Archive for the ‘C.S. Lewis’ Category

On Disappointment

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Bible, books, C.S. Lewis, change, leadership, life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being disappointed with God. Whenever I am faced with an issue–either personal or pastoral–I often come back to the writer who is the source of so much contemporary theology, C.S. Lewis. Cherish these words from ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ (an older demon instructor mentoring a younger).

“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anti-climax which is certainly coming to the patient during the first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants–“sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.” And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If only they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much less harder to tempt.”

It occurs to me that the “initial dryness” doesn’t go away after we’ve been disciples for a while, but re-occurs at every intersection in which we attempt to step out with Jesus into something new.

We are never safe because Jesus makes all things new.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m teaching a class on spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. The class is going well, but as is the case whenever a group of people explore spiritual formation, there are points that stretch all of us. The stretching is always both painful and necessary. After all, theses practices are designed to aid us in our drawing closer to God and becoming more like Jesus. That, it seems, has never been easy.

This week we focused on approaches to prayer. At root, we were attempting to move away from what I call “Laundry List” prayers and embrace a more robust view of the discipline. Prayers that perhaps are less about speaking and more about listening. Prayers that lead us more toward mystical union with God and a sense of His ever abiding presence with us. 

Particularly we considered The Jesus Prayer as written about in The Way Of The Pilgrim” and contemplative prayer as practiced by John Cassian. The Jesus Prayer is a simply repetition of these words: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Today I took it upon myself to pray the prayer 50 times. The result? The Jesus Prayer keeps one in touch with their own sinfulness (and self-centeredness). Fortunately, this “in-touch-ness” does not come in a negative way, wherein the continued realization of our sinfulness depletes us making us feel depressed and worthless. Rather, one feels — quite appropriately, I think — the sense that they should be careful about the way they “face” the world and speak about others.

Perhaps as we are armed with the knowledge that we are sinners we will embrace patience rather than picketing with those we disagree with or have failed to understand. Perhaps within the church and without it we can extend grace and harmony to others. Perhaps we would be slower in claiming our own rightness or high ground when other faithful Christians disagree with us about denominational (or non-denominational) distinctives. And we should do so simply because we so desperately need it ourselves. 


Next week I’ll be reviewing an upcoming commentary by attorney, theologian, author and friend, Edward Fudge. Edward’s new commentary tackles the meaty, dense and oft-misunderstood book of Hebrews. Trust me, you’ll be interested in what Edward brings to light from this fabulous book. Before year’s end I will be preaching through Hebrews and Edward’s commentary will surely be a trusted guide.


On my “Sean Palmer” page I’ve highlighted that I have reduced my out-of-town speaking and travel this year due to my new ministry context. However of you want to catch me somewhere I will be doing some limited traveling.

Pepperdine Bible Lectures: May 5-8 (Loving and Affirming the Justice of God)

Houston Summer Youth Series: July 13

Abilene Christian University Summit: September 20-23 (Hear The Voice)

Of course if you live in Silicon Valley you can join me for worship each Sunday at 9:00 ( a cappella) and 10:45 (instrumental) AM at Redwood Church or listen to the weekly podcast.

Tomorrow night I continue a series I’ve been teaching called, The Sacred Way. For 8-weeks we are looking at some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. I call them “ancient” for two reasons: (1) They were all conceived a long time ago and (2) Most people in American Evangelical churches don’t practice them (out of ignorance or willing abandonment, I don’t know). At any rate, our community here in Northern California is attempting to recapture them. Were coming to better understand that knowledge and narrow readings of scripture alone do not produce the Life that Jesus promised. We’re also learning together that our brothers and sisters throughout the ages have something to teach us regarding drawing closer to God.

This week’s reflection is prayer. In particular we will be looking at The Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayer, and Centering Prayer. This is scratching the surface, but it is enought to get us started. While we will be exploring these ancient disciplines, our time will begin with C.S. Lewis — a comparatively contemporary figure. Though most of us know Lewis as a writer of prose, we are going to begin our discussion of prayer with one of Lewis’ poems, and I want to share it with you here. This poem — IMHO — is deeply powerful and provocative.

Footnote To All Prayers…C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow,
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou.
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart.
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme.
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address,
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless,
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.