Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Letters to Malcolm -- Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm—Chiefly on Prayer is a rare gem amongst his brilliant works. The difference is that these letters are written to a dear friend rather than for public consumption. Reading them gives one a sense of sitting in the living room of the Kilns where Lewis lived within walking distance of Oxford University. It is like pulling up a chair and listening in on an intellectual, yet spiritual, conversation full of candid thoughts and mysterious postulations.

Each letter, building on the last, has something to do with the act of prayer.  The nature of heaven and the mystery of nature are ever present in the discussion.  Some of the foundational questions of this dialog are: What sort of creatures are we? What sort of world do we inhabit? What is the proper role of religion? How will the New Earth be like and yet unlike the old?  How does prayer affect us and how do our prayers affect the world?  Do they affect the Lord or are we their effect?

Lewis makes bold quotable statements throughout such as, “We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.” Or that “Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.” He speaks to the eternality of man bound by a linear progression of time by saying, “For though we cannot experience our life as an endless present, we are eternal in God’s eyes; that is, in our deepest reality.” He goes on to say that, “. . . our creaturely limitation is that our fundamentally timeless reality can be experienced by us only in the mode of succession.”

One very key component of discussion is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.  Lewis laments that this is a very key doctrine for we often think that our new bodies will be only spiritual rather than also physical. But he says that this world was made for sense-beings—people who can experience the physical world and process it into our souls creating a “chord in the ultimate music.”  We often think of the “new earth” as something so otherworldly it bears no similitude to our physical world forgetting that it was a physical Eden before the Fall.  To remember that our physical nature is not a product of the fall is imperative to properly thinking of our connection with eternity. There is something special about humans that no other creatures enjoy. 

Interestingly Lewis often comments in these letters that the things he is saying is something he feels free to say because it is in the context of letters between friends.  I count it a joy to be able to peer into those private dialogues and experience a bit of Lewis behind the curtain of his public writings.  “Christianity,” he implores, “essentially involves the supernatural.” The level of mystery and transcendence of which he speaks bears greater depth than my simple understanding of his words. Great truths are buried in these pages waiting for readers to unveil them for a new generation.  

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