“The days have seen the completing of another of the longings that have been brooding with its stress on the need of making Mission Houses to be houses of prayer, not just centers of activity. The longing had shaped itself into the need for a prayer-room, where those who felt the need of being quietly with God, alone or together, could escape unseen. We had debated the matter several times as to where in this big network of rooms such a place could be found and my solution did not find much backing, for though acknowledged to be quiet and hidden, it was considered dark and chilly and airless – being the old Moorish bathroom of former days, and a little vaulted chamber on a back stair. But now that the window opening is cleared out and all is whitewashed and its seats cushioned in green cotton, it is perfectly delightful.” 8 April 1925
C. S. Lewis, in an article for the Atlantic Monthly, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” relates an incident in a which he was about to put off a haircut, the result of a change in other plans. Then an “almost unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, ‘Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut,'” overruled his decision and he went anyway. It turns out that his barber had been praying that Lewis might come that day having run into troubles for which he wished to consult him. “And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.”
Lewis goes on to ponder prayer. Awed as he was by this experience, he recognized that one can not rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and his visit. Some might say it was telepathy. Others an accident. A coincidence. He goes on to raise the question that many have asked before as well as after him: “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” He goes on to explore the mystery of prayer: “The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers.”
Prayer. Do our prayers really matter? For every instance of answered prayer how many others seem to have hit ceilings of brass?
There have been countless studies and surveys on prayer – in both secular and sacred worlds – efforts to weigh or measure the “effects” of prayer. Interesting statistics emerge. It appears that every “faith” has some form of prayer. Even so-called atheists find ways to pray. (It seems that the old adage “There are no atheists in fox holes” holds true under pressure.) Prayer seems to speak to some basic need in us. According to a recent Gallup Poll, more Americans will pray this week than exercise, drive a car, have sex, or go to work. Nine out of ten pray regularly. Three out of four claim to pray every day.
Yet having said that, most people (myself included) are not satisfied with the time spent in prayer. Philip Yancey, in researching for his book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, had his publishers conduct a website poll and, “of the 678 respondents only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer.”
Lilias never wrote a comprehensive treatise about prayer yet her diaries are a virtual chronicle of her pilgrimage of prayer: placing the needs of each moment – external plans; internal attitudes – before God for His input and guidance. For her, prayer, in its essence, was communion with God. Leaning over her shoulder, so to speak, peering into her diaries (like a voyeur) I was eye-witness of her journey of faith. Regularly, she recorded “faith lessons” as she explored the mysteries of prayer. Some she printed in little leaflets for the benefit of others. While there appeared to be certain kinds of prayers for certain types of situations there also seemed to be, through the years, an evolution in her understanding of prayer.
After more than three decades in Algeria she was still exploring ways in which to make prayer more central to her life and to those who worked alongside her. Inspired by “the trip of a lifetime” to Jerusalem she returned to Algiers determined to bring an intention into reality: “a prayer-room, where those who felt the need of being quietly with God, alone or together, could escape unseen.” Having created, at last, the perfect place, she “put a text round the plinth from which the groining of the arches sprung. ‘We see not yet all things put under Him – but we see Jesus.’ May that vision abide there and the prayer of faith will arise and triumph.”
Until the very end of her life she continued to explore the mystery of prayer, a prayer posture and practice continuing to evolve from experience and reading. Her Log for the last year of her life, which itemized her vast correspondence, included the frequent gifting of a book, Creative Prayer, which both confirmed her “discoveries” and opened up new vistas of prayer. (by E. Herman; reprinted by Kessinger Publishing) For the next several weeks, I’m going to focus on some of her salient insights about prayer. Join me as I explore “pathways to God” with Lilias. Perhaps together we will advance in our understanding and application of our personal discipline and practice of prayer.
I yearn to be held
In the great hands of your heart –
Oh let them take me now.
Into them I place these fragments, my life.
And you, God – spend them however you want.”
Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
Painting: Journal 1893