Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 7 – Wednesday 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
The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication’. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
Your affectionate uncle
Ah Screwtape you have found me out! I am a past-master in the art of the holy doze, the reflective recline, the pious posture. I suspect ‘vaguely devotional’ may describe far too many of the hours I have supposedly spent in ‘fervent prayer and quiet praise’. By the way have you noticed how all ‘real’ prayer is called ‘fervent’ prayer….. 😊
Yes, there are, as Screwtape warns Wormwood, those spiritual giants who are so adept at ‘the prayer of silence’ that against them ‘the gates of hell do not prevail’ but I know that I am not counted amongst their number. I do try, but I have learnt that, for me, this does not happen as frequently as my ego tells me it does! There are the odd occasions – most often on a Quiet Day or at a retreat (Individually Guided ones work best for me) when I can get close to ‘the prayer of silence’ but it remains hard work.
How then, do we guard against an empty prayer and piety which may, to our mind, be a spirit composed to love but is in fact empty of any intention? Surely even the endless lists and rote prayers of last week’s temptation are better than this quasi-holy emptiness?
Each of us must find our own way in prayer but the aphorism remains true ‘seven days without prayer make one weak’. If we are not active in prayer, if our wills are not set to work at prayer – after all liturgy means the ‘work’ of the people – then it is nothing other than time full of emptiness and Screwtape smirks at us.
The most common way to combat this emptiness and, coincidentally one of the chief gateways into ‘the prayer of silence’ is the frequent repetition of a short prayer or even a single word of faith. The most popular of these is perhaps The Jesus Prayer. Simple repetition, for as long as the time of prayer allows, of the phrase,
Son of God,
have mercy on me
has helped many people go deeper into prayer and awaken them from the holy doze into the silence of eternity.
Of course different traditions of the church find different avenues to this ‘enlightenment’ and deep prayer life. Some are liberally sprinkled with ‘alleluias’ and the copious use of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, others include the deliberate slow reading and chewing of God’s Word (lectio divina) while still others involve using all the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
Whatever path is ours, if we are ever to grow in our prayer life, each of us needs to learn how to dive deeper into the pool of God’s love and revelation. For it is in this way that we finally wake up from the false dream of ‘a sense of supplication’ into a deeper relationship with the God of love.
“for they constantly forget…… that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls”.- Screwtape
It is not just words which affects our prayer life but what we do with our body as well. In the next few days consciously change what you do with your body during one of your times of prayer.
If you usually sit – kneel
If you usually kneel – stand
If you usually stand – lie on your back
If you usually keep still – go on a ‘prayer walk’
Learn the joy of praying not simply with your words and your mind but with your body as well.
If you want to read further about using our bodies in prayer follow this link from the Canadian branch of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 141 – IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?
Refrain: Stretched between anguish and joy, we live the paradox of faith
My whole being reaches towards you, my God:
my heart yearns for your welcoming love.
I would run to embrace you as a friend,
my voice leaping and singing for joy. Refrain:
Like incense my prayer rises to meet you,
carried on the breath from my lungs.
My arms stretch out, lifting me high,
seeking the hand that is eager to touch. Refrain:
To the unheard music my feet start dancing;
embodied in my movement I become as my joy.
From the depths of my belly arises a cry,
a glorious Yes to the whole of my life. Refrain:
O that it were so! It is only a dream,
far from the walls of this imprisoning cell.
Exhausted and limp, I stagger and fall,
my prayer no more than a flickering thought. Refrain:
Silenced by the greedy and scared,
I have no one to utter a passionate cry,
the heartfelt anguish of the unjustly imprisoned,
from the narrow cells underground. Refrain:
I scratch my name on the prison wall,
frightened I am losing all sense of my being.
Will no one speak on behalf of the mute,
will not the judge of the earth do right? Refrain:
Is the hope of my heart an impossible dream?
Will I ever dance in the rays of the sun?
Will I know the warmth of a welcoming hand?
Will a voice of love ever call me by name? Refrain:
May the fitful tremblings of our prayer move through the world with compassion to give to someone in prison, neglected and forgotten, at least a moment’s respite from despair. 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
If you would like them as a daily email please send a request to email@example.com
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 7”