Sunday, January 08, 2006

C. S. Lewis on "the devotional life"

For the past two weeks June and I have been visiting our children and grandkids in Tennessee and Georgia, and we plan to do some more traveling during the last two weeks in January (yes, rumor has it that we're going to Hawaii). As a consequence, I've not been able to keep up the more or less daily postings because I've had little or no Internet access. Now that I'm back home and have opportunities for the remainder of this week, I hope to make one or two postings daily so that we have lots to think about, lots to share. While in Georgia, I read three or four books on C. S. Lewis and entered quite a few observations in my "spiritual chapbook." Here's a quotationI coopied on January 2; it's from the Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis (New York: Harbrace, 1966); the quotation comes from a letter written to Mrs. Ursula Roberts, dated 31 July 1954:

I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1). to make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put 'last thing at night.' (2). To avoid introspection in prayers--I mean not to watch one's own mind to see if it is the right frame, but always to turn the attention to God. (3). Never, never try to generate an emotion by will power (4). To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With remembered thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?

I find Lewis's suggestions worth serious consideration. First, I think he's right about the best time to make one's "main prayers." I wonder what Lewis meant by "main prayers." Perhaps as an Anglican he was using what's available in The Book of Common Prayer. I suspect so. For me, very early in the morning or late afternoon for "main prayers"--traditional Matins or Vespers--works best. Second, Lewis's advice to "avoid introspection" is a good one. Years ago when I was in training at a Buddhist monastary, I learn how watch my thoughts come and go. In some ways that was a helpful discipline, but it surely encouraged me to be introspective viewer during exceptionally impersonal investigations of the "self." That, of course, is not what prayer guided by the Holy Spirit is about. "Always turn[ing] the attention to God," as Lewis sees it, is the better way, the way of the Psalms, the desert abbas and ammas, the way of Scriptural prayer. Third, we are not to "generate an emotion by will power." I've never tried or been able to do that, so I'm not quite sure what Lewis is talking about. And four--and this is an imporant insight into Lewis's prayer life, we are encouraged to pray "without words" whenever possible. Now that's a bit of a shocker because I didn't realize that Lewis was so profoundly attuned to the possibilities of apophatic prayer, prayer, for example, as decribed in fourteenth-century classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. But then again, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Lewis was a medievalist and he would have known. It appears as though he practiced--and preferred--the ancient tradition of wordless prayer, something much like Centering Prayer as encouraged by Basil Pennington and Tom Keating among others. If so, that makes me feel very close to Lewis.

Wanting to know more about Lewis's interior life, and I've placed Lyle Corsett's Seeking the Secret PlaceThe Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis on my wishlist. Maybe some of you have read the book? At any rate, let us know what you think about Lewis's suggestions to Mrs. Roberts about one's devotional life. Do you think more might be said? Something qualified?


Blogger Call Me Ishmael said...

My attempts to tune in to things apophatic may be found at

Saturday, 14 January, 2006  

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