus loved" (left unidentified but mostly thought of as John). And, then there is Lazarus, who though not an apostle, was deeply loved by Jesus.
Evidently Jesus did have personal preferences: we find he felt connected with some people more deeply than others and this connection doesn’t seem to be a one-to-one relationship with their stature as spiritual giants. It had more to do with a personality preference, and another feeling called friendship.
Let's also remember that in addition to the "religious feelings" listed (righteous anger, pity, sorrow) and friendship, that Jesus felt weak and wobbly-which is my 21st century term for the biblical word "tempted." Of course, we are tempted every day, usually many times a day, if not all day by many things. We are tempted to conceit, fear, anxiety, despair, discouragement, helplessness and hopelessness, mostly unbelief. We are also driven to participate in "sins of the flesh" (those normally associated as bad: greed, lust, power, etc.).
"...we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." [Hebrews 4:14-16 New King James Version]
Scripture declares Jesus was God come in the form of flesh-a man...and our feelings is one of the many good reasons He had to come as a man.
Were Christ untempted, then He would be unfeeling as a human. Praying to a god who was unfeeling as a human, would be like asking an unseeing god to restore your vision. You see, he wouldn't understand the quality of your lack of vision, and therefore its need. Nor would such a god make you feel at all encouraged that he could understand your desire to have vision restored.
Now, on the other hand, had Christ been tempted and sinned, He could not be a savior, nor could he qualify as a High Priest to make intercession to the Father on our behalf. 
Lewis said:
"God could, had He pleased, have been made incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of...sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood at Gethsemane. [If this had not been the case]...we [might] have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance.
...knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all."
  • C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Magnetic Christ

From the outside looking in, many years ago before I identified myself as a Christian, I recall thinking how very good a person has to be to be a Christian-a true Christian. Knowing myself, although I was attracted to loving God as Creator, I was repelled by the thought of having to live a terribly good life. It sounded bland.
Not that I wasn’t living a good life-and that’s the irony of it. I was pretty good as humans go, and I liked being loving; being loving and giving was addictive, when I actually was giving.
But I was confused. I equated being good with being Christian, although technically I knew that wasn’t the way one was a Christian, but it rattles around in our cultural landscape as a foregone conclusion that one must be "good." (to be religious). Not only that, but to be a really good Christian you needed to be sincere, also, thoroughly earnest, a white-knuckle and dripping earnest goodness and all that...which I wasn't (and still am not).   I also hated the thought that if I really became a serious discple of Christ that I would be stripped of all personality, hobbies and personal perferences (much like joining a yoga camp).
But I wasn't improving. Nor were my acquaintances. They weren’t becoming less selfish, only more. Of course, as I spent more time with them I became more selfish-and I hated it when I realized it. Selfishness is, for a simple and good person like I was, like eating little bit of poison every day: you don’t die right away but you eventually come down with some illness, which kills you. I was in a dilemma.

When I inspected the evidence for myself, I found the Christ of the gospels to be completely different from what I expected. Lewis' analogy was that he was "not tame" is right on the mark. Yes, Christ is humble but He commands respect.
But there is more to Christ. He is also interesting, receptive, and clever. He is not only wise, but also brilliant, funny, entertaining, witty, incisive. Christ has a many-sided personality, and is personally challenging and engaging. (I am leaving aside the miracles, signs and wonders he performed that were both listed and unlisted in the gospels-and those the Spirit of Christ continues to perform to this day.)
Christ of the gospels not only challenges my ill-formed idea of what it means to be his follower, he also challenges my idea of me, of who I can and will be, and my ideas of the world as I’d like to see it. Jesus Christ makes the rest of us look like dullards which we all are, by comparison.
As He demonstrated as a 12 year old boy as He spoke with the most learned adults in His community:
”His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished…as they returned, [but] the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, [then]…sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. …when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
(Luke 2:41-47 New King James Version)

25 December 2009

Christmas Poem of Early Christian Era

Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten)

Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is the Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see.
Evermore and evermore.

