July 17, 2011

Prayer and the Great Divorce

"Hell is a state of mind -- ye never said a truer word.  And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of creature within the dungeon of its own mind -- is, in the end, Hell.  But Heaven is not a state of mind.  Heaven is reality itself.  All that is fully real is Heavenly.  For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains." This is the insight attributed by C.S. Lewis to George MacDonald in The Great Divorce.

This notion that Heaven is real and Hell anything divorced from reality applies to prayer.  Prayer can be Heaven or Hell depending on whether we choose to pray by love filled faith in the Lord or else allow some enchanting form of self-occupation to swallow our attention.  Christian prayer is meant to be a heavenly dialogue even if it involves suffering some painful truths we would rather not face.  Prayer can also be a hellish monologue, a conversation turned on itself in which one never breaks free of his big fat ego.

Prayer in which one humbly converses with the Living God unlocks divine beauty and raises the eyes of our soul to inexhaustible splendors -- wonders we could not have ever imagined existed.  Such prayer extends our vision so that we even come to see these wonders in everyone the Lord entrusts to us.  The second kind of prayer imprisons us in the merely subjective, and weighs us down in nostalgia, bitterness and regret.  With the eyes of our heart rolled back on themselves, we are unable to open them to the mystery of God uniquely revealed in the gaze of another.  There are many different techniques and methods for perfecting this second kind of prayer.  But in the prayer of faith, how ever helpful they might be in the beginning, every technique must bow and every method must bend before the power and sovereignty of Christ.

Even in the midst (especially in the midst?) of what the saints call the dark night, the prayer of faith is a foretaste of the fulfillment of all desire won for us by the Blood of the Lamb.  The second kind of prayer, even  in its most blissful ecstasies, is a pathway into a state of mind common to those swallowed in the self-occupation from which Christ yearns to deliver us.  However therapeutic and pleasant, exercises in mental hygiene can not lift one above himself.  For those whose prayer is but a monologue, unless they allow the silence of God to shatter their interior chatter, they will come to lose all memory of the true longing stirred in their hearts by simple joys and noble sorrows.  On the other hand, whatever the trials with which they must deal, those who persevere in the divine dialogue initiated by the Word made flesh journey across a threshold into their heavenly homeland: the household of the Father in which they are awaited by love.