Saturday, September 13, 2014

And then there is the praying without words as well

Test me, O LORD, and try me; examine my heart and my mind. For your love is before my eyes; I have walked faithfully with you. Psalm 26:2-3

The Lord is my shepherd and nothing is wanting to me. In green pastures He has settled me.

So last night at community group, Alan once again told the story of his history professor who solved all of his marital strife with one simple decision: he would make all of the important decisions and his wife would make all of the unimportant decisions, and ever since that moment of release, he did not need to ever make another decision. And maybe that is a pretty odd marriage arrangement, but there is a certain truth to the plan. All decisions are unimportant in and of their themselves, but each is a step in a direction, and in that lays the living.

And I have a new favorite book by C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. And I have resolved to only read one chapter a sitting and to rest and meditate on each piercing line, rather than swallow it in one solid gulp, like one of those huge plastic Circle K cups full of cold water on a muggy afternoon.

This morning Lewis addresses the question of “making your requests known to God.” We say we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information. And indeed we have been reminded by Our Lord too 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. And also, any petition is a kind of tell. If it does not strictly exclude the belief that God knows our need, it at least seems to solicit His attention. As if, though God does not need to be informed, He does need, and even rather frequently, to be reminded. But we cannot really believe that degrees of attention, and therefore of inattention, and therefore of something like forgetfulness, exist in the Absolute Mind.

What then are we really doing?

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. But when we…assent with all our will to be known, then we treat ourselves, in relation to God, not as [merely created] 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.

To put ourselves thus on a personal footing with God could, in itself and without warrant, be nothing but presumptions 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 “[Abba] Father.” By unveiling, by confessing our sins and “making known” our requests, we assume the high rank of persons before Him.

And the second issue that Lewis addresses in this week’s letter to his friend, is that of how important something must be before we can, without sin and folly, allow our desire for it to become a matter of serious concern to us. The old “Please give me a good parking space” petition issue.

And while it is true that our deepest concerns perhaps should be for Augustine’s “ordinate loves,” Lewis speaks for each of us when he writes, we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are. It is no use to ask Go 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.

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…I have no doubt at all that if they are the subject of our thoughts they must be 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.

…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 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.

And this is how we are to live, practicing Brother Laurence’s presence. Just as the two lovers in Alan’s story lived in a place of trust and vulnerability and released each small decision, each small longing to their companion, and therefore walked a path of peace, so must I with my Companion.

His love is before my eyes; In green pastures He has settled me.