O, that birth forever blessed!
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

O, ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.

  • Aurelius Clemens Prudentis, written before 413 AD
(Latin poet of Christian antiquity, a one-time Roman official, turned monk)

21 December 2009

An Omniscient God and Making Ourselves Known To Him

People often object to praying-usually, it seems, because they think an omniscient God ought to “know” and somehow either it’s lazy of Him to want a “field report” or perhaps they are in denial of His power and see His handling of situations as “proof” of His interest in them. There is a ring of illogic here. Ife we take for a fact that God is omniscient, and yet still asks us to pray, then perhaps He’s got, not an information gap, but some other situation. Perhaps, instead, there exists a faith-gap on our side. That is, for us to pray is an exhibition of not only inner faith, but an exercise in faith. We all know that it’s not only planning your new exercise regime, but actually carrying it out that does any good. Exercise is not abstract thought, nor is faith.

CS Lewis addresses this here:
"[People who attack Christian prayer-if they know the Bible-could begin in Philippians] about ‘making your request known to God.’ I mean, the words making known bring out most clearly the apparent absurdity [which Christians are charged with.] We say we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information. …we have been reminded by Our Lord [Jesus]…not to pray as if we forgot the omniscience-‘for your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.’ …
…. To confess our sins before God is certainly to tell Him what He knows much better than we. [Besides,] any petition is a kind of telling. [And] ..it at least seems to solicit His attention. Some traditional formulae make that implication clear: “Hear us, good Lord.” “O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.” As if, though God does not need to be informed, He does need..to be reminded.

But we cannot really believe that degrees of attention and therefore inattention, and therefore of something like forgetfulness, exist in the Absolute Mind.       
I presume that only God’s attention keeps me (or anything else) in existence at all. [So], what then are we really doing? Our whole conception of..the prayer-situation depends on the answer.

We are always completely, and therefore equally, known to God. That is our destiny whether we like it or not.

But though this knowledge never varies, the quality of our being known can. [Borrowing from the school of thought that says ‘freedom is willed necessity’ to use this idea only] as an analogy. Ordinarily, to be known by God is to be, for this purpose, in the category of things. We are like earthworms, cabbages and nebulae, objects of divine knowledge. But when we (a) become aware of the fact… and (b) assent with all our will to be so known, then we treat ourselves, in relation to God, not as things, but as persons.
We have unveiled. Not that any veil could have baffled this sight. The change is in us. The passive changes to the active. Instead of merely being known, we show, we tell, we offer ourselves to view.
…[Indeed] it is by the Holy Spirit that we cry “Father.” By unveiling, by confessing our sins and ‘making knon’ our requests we assume the high rank of persons [rather than things] before Him. And He, descending…a Person to us."
  • CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm 

17 December 2009

On Resemblances - And the Fun of It

"Somehow or other, and with the best of intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame."
  • Dorothy Sayers
Then, I imagine CS Lewis' response to be something like this:
"...now we begin to see what it is that the New Testament is always talking about It talks about Christians being 'born again;' it talks about them 'putting on Christ;' about Christ 'being formed in us;' about our coming to 'have the mind of Christ.'
Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out -- as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out.
They [these references] mean something more than that. They mean that a real  Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are...pray[ing], is doing things to you .
It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods.
Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.
[He continues later:]
The thing has happened: the new step has been taken and is being taken. Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some...are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them....
They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of 'religious people' which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves.
You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people...that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.)
They will usually seemd to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily.
And I strongly suspect...that they recognize on another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age and ... creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joing a secret society.
To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun."
  • C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

16 December 2009

Speaking of Bearing Little Resemblance:

"Somehow or other, and with the best of intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame." 

