Re-reading Letters to Malcolm and finding so many beautiful gems I missed on first reading – I must record them lest I forget. Strike that – so that when I forget, I can be reminded…
Your other question is one which, I think, really gets in pious people’s way. It was you, remember, “How important must a need or desire be before we can properly make it the subject of a petition?” Properly, I take it, here means either “without irreverence” or “without silliness,” or both.
When I’d thought about it for a bit, it seemed to me that there are really two questions involved.
- How important must an object be before we can, without sin and folly, allow our desire for it to be come a matter of serious concern to us? This, you see, is a question about what old writers call our “frame”; that is, our “frame of mind.”
- Granted the existence of such a serious concern in our minds, can it always be properly laid before God in prayer?
We all know the answer to the first of these in theory. We must aim at what St. Augustine (is it?) calls “ordinate loves.” Our deepest concern should be for first things, and our next deepest for second things, and so on down to zero – to total absence of concern for things that are not really good, nor means to good, at all.
Meantime, however, we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect, but how we should pray being as we now are. And if my idea of prayer as “unveiling” is accepted, we have already answered this. It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.
Even an intimate human friend is ill-used if we talk to him about one thing while our mind is really on another, and even a human friend will soon become aware when we are doing so… It may well be that the desire can be laid before God only as a sin to be repented; but one of the best ways of learning this is to lay it before God. Your problem, however was not about sinful desires in that sense; rather, about desires, intrinsically innocent and sinning, if at all, only by being stronger than the triviality of their object warrants. I have no doubt at all that if they are the subject of our prayers–whether in penitence or in petition or in a little of both: penitence for the excess, yet petition for the thing we desire.
If one forcibly excludes them, don’t they wreck all the rest of our prayers? If we lay all the cards on the table, God will help us moderate the excesses. But the pressure of things we are trying to keep out of our mind is a hopeless distraction. As someone said, ‘No noise is so emphatic as one you are trying not to listen to.’ The ordinate frame of mind is one of the blessings we must pray for, not a fancy-dress we must put on when we pray.
And perhaps, as those who do not turn to God in petty trials will have no habit or such resort to help them when the great trials come, so those who have not learned to ask Him for childish things will have less readiness to ask Him for the great ones. We must not be too high-minded. I fancy we may sometimes be deterred from small prayers by a sense of our own dignity rather than of God’s.
CS Lewis – Letters to Malcolm
For me there is nothing more that needs to be said, let alone by myself; following the mind of CS Lewis is a joy in itself and I love observing how he works things out. That to me is a beautiful mind. 🙂 But to answer the commonly put question “But what did it mean to you?”, I liked this piece because I have apparently inherited some stoical tendencies somewhere along the way, and I often think “I shouldn’t ask for that – that would just be silly.” And I liked the humble and human approach in which Lewis takes into account our humanity, and also does not encourage stoicism or the denial of our nature or desires. He grants that there is that ideal which we ought to strive for, and then an honest accounting with one’s self of “where I am today.” Both goodness and truth are to be served; there is no need to deny or “hide” from the one in order to achieve the other (for He of course can see our hearts and remembers with what “frame” He Himself made us ). The guideline I deduce is simple: do what you know is right, from where you are today. And do pray – do! Reckon with your heart and remember where your priorities ought to lie, but don’t try to deceive yourself. I also loved the advice to not to take ourselves so seriously… Our Father knows our heart and He is not so small that He cannot countenance our petty or deep desires, even if they show colors of of frailty or weakness; it is good for everything great or small to be brought before Him, as from a child to a loving Father. And patiently, tenderly and lovingly – to the deepest meaning of that concept and as we allow Him room (more on that from George MacDonald)- He will begin to use every thing brought before Him to help us learn and grow.