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Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer [Paperback]

By C. S. Lewis (Author)
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Item description for Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis...

"We want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are." What are we doing when we pray? What is at the heart of this most intimate conversation, the dialogue between a person and God? How does prayer-its form, its regularity, its content, its insistence-shape who we are and how we believe? In this collection of letters from C. S. Lewis to a close friend, Malcolm, we see an intimate side of Lewis as he considers all aspects of prayer and how this singular ritual impacts the lives and souls of the faithful. With depth, wit, and intelligence, as well as his sincere sense of a continued spiritual journey, Lewis brings us closer to understanding the role of prayer in our lives and the ways in which we might better imagine our relationship with God.

Publishers Description

""We want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are."
"What are we doing when we pray? What is at the heart of this most intimate conversation, the dialogue between a person and God? How does prayer--its form, its regularity, its content, its insistence--shape who we are and how we believe? In this collection of letters from C. S. Lewis to a close friend, Malcolm, we see an intimate side of Lewis as he considers all aspects of prayer and how this singular ritual impacts the lives and souls of the faithful. With depth, wit, and intelligence, as well as his sincere sense of a continued spiritual journey, Lewis brings us closer to understanding the role of prayer in our lives and the ways in which we might better imagine our relationship with God.

"A beautifully executed and deeply moving little book." --"Saturday Review"
" Lewis] is writing about a path that he had to find, and the reader feels not so much that he is listening to what C.S. Lewis has to say but that he is making his own search with a humorous, sensible friend beside him." --"Times Literary Supplement"

C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963), one of the great writers of the twentieth century, also continues to be one of our most influential Christian thinkers. He wrote more than thirty books, both popular and scholarly, including The Chronicles of Narnia series, "The Screwtape Letters," "The Four Loves," "Mere Christianity," and "Surprised by Joy."

Citations And Professional Reviews
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 109

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Mariner Books
Pages   132
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5.5" Height: 7.75"
Weight:   0.3 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 4, 2002
Publisher   Harcourt Brace
ISBN  0156027666  
ISBN13  9780156027663  

Availability  0 units.

More About C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis C.S. Lewis was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge universities who wrote more than thirty books in his lifetime, including The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Mere Christianity. He died in 1963.

C. S. Lewis was born in 1898 and died in 1963.

C. S. Lewis has published or released items in the following series...
  1. C.S. Lewis Signature Classics
  2. Chronicles of Narnia
  3. Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis
  4. Radio Theatre
  5. Scribner Classics
  6. Shepherd's Notes
  7. Space Trilogy (Paperback)

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Worship & Devotion > Prayerbooks
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Inspirational
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Prayer

Christian Product Categories
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Reviews - What do customers think about Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer?

For a certain sort of reader.  Dec 21, 2007
I read this book because of the luminous quote from it in Richard Purtill's Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Philosophy and Fantasy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The quote appears in an essay in the appendix, "Did C.S. Lewis Lose His Faith?" in the Ignatius (2nd revised) edition and is not in the earlier Zondervan (first) edition of Purtill's book. The quote to which I refer comes in the last pages of Letters to Malcolm, where Lewis has shifted from the letter to the essay format. Were the entire book this readable, I would recommend it heartily. But it's not. Why?

This is one of Lewis' last non- fiction works and arguably his most Anglican. Part of the difficulty is the form of the book, set out as letters to an unseen correspondent. This worked well in The Screwtape Letters because the devils in question explained their ideas at some length, as Lewis, in replying to Malcolm, does not.

Lewis drops names and alludes to issues that make the book a good guide to his thought circa 1963, the year of his death, dropping them as quickly as they are raised. A few are: Macaulay, (Alex) Vidler, Petrarch, (John) Donne, (William) Blake, the Bishop of Woolwich, St. Paul, St. Augustine, (Simone) Weil, Queen Victoria, Lycidas, Burnaby, Juvenal, F.D. Maurice, Bonhoeffer, Newman, the Establishment, Herbert, Freudians, determinism, Arnold, MacBeth, Tertullus, Pelagianism, (Alexander) Pope, Plotinus, Lady Julian (of Norwich), St. John of the Cross, Owen (Barfield), St. Francois de Sales, Thomas More, purgatory, Odin, Charles Williams, Thomas More, and Thomas Traherne.

