Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 6 – Tuesday 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
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to-and-fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.
Your affectionate uncle
One of the most difficult things there is for me to do, which only happens occasionally, is to go to church.
I do not mean going to church in the sense of ‘going to church to lead the worship’ I’ve been doing that for over forty years now and it brings me joy and a blessed connection with God and God’s people each week. No I mean simply ‘going to church to worship’!
Worship should always be wonderful, but I know I sometimes give in to the temptation of thinking that somehow it is best of all when I am leading the prayers, preaching the sermon, and administering the sacraments. Are there any other clergy or worship leaders out there who find they fall into this same sin?
It starts quite simply. You begin with a flick through the pages of the liturgy with the thought ‘I wouldn’t have chosen that version of the confession’, a cursory glance at the ritual – which can easily classified as either shabby or mechanical – followed swiftly by some pernicious thoughts about the quality of the preaching and, next thing you know, you have received communion but have completely missed out on the grace of the sacrament….
I am relieved to find from one of our sons, who used to be in the hospitality trade, that he has the same problem when he dines out in a pub or restaurant other than his own. I have seen him reduced to cleaning tables and giving tips on how to provide better service to waitresses when he is dining out.
I suppose this is the peril of the professional in any arena of life. However, because religious experience is so personal and intimate, everyone in the pew is a ‘professional’ and each one of us knows the ‘best’ way (which translated means ‘my’ way) of doing things!
How do we fight this temptation? For me, thanks to lessons from churches in Wynberg in Cape Town, one of the best ways of keeping focussed on God instead of the squeaky shoes in the pew next door, is to take along a notebook to church – in the past this was my journal but now it is usually an electronic gizmo – set to ‘airplane mode’ of course. During the sermon, always my greatest personal place of temptation, I write copious notes of what is being said and then spend time digesting them later. In this way I stay focussed on the Word instead of the words and keep my eyes on the Person of Christ instead of the peculiarities of the person in the pew next door or in the pulpit above me.
This works well for me, it may not however work as well for others. We need to learn that each of us is responsible for our own faith and it can never be the fault of an out-of-tune choir, a poorly prepared sermon, or a colicky baby in the children’s area, if we do not draw close to God. God is ever-present to us and for us, if we choose to be distracted by inconsequentialities then we are the poorer and Screwtape gains ground in our hearts….
Choose to spend more time in the company of one of the people in your church congregation whom you find irritating or ridiculous.
Find a way to be less distracted in worship. Some suggestions:-
- Prepare for worship; read the lessons before-hand, prepare your worship books before the service starts so you are more focussed on God and become less of a distraction to others.
- Stop and reflect in worship; either before, after or even during worship – it is for this reason that I rarely sing a hymn during communion.
- Failing all else stop on the way home from worship and go over what has just happened and the message you have just received.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 139 – LIGHT OF LIGHT
Refrain: Always aware of us, ever-present with us, ceaselessly creating us
we respond in love, we tremble and adore,our God, mysterious and faithful.
Light of light, you have searched me out and known me.
You know where I am and where I go,
you see my thoughts from afar.
You discern my paths and my resting places,
you are acquainted with all my ways.
Yes, and not a word comes from my lips
but you, O God, have heard it already.
You are in front of me and you are behind me,
you have laid your hand on my shoulder.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
so great that I cannot fathom it. Refrain:
Where shall I go from your Spirit,
where shall I go from your Presence?
If I climb to the heavens you are there:
if I descend to the depths of the earth, you are there also.
If I spread my wings towards the morning,
and fly to the uttermost shores of the sea,
even there your hand will lead me,
and your right hand will hold me.
If I should cry to the darkness to cover me,
the darkness is no darkness to you,
and the night is as clear as the day. Refrain:
For you have created every part of my being,
cell and tissue, blood and bone.
You have woven me in the womb of my mother;
I will praise you so wonderfully am I made.
Awesome are your deeds and marvellous are your works.
You know me to the very core of my being;
nothing in me was hidden from your eyes
when I was formed in silence and secrecy,
in intricate splendour in the depths of the earth.
Even as they were forming you saw my limbs,
each part of my body shaped by your finger. Refrain:
How deep are your thoughts to me, O God,
how great is the sum of them.
Were I to count them they are more in number
than the grains of sand upon the sea-shore
and still I would know nothing about you
yet still would you hold me in the palm of your hand. Refrain:
Yet my trust falters. I see all that is wrong in the world and in my heart, all the mutual loathing and hatreds, all the betrayals and lies. Scour our hearts, refine our thoughts, strengthen our wills, guide us in your Way. . 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