It becomes clear in letter VIII that Malcolm is having some kind of health scare – a pretty serious one is implied. The writer struggles to say something that is not an easy reassurance. Suddenly the questions on prayer are no longer theoretical, but real and serious.
He wants to reassure that there is nothing wrong in being anxious. They are “not a defeat of faith”.
He then takes up the thought,
“They are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. For the beginning of the Passion – the first move so to speak – is in Gethsemane.”
What follows is an exploration of Christ’s death, and the agony for him proceeding it, and in that some reassurance.
“We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God’s will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.”
It’s ok to be worried and afraid. But the place to bring that is to God.
But there is no suggestion that suffering is easy to bear, or it doesn’t make you feel abandoned and alone.
Jesus turns to prayer, which is not granted; to his friends, who are asleep; to the church, which condemns him; to the state, where he becomes a counter in a complicated game; to the people, who have become a murderous rabble.
“There is then, nothing left but God. ‘Why hast thou foresaken me?'”.
And so it seems that those nearest to God, feel most acutely the ‘hiddenness’, when they can’t find him, the infamous ‘Dark night of the Soul’. Jesus felt bereft and alone.
But perhaps it is in this that we find our strength, our hope and our courage. For when we find ourselves in the dark valley, it is a shared darkness. Shared with those who have travelled that way too, and most importantly shared with Jesus.
“We are not on an untrodden path. Rather, on the main-road.”
So when life is hard and frightening, we are not alone. God, made man, walks with us.
Jesus struggled. He cried out. We do not walk alone.
(And we know that for Jesus, and ultimately for us, the struggle and the agony was not the end…)
I’ve ‘taken up’ C S Lewis for Lent.
They’re a couple of books that I found when we moved, and thought ‘I must have another read of those one day’. Well in an effort to do something productive during Lent, ‘one day’ has come.
I started with The Screwtape Letters and now I’m moving on to ‘Prayer: Letters to Malcolm‘ , first published 1964. It must be about 25 years since I read it – and a lot of water has passed under this bridge since then.
I’ll share just some of my random thoughts as I work my way through it – hoping they might spark some thought. Feel free to comment!