19 February 2014

Reading: C. S. Lewis on prayer

Reflections on the dialog...
SEASONS, my women reading theology group, selected Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis. I had the book on my shelf, highlighted from two previous readings and put off rereading until this week.  I was in for a bit of a shock. Lewis and his imaginary friend Malcolm--an undergraduate with C.S. Lewis, exchanging “interminable letters on the Republic and classical metres, and what was then the “new” psychology!” and now continuing their correspondence on the subject of prayer--are far better read than I. Lewis drops  a lot of names and builds his sentences of countless literary references. Many of the people he mentions are intellectuals, philosophers, believers who wrestle with God or fight against “religion” as idolatry. While I recognized most of the names, I was not as familiar with their thought as I needed to be to fully comprehend Lewis's dialog.

I think Lewis intended this book not only as a treatise on prayer but also as a dialogue with his contemporary theologians on the issues of the day.
In particular Letters to Malcolm addresses Alec Vidler’s Soundings and Bishop of Woolwich John Robinson’s Honest to God.

I began making notes in the margin of my book. Then I decided to create a cheat sheet to share with SEASONS. I worked through the first six chapters. Then I found that someone else had already done so. Wasted effort? No! I have decided that I might want to read Pascal. I discovered a woman novelist, Rose Macauley, to see if I want to read; since she's 20th Century it may be a long well before she climbs to the top of the book stack. Simone Wiel looks very interesting.

This link is to a chapter-by-chapter listing of notes by Arend Smildes which I think the reader will find helpful.

The notes I made before I decided not to reinvent the wheel follow:

Chapter 1 (sets the scene. This is a “Socratic dialogue”)

 p.3        Republic            by Plato           429 – 347 B.C.           Greek
student of Socrates; founder of the Academy of Athens; the founding philosopher of Western thought.                Quotes:
“Have you ever sensed that our soul is immortal and never dies?”
“The philosopher whose dealings are with divine order himself acquires the characteristics of order and divinity.”
“Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”
“Nothing beautiful without struggle.”

Chapter 2

 p. 9       Imitation (of Christ)    by Thomas a Kempis 1418 – 1427   German Catholic
priest, monk, hand wrote 2 copies of the Bible (10 volumes)   Quotes:
“If God were our one and only desire we would not be so easily upset when our opinions do not find outside acceptance.”
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
“A book has but one voice, but it does not instruct everyone alike.”
“As long as you live, you will be subject to change, whether you will it or not - now glad, now sorrowful; now pleased, now displeased; now devout, now undevout; now vigorous, now slothful; now gloomy, now merry. But a wise man who is well taught in spiritual labor stands unshaken in all such things, and heeds little what he feels, or from what side the wind of instability blows.”
“Jesus has now many lovers of the heavenly kingdom but few bearers of His cross.”
“Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating, or endeavoring something for the public good.”
“The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.”

 p. 10     Letters               Rose Macauley 1881 – 1958       English         Secularist & Anglican
her letters were published in 3 volumes in 1958. Her 26 novels (Towers of Trebizond 1956 semi-autobiographical) often have religious themes; Christianity is treated satirically in early works. An ardent secularist, she had a long (1918-1941) secret affair with Irish novelist Gerald O’Donavan. She returned to the Anglican communion in 1953.  Quotes:
“It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.”
“At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.”
“Life, for all its agonies...is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing...and whatever is to come after it -- we shall not have this life again.”
“It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead.”

p. 11      Blaise Pascal 1628 -1662         French               Augustinian Catholic (Jansenism)

On 23 November 1654, between 10:30 and 12:30 at night, Pascal had an intense religious vision and immediately recorded the experience in a brief note to himself which began: "Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars..." and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16: "I will not forget thy word. Amen." He carried this note sewn into his coat. A servant discovered it only by chance after his death. After this experience he began writing the Lettres Provinciales and the PenseesQuotes from Pensees:
“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadow for those who don't.”
“The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things which surpass it.”
“Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Chapter 3

p. 14     “Manichchaeian” used figuratively as a synonym for “dualist” and suggests, somewhat disparagingly, that this world view simplistically reduces the world to a struggle between Good and Evil. Originally a major Gnostic religion founded by Iranian/Persian Mani, 216 – 276 A.D., Lewis refers not to the original but to the Histoire Critique de Manichee by Isaac de Beausobre, 1659 – 1738.        French Protestant explores the history of heresy and orthodoxy, concludes “God… eternally active and creative”

p. 15     John A.T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich      1919 – 1983              English Anglican Liberal author of Honest to God (1963), Robinson attempted to reconcile the disparate theologies of Tillich and Bonhoeffer. For more information see this article by N. T. Wright:  http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Doubts_About_Doubt.htm
"For it is in making himself nothing, in his utter self-surrender to others in love, that [Jesus] discloses and lays bare the Ground of man's being as Love".
"For assertions about God are in the last analysis assertions about Love".
“…the sacrament which forms the heart of Christian worship is… the assertion of ‘the “beyond” in the midst of our life’, the holy in the common. The Holy Communion is the point at which the common, the communal, becomes the carrier of the unconditional, as the Christ makes himself known in the breaking and sharing of bread.”

Chapter 4

p. 21     Martin Buber 1878 – 1965          Austrian Isarali Jew        Zionist author of               Ich und Du (I and Thou) “dialogical community… dialogical relationships”        Quotes:
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
“The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”
“Solitude is the place of purification.”
“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

Chapter 5

p. 28     Juvenal 127 A.D              Roman poet “bread and circuses”
              “enormous prayers which heaven in vengeance grants”

 Chapter 6
p. 29     Alexander Vidler 1899 – 1991    English   Anglican priest, publisher, “new” theology              editor of Theology to which C.S. Lewis contributed, scholor of F.D. Marice
edited Soundings, collection of essays on Christian theology and the sciences. Quote:
"We are all sure that there is a way ahead, else we should not have taken up our pens. We have been less disconcerted by our differences than surprised by our concurrencies."

 F. D. Maurice 1805 – 1872             English   Christian socialist,
Proponet of women’s education, Unitarian family, ordained Anglican, deprived of Cambridge professorships for “unsound theology”  Quotes:
"The Bible," we are told sometimes, "gives us such a beautiful picture of what we should be." Nonsense! It gives us no picture at all. It reveals to us a fact: it tells us what we really are; it says, This is the form in which God created you, to which He has restored you; this is the work which the Eternal Son, the God of Truth and Love, is continually carrying on within you.
“The desire for unity has haunted me all my life through; I have never been able to substitute any desire for that, or to accept any of the different schemes for satisfaction of that men have desired.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906 – 1945             German             Lutheran              anti-Nazi
             Christianity in a secular world.               Quotes:
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
“A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”
“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.....We must not.....assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.”

 p. 30    John Newman 1801 – 1890           English    Anglican convert to Catholicism, Cardinal,  leader of the Oxford Movement... Quotes:
”We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”
“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

 Simone Wiel 1909 – 1943 French               agnostic Jew, philosopher  Scholar of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Greek & Egyptian mystery religions. Sometimes described as a "Christian mystic, she baptized late in her life into the Roman Catholic communion by Thomas Merton.      Quotes:
 “All sins are attempts to fill voids.”
“Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude.”
“True definition of science: the study of the beauty of the world.”
“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”
“It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms. ”

 I collected most of the quotes by googling an author's name and selected the goodreads quotation link that popped up. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes
And another resource for reading C. S. Lewis:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

from facebook:
Pam Echerd and Sarah Sparklers like this.
Sarah Sparklers: I was particularly struck by this one:
“enormous prayers which heaven in vengeance grants"