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)