Letters to Malcolm is my favorite C.S. Lewis book. Malcolm is fictional, something I only recently discovered.
This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 3 February 2011.
There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving. — Phil. 4:6
If prayers left a smoke trail, my house these past couple of weeks would look like we have a fire blazing 24/7. As soon as the weather forecast starts calling for snow, the prayers — like incense — begin to rise. Grant us a two-hour delay, O God, for I need the sleep. My homework is done, Lord, so could we have a snow day so I can enjoy a day with my friends? Please, God, don’t let us have a snow day, I don’t want to delay my Latin exam! (Can you shock God?)
I find my sons’ prayers poignant and funny by turns, but as the latest storm came barreling in and I heard myself start, “Dear Lord,…” tendrils of doubt begin to drift, like the snow against the door. What am I doing?
In his final book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis wryly notes that while we believe God to be omniscient, “a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information.” God knows what is on my calendar tomorrow, and the challenges snow will present — so why do I feel the need to remind Him?
And seriously, I don’t expect God to blow the storm out to sea for my convenience, or even see to it that my street gets plowed early enough to get to morning prayers. Yet, St. Paul urged the Philippians, and now us, to slake our worries with prayer. To ask, seriously, for whatever we need. A snow day. No snow day.
St. Ignatius of Loyola was convinced that we should pay attention to what we desire, to learn to see where our desires and God’s desires for us align. It takes prayer and practice (and not a small quotient of grace), but if we look to God in the small things, it sharpens our awareness of God in all things. So perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that I join in the general chorus of snow day prayers that swirl upwards at my house, practicing along with my sons how to pray in and of the ordinary. To find God in all things.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer viewed these seemingly trivial prayers as teaching moments, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”
God encourages these tiny prayers to arise, not because they make Him aware of my needs, but because they deepen my awareness of my need for God. They make me ready for whatever God has in mind.
Much as I am a ready and willing student of prayer, in the end I find I am most consoled by St. John Chrysostom’s perspective on this passage: “It is comforting to know that the Lord is at hand.” I can reach for God in the small things as much as in the large and be comforted with the knowledge that God is always at hand, now, as always and ever. Whether there is a snow day or not.
May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed…then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. — Bl. John Henry Newman