  • Dorothy Sayers

13 December 2009

The Realtor Was Wrong; It's "Motivation, Motivation, Motivation"

Don’t ask me to talk to your teenager about the state of his soul, please don’t. I will end up asking him questions about himself rather than presenting him with this very serious theological topic. My goal will probably not be the same as yours--to get him 'born again.'
If I recall properly, your teenager takes nothing more seriously than his “owning” his “identity.” And though "scaring" a teen towards God might work in the shortrun, it seems that God’s timetable is a lifetime.  With regards to the teen,  we would do well to pay attention to the state of the "patient" rather than rushing directly to the goal.
This me to the topic of motivation and how people come to faith.
I reflect on my childhood mind and my spiritual development. I grew up in the 1950’s, attending Mass every Sunday (and the Holy Days). My spiritual life was self-contained (therefore arrogant and blissful) ignorance. I thought I had it sewn up, for I knew about prayer-I knew the Lord’s prayer and had begun the “Hail Mary.” I felt I was doing pretty well—you might say I was on a casual first-name basis with God. I knew him less well than I might know a mailman or doctor, of course, but there was a sense of easy acquaintance.
Then around 6 years old, I attended catechism class and I ran into the concept of sin, and hell. I was horrified-and terrified. How could such a thing have happened to my benign concept of God? My mind went immediately  to the practical: I raised my hand to ask the nun a question so we could remedy our problem Straightfacedly, as only children can do, using the illustration the nun gave (as an analogy), I took it literally. I asked her why couldn’t the doctor perform “an operation to remove the stain on our soul” put there by sin. (This illustration shows not only how literal my mind was but how urgent a situation it was to me.)
It was a shock, for up until then, I had a vague and subjective idea of how to be acceptable to God, and I had not even a suspicion that you could love God, nor what loving God would appear to resemble.

For a long period of my youth I carried correct theological information, but I had no sense of appetite for God: it wasn't a dull appetite, it was a dead appetite. It is because of this experience (I confess) that I do not normally recommend preaching about hell and sin to nonbelievers. First, it seems to be the least effective way to make a convert. Second, (and I think more importantly) the impetus for faith does not come from a desire to stay away from damnation, but from an internal compulsion for only what God can give.
Faith built on fear is no faith at all: it is avoidance. Since Jesus asked his apostles to make disciples, and not mere converts, we need to follow His direction.
When I reflect on the pre-catechism child, I see that little child patterns that resemble patterns of thought found in most areligious people, i.e., a vague sense of who God is, what His role might be, but He’s mostly irrelevant. And when I reflect on the post-catechism child, I recognize a more informed person, but merely an informed person. In this way I resembled many religious, well-intentioned people.
But in that child, there resided no desire to be a Christian that came from reverential love, but it stemmed mostly from fear, and a desire to avoid bad consequences. She did not have even the beginning of a transformed heart, I was not a disciple.

A disciple will want to do the right things - and be conjoined with God because he loves:
“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:22,23)
The Spirit of Christ works in transforming a person, and for that is a co-operative venture between the person, and the Spirit.

So, when I was a youth the spiritual landscape was only beginning to be “mapped out.” I was like someone who had the directions to New York City, but not the tickets, or reservations. Later, when I committed to knowing who this God was, that I boarded the airplane and actually took the trip and experienced New York City.

CS Lewis has a section in which he reflects on people’s reasons to believe, a detour he makes after remarking on a period wherein the Old Testament is silent on eternal destiny of the Jews:
“Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical as it sounds, I should reply, Yes.
For the truth seems to me to be that happiness or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all. A man who believes in them will of course be prudent to seek the one and avoid the other. But that seems to have no more to do with religion than looking after one’s health or saving money for one’s old age. The only difference here is that the stakes are so very much higher.
And this means that, granted a real and steady conviction, the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not in the centre. He is still important only for the sake of something else. Indeed such a belief can exist without a belief in God at all. Buddhists are much concerned with what will happen to them after death, but are not, in any true sense, Theists.
It is surely, therefore, very possible when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything that He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely that this revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude [supreme blessedness] or Perdition [eternal damnation]. These are not the right point to begin at. A…belief in them, coming too soon, may even render impossible the development of (so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first.
Later…men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him ‘as pants the hart,’ it is another matter. For then those who love God will desire not only to enjoy Him but ‘to enjoy Him forever,’ and will fear to lose Him. And it is by that door that a tru[e] hope of Heaven and fear of Hell can enter; as corollaries to a faith already centered upon God, not as things of any independent or intrinsic weight. It is even arguable that the moment “Heaven” cease to mean union with God and “Hell” to mean separation from Him, the belief in either is a mischievous superstition; for then we have, on the one hand, a merely ‘compensatory’ belief (a ‘sequel’ to life’s sad story, in which ‘everything will come [out] all right’) and, on the other, a nightmare which drives men into asylums or makes them persecutors.