These, along with the many untranslated Latin quotes, will make the book offputting for some readers. Lewis noted in An Experiment in Criticism that there are different sorts of readers, however, and I realize that while the above list will make one sort of reader avoid the book, another sort will be tantalized. That would be the right sort of reader for this book.

Having said that, the last chapters, 19- 22, strike a more general tone and bits from them are often quoted in anthologies. The same may be said for the very beginning of the book, which is interesting for a different reason. The mid '60s was the time when the Book of Common Prayer, which had long been in use in the Church of England, along with the Authorized or King James version of the Bible, was withdrawn from use and revised. Lewis joins many Angilcans in mulling over the consequences of a new "Book". This will also have echoes for Catholics re: the changes of Vatican Two, as well as current efforts to increase use of the Latin Mass and replace the NAB in the liturgy with the RSV, recently (re)published by Ignatius Press.

There are two quotes from Charles Williams in this book that are among my favorites, and many ideas echo those of Chesterton, who put them in a somewhat more accessible way in Orthodoxy. As with Lewis' last fiction work, "Till We Have Faces", this may be a book that a certain sort of reader, immersed in Lewis' millieu, will find singularly rewarding.
Nobody can say it like C.S. Lewis  Jan 19, 2007
Some parts of this book are a bit dated and because most of it is actual personal correspondence some of it may seem a bit dated or irrelevant.

However there are some places where Lewis states in one or two sentences something that takes most theologians or philosophers pages to say.

The book seems to me to about much more than just prayer and probably some of the questions he attempts to answer about prayer will not be answered with the answers you want (they weren't the answers I wanted) but the pithy parts of this book are outstanding.

This book is written in a more pedantic style than most of Lewis' other published works. If you liked Mere Christianity there is much in this book that you will also like.
An Excellent Addition to the Library  Jan 12, 2007
This book has moved to the "favorites" section of my Lewis books. His letters are informal and easy to read. Despite being written decades ago, they remain thouroughly relevent to today's issues.
His most Anglican book  May 3, 2006
C. S. Lewis is most famous for his book on stripped-down, essential, "Mere Christianity." It was an attempt to get to "bares essentials" of Christianity, the core common ground that unifies Christians of all denomination. He intestinally avoided the hot issues: "the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son." (Mere Christianity, viii-ix)

This book, however, is a foray into these "disputed points." He gives frank assessments of prayer, the Prayer Paradox (If God is omniscient, then why do we pray?), communion of the Saints, and other side issues. It is his most Anglican book-meaning that he does show the sides he takes within the loose confederation of Christian denominations.

Because of this, I would not put this book no my A-List of Lewis Reading, or even my B-List. (I still struggle with "Till We Have Faces.") It is not because his book is bad, or esoteric, but it is focuses on thing that are not part of my denominational tradition. Still, then, I found it help to see things, such as prayer for the Saints and for the Dead, from his point of view, just by way of general information.

I feel closest to the text when Lewis focuses with prayer. Some of his advice seems more like a helpful hint rather than deep theology. Other parts of were deeply thought-provoking, the vintage Lewis we know and love.

The book lends comparison to "The Screwtape Letters." Aside form the fact that it a one-sided collection of letters, there is not much comparison. These letters are folksy notes between two bosom friends, much like the foyer or parking-lot discussions we have after Sunday Service.

That is how we should take this book-an after-service chat.
Bookblog: Letters to Malcolm (from  Mar 16, 2006
As I left for vacation a few weeks ago, I wanted to take several books in case of rainy days. I read Piper's Don't Waste Your Life (see earlier post on that book) almost in its entirety on that trip and did not get around to the second book in the stack. I chose Letters to Malcolm because I could not decide if I wanted to read a C. S. Lewis book or a book on prayer. So, here I found both in one volume. This was C. S. Lewis's last book, written about six months before he died and published some time after his death. (Incidentally, he died the same day as JFK, 11/22/63).

