Friday, September 05, 2014

Praying, Not for the Self to Come, but for the Kingdom to Come

Java House in Nairobi. Kenyan coffee is... good!
One of the daily reading books I use is A Year With C.S. Lewis.[1] Back in the 1970s I spent every week with C.S. Lewis, reading through nearly everything he had written. To revisit Lewis now brings back good feelings of my early Jesus-walk. A recent reading from Lewis's Mere Christianity is worth quoting in full. I'll make a few parenthetical comments.

Lewis writes:

"There must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that."
The idea is this: seek Christ for the sake of Christ, and not essentially for the sake of self. To do the latter is to try to use Jesus, as if that could be done.

Lewis: "As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him." 
In other words seek, in the first place, Christ and his Kingdom, and the result will be that a whole lot of other things will be added to you, to include discovery of one's true self. The Lord's Prayer does not read: "Let my self come, let my will be done..."

Lewis continues:

"Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. 
Focus on stating true things clearly. People will accuse you of originality.

Lewis: "The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorites wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in." 
Self-obsession is always, in the end, unfulfilling and disappointing. Give your self away, to God first, then to others. This is a theme that runs through the New Testament and is lifted up, especially, by Thomas Merton in his distinction between the true and the false self. In praying give yourself away and you will be found by God.

[1] A Year with C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works