Review: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this at 3 different points in the last year, so my thoughts are a bit scattered.

Lewis delves into the psychology, theology and practice of prayer. He is honest about its "irksome"ness. He deals not only with personal prayer but our interaction with the supernatural, generally. How do we take delight in God, in the sunshine? How do we do good things (like prayer) when sin weighs us down and they feel like duty, instead?

This book is famous for Lewis' purgatory error. He says it's a necessity if we are to be fit for heaven upon death. This assumes (wrongly, I think) that such a change of our nature takes God time to accomplish.

He has a passage on Communion that is quite good. “Here is big medicine and strong magic....
“I should define magic in this sense as ‘objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed.’…. Admittedly, the ‘magical’ element in such truths can be got rid of by explanation…. But no scientist, I suppose, believes that the process could ever reach completion. At the very least, there must always remain the utterly ‘brute’ fact… that a universe… exists…. Enlightened people want to get rid of this magical element in favour of what they would call the ‘spiritual’ element. But the spiritual, conceived as something thus antithetical to ‘magical,’ seems to become merely the psychological or ethical…. It [the magical element] can never be reduced to zero. If it is, what remains is only morality, or culture, or philosophy…

“The command after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand. Particularly, I hope I need not be tormented by the question ‘What is this?’ – this wafer, this sip of wine. That has a dreadful effect on me.” (103-105)

"If that other world [the supernatural] is once admitted, how can it, except by sensual or bustling pre-occupations, be kept in the background of our minds?" 120

He tends to wax philosophical, too:
"Matter enters our experience only by becoming sensation (when we perceive it) or conception (when we understand it). That is, by becoming soul." 123

So, not a practical book in the way we think of it today. But Lewis does deal closely with the practice and problems of piety and prayer.

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