On the Liturgy (and Prayer)--From C.S. Lewis


from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer I
C.S. Lewis

And the almost nothing which I have to say [on liturgiology] may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they beleived people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain--many give up churchgoing altogether--merely endure.

Is this simply beauce the majority are hide-bound? I think not. The have a good reason for their conservatism. . . . [T]hey don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or if you prefer to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to these things best--if you like it "works" best--when through long familiaritiy, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The prefect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

And to extent the metaphor--perhaps the best prayer is not the prayer that we are trying to say, but the prayer where we are least aware of prayer. That is where we spend time in the presence of the Lord, worshipping, adoring, and conversing, and come away refreshed, but only just aware of what transpired. Prayer starts as work that we do, and ends as we grow in it, in the Work He does on and for us. And all of the things mentioned above are detrimental to a solid prayer life. Make prayer a habit--a garment into which you slip easily and lightly--a place where you are comfortable. To do this, go routinely to prayer, close the door, and spend time. Do it in the same time and the same place every day. Perhaps you even say the same opening and closing prayers to set the tone, and maybe even a short prayer to still the mind when you start. But after you have set up the routine, the routine will guide you slowly into deeper and deeper realms of prayer. You will discover that all the things that used to bother and distract you no longer get in your way (you'll have a whole new realm of distractions). You will begin to abandon your need to take things with you in prayer because the territory has been outlined and you're discovering where God is--set prayers during prayer time become less needed.

However, if you distract yourself by making a new time and a new place each day, you will never have the comfortable routine that allows you to approach the throne of Grace readily. Think of it as wearing a path through an exceedingly dense forest. You must walk the same steps in the same way every time you walk the path. Yes, habit is a very, very good start to a productive life of prayer and to the Ascent of the foothills that lead to Mt. Carmel.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 26, 2004 8:34 AM.

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