Letters to Malcolm presents to the reader one side of a two way dialogue between Lewis and "Malcolm." We do not get to read Malcolm's letters, but Lewis's replies usually help us to know what in on Malcolm's mind. Many people often ask, "Who is Malcolm?" Some assume it is Malcolm Muggeridge (I think I have even taught this in the past). In actuality, it seems that Malcolm is a fictional character, with just enough biographical information given to make him believable, but not too much where someone might say, "Ah, I know who Lewis has in mind here." All we know of Malcolm is that he and Lewis have been friends since college, and have kept in touch over the years. We know he is an Anglican layman with a wife named Betty and a son named George.

It is hard to say if the "Lewis" who "writes the letters" is a characterized persona or if he is Lewis-proper. There are certainly readily recognizable streams of thought and biographical details that are consistent with the "real C. S. Lewis," but there are a few surprises thrown in to keep us guessing. The daily deluge of letters that Lewis received and wrote undoubtedly gave him plenty of fodder for his "letter-writing" books like this one and The Screwtape Letters. It has been said that some of his most informative writing was in his letters, and we are thankful that so many of his letters have been preserved for us in print today.

It seems that about ten years earlier, Lewis set out to write a book on prayer, but it was abandoned shortly after beginning. This is hinted at in Letter XII when he says, "But however badly needed a good book on prayer is, I shall never try to write it. Two people on the foothills comparing notes in private are all very well. But in a book one would inevitably seem to be attempting, not discussion, but instruction. And for me to offer the world instruction about prayer would be impudence." So, with Letters to Malcolm, Lewis is able to write that book on prayer, which is very instructional, although it comes across as a couple of friends ("on the foothills" means that they have not yet ascended the heights of spiritual greatness) just sharing their ideas.

As the two men dialogue (bear in mind, we only get to see half of the dialogue), we get to listen in and glean from their insights. Some of the discussion is practical, some philosophical, most theological, and some is even humorous (but you have to enjoy Lewis's sense of humor to pick up on this). On the practical level, Lewis deals with when, where, and how we ought to pray, whether or not we should use "ready-made prayers," and the pros and cons of having a prayer list.

There is rich theological insight given throughout the book. For instance, Lewis says, "We say that we believe God to be omniscient; yet a great deal of prayer seems to consist of giving Him information" (Letter 4). His description of how God answers prayer outside of time sounded much like Middle Knowledge: "I would rather say that from before all worlds His providential and creative act (for they are all one) takes into account all the situations produced by the acts of His creatures. And if He takes our sins into account, why not our petitions?" (Letter IX). The final letter finds a scathing attack on theological liberalism (the anti-supernatural liberalism of his day) which is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. He writes, "A man who first tried to guess `what the public wants,' and the preached that as Christianity because the public wants it, would be a pretty mixture of fool and knave" (Letter XXII).

Conservative evangelicals will be uncomfortable with Lewis's discussion on several topics. He advocates a view of Purgatory, which though not the Roman Catholic view, is no less palatable to evangelicals today. He also advocates prayer for the dead, a practice that most evangelicals today would say belongs wholly in the Catholic camp. On the subject of the Lord's Supper (remember the Letters are "Chiefly," not exclusively, on prayer), Lewis vacillates between Catholic and Protestant positions saying he is uncomfortable choosing one to the exclusion of the others. While we bristle at his openness to such a diversity of viewpoints, one has to confess that it is refreshing to see such an appreciation for the various tributaries of our Christian heritage.

Refreshing is an appropriate word to describe Letters to Malcolm. Perhaps no part of it is more refreshing than the honest and candid confession found in Letter XXI about just how difficult prayer can be. He says near the book's end, "... by talking at this length about prayer at all, we seem to give it a much bigger place in our lives than, I'm afraid, it has. ... Well, let's now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a cross-word puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us." So prayer is for us a duty, a chore, an irksome task. But this is because we are in "the school-days." Soon these days will be past, and what we now view as duty will become spontaneous delight.

In the meantime, Letters to Malcolm just might help some reader to make the most of his or her prayer time by teaching us how to do it well, and how to understand just what happens when we do it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading on prayer, or reading C. S. Lewis's canon. Knowing that he died shortly after the ink dried makes it a sentimental read for Narnians like myself, even though I believe that he has smuggled in some strange ideas past the watchful dragons in this book.

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