Fortunately, by God’s good providence, a strong and steady belief of that self-seeking and sub-religious kinds is extremely difficult to maintain, and is perhaps possible only to those who are slightly neurotic. Most of us find that our belief in the future life is strong only when God is in the centre of our thoughts; that if we try to use the hope of “Heaven” as a compensation (even..for…bereavement) it crumbles away. It can, on those terms, be maintained only by arduous efforts of controlled imagination; and we know in our hearts that the imagination is our own.
All this is only one man’s opinion. And it may be unduly influenced by my own experience. For I was allowed for a whole year to believe in God and try—in some stumbling fashion—to obey Him before any belief in the future life was given me. And that year always seems to me to have been of very great value. It is therefore…natural that I should suspect similar value in the centuries which the Jews [in the Old Testament] were in the same position.”

  • CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

12 December 2009

Gentle Yet Powerful

[Will return to more 'Reflections' after the weekend. For now, I am posting a language-and-spelling adjusted poem by George Herbert, from his work The Temple printed in 1633.]

The God of love, my Shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed:
While he is mine, and I am his,
What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then, to the streams that gently pass:
In both I have the best.

Or if I stray, he doth convert
And bring my mind in frame:
And all this not for my dessert,
But for his holy name.

Yea, in death’s shads black abode
Well may I walk, not fear:
For thou art with me; and thy rod
To guide, thy staff to bear.

Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine,
Ev’n in my enemies sight:
My head with oil, my cup with wine
Runs over day and night.

Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.

  • George Herbert

10 December 2009

Christmas Calm...


My Soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars,
There above noise, and danger
Sweet peace sits with crown’d smiles,
And one born in a Manger
Commands the beauteous files,

He is thy gracious friend,
And (O my soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake,
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease;

Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure,
But one, who never changes,
Thy God, thy Life, thy Cure.

  • Henry Vaughan

09 December 2009

Praise is Punch-Drunk Expressed

I continue with a section from Lewis from his chapter "A Word About Praising." In the previous post he spoke of the difficulty he had in understanding why we were told/commanded/exhorted to praise and how he came to understand there are good reasons to praise. Praise is simply a reflection of one's esteem for God. He continues illucidating us on praise here but states that our understanding of praise to God is too small. Lewis seems to believe that to praise God is the natural result of being punch-drunk in love with God.
I begin by re-posting the tail end of the previous post regarding the value of praising (anything). CS Lewis writes: "I think we delight to praise [in general] what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.   It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed."
"It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with... This is so even when our expressions are inadequate, as of course they usually are. But how if one could really and fully praise even such things to perfection-[to] utterly get out in poetry or music or paint the upsurge of appreciation which almost bursts you? Then indeed the object would be fully appreciated and our delight would have attained perfect development. The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be.  If it were possible for a created soul fully (to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to "appreciate," that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beautitude.
It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that Heaven is a state in which angels are now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God.  This does not mean, as it can so dismally suggest, that it is like "being in Church." For our "services" both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures.
We are not [yet] riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster.
To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God-drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.
The Scotch catechism says that man's chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify.
In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him."
  • C.S. Lewis from Refections On the Psalms

07 December 2009

Why Bother to Praise? What's That About?

