As we think of gardens in the coming days of spring, consider the garden where Jesus prayed so hard he sweat blood compared to our present trials. “We are not asked to go anywhere where he has not gone before us,” writes Lewis in a letter to Mrs. Jessup in Nov. 1952. “I have had enough experiences of the crises of family life, the terrors, the despondencies, hopes deferred, and wearinesses. …Take it hour by hour, don’t add the past & the future to the present load more than you can help.”
In another letter a few months later to Father Don Giovanni Calabria (Jan. 14, 1953), someone Lewis frequently sought advice from, he presented the paradox between Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – “not my will but yours” – and the insight provided in Mark 11:24 when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Lewis asks, “How is it possible for a man, at one and the same moment of time, both to believe most fully that he will receive and to submit himself to the Will of God – Who perhaps is refusing him?” And, further, “How can one mental act both exclude possible refusal and consider it?”
He concludes his letter simply stating what we know, that we don’t always ask in wisdom, so the Lord doesn’t respond. However, the question is why did Jesus blanket the response of God with such a promise?
Later in 1953, Lewis presented a paper titled “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without an Answer.” I would encourage you to read it in Christian Reflections since he talks through two different patterns of prayer. In his conclusion he says, “I have no answer to my problem, though I have taken it to about every Christian I know, learned or simple, lay or clerical, within my own Communion or without.”
As to the prayer in Gethsemane, Lewis says, “We might say that in His tender humility Our Lord, just as He refused the narcotic wine mingled with myrrh, and just as He chose (I think) to be united to a human nature not of iron nerves but to a nature sensitive, shrinking, and unable not to live though torture in advance, so He chose on that night to plumb the depths of Christian experience, to resemble not the heroes of His army but the very weakest camp followers and unfits; or even that such a choice is implied in those unconsciously profound and involuntarily blessed words ‘He saved others, Himself He cannot save.’”
This doesn’t solve it, but perhaps it’s best to leave it hanging as another paradox of faith that keeps us on the narrow path that leads us onward, past the mountains made by His hands and can also be moved by those same hands.
Don Giovanni Calabria (1873-1954) was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988. He founded the Congregation of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence, working with the poor and orphaned. He started a friendship through correspondence with Lewis, writing each other in Latin. Why? It is said that Calabria didn’t know English, and after being inspired by “The Screwtape Letters” decided to write Lewis in 1947, in Latin. This began a series of letters back and forth until the priest’s death, now in “The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis”. They have also been isolated in several editions.