Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 4 – Saturday after Ash Wednesday
From The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape, a senior demon, is offering advice to Wormwood his nephew, an apprentice demon. The language he uses is ‘upside down’ referring to God as ‘the Enemy’ and the devil as ‘Our Father Below’.
MY DEAR WORMWOOD
In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose (The ‘tempter’ of Wormwood’s patient’s mother) must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: ‘I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.’ Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.
Your affectionate uncle
It has been said amongst the married that if you suspect that things are not going well in your relationship with your beloved, and, on asking the question, ‘Is anything wrong darling?’ you get the response, ‘nothing!’ one should immediately go out and buy twelve long stem roses and a large box of their favourite chocolates…
Timing, tone and timbre of voice often carry more meaning than the words themselves and wise people learn this lesson well. It is all too easy to speak friendly words to someone and yet insult them at the same time. When we do this, Screwtape reminds us, we make harmless words feel like a blow in the face.
Of course this is a two-way street. For ordinary words to hurt and harm those of us on the receiving end must be ready, and sometimes be even eager, to take offense. I know that, to my shame, people, against whom I am prejudiced often have their work cut out in getting their real words across to my cloth ears. I am so busy expecting to hear the ‘same old, same old’ from them that I only listen to the way things are said instead of the words that are spoken.
1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that ‘Love is not quick to take offense’, would that I were the same! I would have hoped that, as I get older – which is sometimes called becoming mature – I would learn not to be so prejudiced in my expectations of those around me. This is not always so and I, along with others who face the same challenge, find that instead of maturing with age I simply go rotten…
It is hard to receive offense from someone, especially someone close to you, and not bite back – but then the antidote for one sin never was committing one in response. Will we ever learn that the antidote for attack is not counter-attack? The solution for being sinned against (perceived or real) can never be to sin back but can only ever be the free-will offering of forgiveness and love.
One of the best ways to counter this temptation is to learn the art of biting one’s tongue. Different people have different ways of doing this but each of us needs to have a plan for the next time we are tempted to take offense.
Here are some strategies for the times when you feel offended:-
- learn to count under your breath to ten – or one hundred even!
- If it helps, and you can do it without drawing blood, do ‘bite’ your tongue.
- Have to hand a genuine compliment you can give each time someone raises your hackles.
- And, failing all else this is a good maxim for many kinds of discourse……
‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all’
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 51 – THE UTTER MERCY OF GOD
Refrain: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Enfold me in your love, dear God,
yet pierce my heart with your mercy.
In the cascading of your compassion
scour away all that offends.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin. Refrain:
My failures weigh heavy on my heart,
my sin confronts me at the turning of the road.
Against you alone have I sinned, my Beloved,
doing what is evil and causing more harm.
In the eyes of my victims your judgment is clear:
there is nothing I can claim in your presence. Refrain:
I was formed in the midst of a world gone wrong,
from the moment of my conceiving I breathed my ancestors’ sin.
The truths to which I am blind are hidden so deep, so secretly:
bring the light of your wisdom to the depths of my heart. Refrain:
Bathe me in water that is fresh from the spring,
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the bones which you have broken may dance again.
Turn your face from my twists and deceits,
blot out all my misdeeds. Refrain:
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Give me the comfort of your help again,
and strengthen me with your courage and hope. Refrain:
Then I shall teach your ways to those around me,
and others will be converted to your path.
Deliver us all from guilt of bloodshed, O God,
for you are the God of the world that is coming.
In health and truth we shall sing of your justice.
When you open my lips, O God,
my mouth shall sing your praise. Refrain:
For you desire no animal sacrifices,
no formal gifts out of mere duty.
You do not delight in burnt offerings,
nothing from our wealth can buy your favour.
The sacrifice you ask is a troubled spirit;
it is my pride that must yield.
My broken and contrite heart I bring,
so foolish, self-centred, and vain;
and yet it is all that I have.
Even this gift you will not despise,
for I hear again that you yearn for me,
with a love I can barely imagine. Refrain:
So do I give you the whole of myself,
dependent as I am on the gift of your mercy.
So may my giving to others
be free of the motives of power,
gifts that overwhelm or appease.
May my heart be spontaneously giving,
spreading delight and mutual embrace.
Such is the way of the City of Peace,
whose walls you call us to build. Refrain:
Take us to yourself, Compassionate God, we who hurt so much in the depths of our being, caught up in the pain of life, and so often inflicting yet more on to others; embrace us with the hands that show still the marks of nails, your love swallowing up all our sin and pride. So we pray that broken bones may joy, in the dance of Jesus our Redeemer. AMEN.
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Quotes from The Screwtape Letters are copyright © 1942 C.S. Lewis Pte
Prayers from Psalms for a Pilgrim People are copyright © 1989, 1991, 1993 Jim Cotter
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Resisting the Prowling Lion’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023
One thought on “Resisting the Prowling Lion – Day 4”
Thank you, Andrew Particularly apt today
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