“When I first began to draw near to belief in God…I found a stumbling block in the demand… made by all religious peple that we should “praise” God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.
We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus, a picture, ludicrous and horrible, both of God and His worshippers, began to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome this way, “Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (why…did praising God so often consist of telling others to praise Him?)
…Worse still was putting the statement into God’s own mouth, “whoso offers me thanks and praise, he honors me.” [Psalm 50:23] …
And mere quantity of praise seemed to count “seven times a day do I praise Thee.” (Psalm 119:164). It was extremely distressing. It made one think what one least wanted to think.
Gratitude to Him, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; [but] not this perpetual eulogy. Nor were matters mended by a modern author who talked of God’s “right” to be praised. I…think “right” is a bad way of expressing it…but…I see what the author meant. …[Let’s] begin with inanimate objects which can have no rights. What do we mean when we say a picture is “admirable”? ..The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is that…admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate response to it…and that if we do not admire it, we shall be stupid, insensible and great losers, we shall have missed something.
But the most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or giving of honour. I never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.
The world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, cars, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, even sometimes politicians or scholars.
I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read. The healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal: the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all.
Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. Nor does it cease to be so when, through lack of skill, the forms of its expression are very uncouth or even ridiculous…
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling men to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise [in general] what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
[to be continued]
  • CS Lewis Reflections on the Psalms

04 December 2009

Afraid Of Praying-and For Good Reason

Prayer is a funny thing. It's funny, hard and strange, all these things, and in some ways it’s a mystery.   Biblical prayer, at least, not the kind of prayer rituals people have or prayer baskets or prayer wheels, or any kind of formulated prayer made to appease and / or petition a god.
Biblical prayer is always hard, I think. It stands to reason if you think about it: the person praying is something other than what other people perceive him to be because he’s being as transparent as he possibly can be. Secondly, he really is something other than what he normally is because for once, he’s in a position where he is recognizing he is the created one (and all that means: limited, weak, flawed, fallen) who is speaking to the Creator Godhead, and all that He is exceeds mere definition and is outside our understanding.
Prayer is hard partly because it is demanding. It's not physically or intellectually demanding. But prayer puts a strain on the human psyche that we tend to avoid. You see, prayer demands humilty. And, no, it might not start off that way, but if one prays long enough, and one ends up there. When you are humble you put yourself aside for the time being. And with that putting aside comes a strange sense that there is “another” self speaking to God-that it is the real self.
Lewis addresses this:

     'The moment of prayer is for me-or involves for me as its condition-the awareness, the re-awakened awareness that this “real world” and “real self” are very far from being rockbottom realities. I cannot in the flesh, leave the stage, either to go behind the scenes [in a metaphoric play] or…but I can remember that these are regions that exist.
    And I also remember that my apparent self-this clown or hero…under his greasepaint is a real person with an offstage life. The dramatic person could not tread the stage unless he concealed a real person: unless the real and unknown I existed, I would not even make mistakes about the imagined me.
   And in prayer this real I struggles to speak, for once, from his real being, and to address, for once, not the other actors, but—what shall I call Him? The Author, for He invented us all? The Producer, for He controls all? Or the Audience, for He watches, and will judge, the performance?
   The attempt is not to escape from space and time and from my creaturely situation as a subject facing objects. It is more modest: to re-awaken the awareness of that situation. If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground, the Bush is burning now.
   Of course this attempt may be attended with almost every degree of success or failure. The prayer preceding all prayers is “May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.”
   Infinitely various are the levels from which we pray. Emotional intensity is in itself no proof of spiritual depth. If we pray in terror we shall pray earnestly; it only proves that terror is an earnest emotion.
   Only God Himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, He must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter.
   The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, “But I never knew before. I never dreamed…”   I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology,  “It reminds me of straw.”'  (CS Lewis in  Letters to Malcolm)