Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 5 – Monday after 1st Sunday of Lent
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
Your patient has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.
Your affectionate uncle
It was at St Barnabas Church Kloof Nek, on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, where, under the gentle ministry of Bishop Mark Nye, that I first began to learn to avoid this particular one of Screwtape’s temptations.
In my early twenties I had moved out of my parent’s home – albeit only as far as the local YMCA about 1 mile away – and had finally decided that I should go to church willingly, regularly and by myself. They were wonderful times and I remember the giant steps I took in learning about God’s love. Of course being a young man I was ‘pounced’ on by other members of the congregation and, in fairly quick succession become a member of the choir, a Bible Study group, and had a seat on the Parochial Church Council. Rich ground for a large helping of ‘smugness á la Screwtape’!
As I went through this time I think the best barometer of my yielding to ‘spiritual condescension’ was found in the amount of money I put into the collection plate. I learnt early that, for me, a tithe of all my goods should be the least I give to God but it was (and remains) a hard struggle. In those early days I used to somehow try and weigh up how much I was giving in money and how much I was giving in time. I now realise how young and smug I really was. I started out by giving close to 10% of my income and then, on joining the choir, saw that the time spent in the choir could be a kind of ‘discount’ for my giving of cash. After all, I would argue with myself, ‘If I gave God time as well as treasure surely it would be ok to hand over a little less treasure….’ With the result that by the time I was on the Parish Council, when I should have learnt most about serving God’s church, I was making the smallest of gifts in the collection plate!
Thanks heavens for Bishop Mark’s careful ministry. He saw me through this time to a deeper devotion and the beginnings of a vocation to ordination. It comes as no surprise to me, on reflection, that it was at St Barnabas where I first went to make my Confession.
There is danger in fighting smugness and complacency. If we are not careful we either wallow in the ‘we’re so very ‘umbleness’ of Uriah Heep or, if we let the sin find full bloom, we rejoice in a kind of Little Jack Horner theology of self-righteousness. Neither will draw us closer to our loving Lord but instead drive us further from our fellow worshippers and into the arms of the very one from whom we are running away.
If, on thinking about your church life and worship you tend towards Little Jack Horner and feel smug about your giving to God…
- Put right any wrongs you may have made.
- Take on an unseen task in your church.
If, on thinking about your church life and worship you tend towards Uriah Heep and protest unworthiness and so are unable to give all you should to God….
- Put right any wrongs you may have made.
- The next time a volunteer is needed for a task you are able to do put your hand up.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 131 – CALM AND CONTENTMENT
Refrain: In quietness and confidence is our strength, in utter trust our contentment and joy.
Dear God, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself in great matters,
nor in what is beyond me. Refrain:
I am glad I depend on my neighbour,
I make no great claims of my own;
Sealed off by myself I would never know gifts,
never know the bonding of trust. Refrain:
I have calmed and quietened my whole being,
I am like a child contented at the mother’s breast,
in the stillness I look into the eyes of my lover,
I am absorbed in the task of the moment. Refrain:
It is like the silence of an evening in spring,
made intense by the bleat of a lamb.
It is like the waves of the sea come to rest,
no more than a whisper in the caress of the shore. Refrain:
The silence and stillness lift the woodsmoke of prayer,
a song of quiet gratitude wafting it high.
Aware of descendants and ancestors with us,
we join the soft chorus of praise. Refrain:
May we cherish the silence and not be afraid. May we know it not empty but full of Presence. May the love at its heart calm our fears. May we know the gentle touch of a trusting hand. 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