Morning Prayer and Getting the Day Started

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While preparing for my Letters to Malcolm course, I’ve been reading a bit in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  Since Lewis’ book is about private prayer and not corporate, I wanted to see if Bonhoeffer would raise any issues about corporate prayer that would act as a foil to Lewis.

Anyhow, I’ve just read Bonhoeffer on how important it is to have prayer in the morning before going to work.  His words about our daily work are really insightful.  But I pause a bit at the way he talks so absolutely about the relation of morning prayer and work, or “how our day goes.”  It’s just because of what my own experience has been through the years regarding the matter of praying before you do anything else in the day.  Here’s my reaction:

I have found this rule about morning prayer and work to be generally true.  But if for some reason we miss this particular time for prayer in the morning, the Lord’s mercies are through the whole day.  We may suspect that our struggles through the day may have been lessened had we prayed, but we can bank on God mercifully hearing us through the day when we need him.  We have to beware of thinking we are locked into an automatic equation: no morning prayer = no good day.  It leads to a legalistic relating to the Lord and a mercenary attitude as well.  We want to pray in the morning because it is the right thing to do and God deserves our praises – not so we can have a happier or more successful day.  Our life with God is based, not on our performance in any duty, but in the mercy and grace of God to us through Christ.  My 2 cents.

What are your thoughts about it?  Do you feel down or oppressed in someway if you have missed a time of prayer first thing in the morning?  Why is prayer at the beginning of the day so important to you?

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Lewis and Silent Prayer

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I’ve been reflecting on Lewis’ words about silent prayer in Letters to Malcolm off and on for a while.  He talks about it in the early letters of the book.  As he explains the role that words play in our prayers, he mentions that silent prayer is better than prayer with words.  It is common for people to wonder just what he is talking about when he says this.

In Letter III, he says that he is not referring to what mystics will call silent prayer.  We understand that to be a reference to some sort of fixed vision, in which case the mind is not attempting expression but is filled with revelation.  Rather, as he writes in Letter II, he means a prayer when the Lord is quickly bringing people and situations to our minds and we know that we express our desires concerning these things as they move through our consciousness with that intensity of concentration that one knows as a real communication.  He also admits that such praying requires one to be unusually fit both in body and spirit.  It is not in this life an experience we should consider as “the norm.”

I have tried to understand why Lewis thought this kind of praying superior to prayer with words.  I have thought that perhaps he considered it somehow as a more purely spiritual experience.  But that is not what is going on here.  It’s actually an application of definition and logic.

What are words?  They are vehicles of communication for our thoughts.  Words serve thoughts.  Words are thus secondary to thoughts; it’s “the thought that counts.”  True, the use of words may have an inherent art or beauty and be the focus of attention in certain cases.  But when we consider the main purpose of words, we recognize their serving function.  That is why Lewis considers a prayer without words a better prayer – if it can be achieved – because it is “purer” in a sense.  It is filled with the main issue, which is the petition itself.

Yet, Lewis recognizes our limitation in this area, as I’ve mentioned above.  That is why words are still very important in this life.  Since our thoughts are so easily distracted or adversely affected by our circumstances, they often need the aid of words to facilitate concentration and communication when we pray.  As Lewis depicts the situation, words help our thoughts to run in canals instead of getting spread all out into shallow puddles and thus fail to be effective.

The upshot of this is to recognize that there will be times when we are carried along by the Spirit in prayer and words are not needed; he knows what we are thinking.  But our normal practice is to work on our words to be sure they are serving our thoughts well.  Since we all need help in that area, the use of the prayers of other people – “ready-made” prayers, as Lewis calls them – can be of much use.

Of course, the best source is the book of Psalms.  The more familiar we are with that book, the more likely the words of our prayers will be what they should be.  My two cents.

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How to Enjoy a Joy

flockofbirdsNow that our Kickstarter campaign is over and I am going to be able to record lessons on Letters to Malcolm from Oxford, I’m getting back into the book earnestly.  Today, while reading the last letter on petitionary prayer, I was impressed by Lewis’ explanation of how we are to treat the mental images that go through our minds as we pray.  He says we must not fixate on any one, but treat them all the way William Blake speaks of the passing joys of life.  Here is Blake’s poem in full.  It is titled “Eternity”:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Blake likens a passing joy to a bird flying by in the air.  If we try to grab it and hang onto it, we will kill it.  But if we simply enjoy it as it passes, we can expect to enjoy all the other joys to come.  Of course, the last line speaks of something more splendid than that, but that’s the general principle Lewis is concerned about.

The idea of binding a joy to one’s self, of insisting on the ownership or repetition of a pleasure, reminds one of Lewis’ warning against saying “Encore” to the blessings God brings in our lives.  When we like an experience, we are tempted to seek to have it again.  But God is far too creative to simply repeat his acts.  He has something else in store out of the eternal sunrise that is his glorious Mind.

And here enters the danger.  If we insist on an encore and will not be content with the transitory nature of God’s blessings in this life, we will not only fail to experience that one blessing again, we will spoil it.  It’s nature is to fly.  It’s like the manah in the wilderness; if you hang onto it and don’t eat it while you can, it spoils.

At the same time, as the blessing is spoiled by this demand for the encore, those other flocks of blessings that are passing over us are lost to us.  Our eyes have been elsewhere than to the Sunrise.

To rightly benefit from the joys God sends us, we must enjoy them according to their nature.  We must let them be “passing” and enjoy them temporarily.  And we do not need to be afraid that, if we do not hang onto this joy, we will never have another one.  God is too abundant in his creativity and goodness to allow that.  We can afford to kiss the joy as it flies by, because we know another is on the way.

But the best thing of all is to live in The Sunrise, for God is the source of all blessings.  Indeed, He is the greatest blessing.  In Him is the Life that enables any creature to enjoy any blessing.  He is all Blessedness itself, and He, unlike the blessings of this transitory world, is everlasting.  In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

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