Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 9 – Friday 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
Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.
Your affectionate uncle
‘In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.’
As Screwtape’s book of letters unfolds we will see clearly how much he tries to teach Wormwood to fear the physical death of his patient. Especially if his patient faces death with a clear conscience and a humble heart. Death, and even the rumour of death, sharpens the human mind and sets our hearts on eternity causing us to ponder the possibility of life after life.
My father, a lifelong submariner and serial non-attender at anything remotely religious, always maintained that, when you lose control of the nuclear submarine you are Coxswain of the boat and she starts plunging bow downwards to the seabed, everybody believes in God and everybody prays!
One can understand Screwtape and his ilk hoping for war to be replaced by times of a peace which offers the hope of gentle indulgence which encourages us to calmly meander towards an inevitable death in which we refuse to believe.
It remains easy to trust in the comfort of the nursing home, stripped of any of the reality of a coming death dreaming instead that there will always be a tomorrow. Thank heavens for Dame Cecily Saunders and her single-handed creation of the hospice movement! Yes she reminded us to live until we died, yet she also did not shy away from the fact of a coming death.
Some of the most helpful and ‘healthy’ deathbeds I have had the privilege to be at have been in our local hospice. It is in the comforting shadow of a certain moving from this world to the next that the important things in life are said and done. It is there where it is possible for past hurts to be forgiven, wounds to be healed, legacies secured, and time and space made for love and then even more love. How much richer than the lie which Screwtape would have us believe as this life slips away?
Pope Paul VI put things this way:
‘Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.’
Pope Paul VI, (1897 – 1978).
There are indeed only so many tomorrows. You and I will not live in this body forever. We, as the Scriptures remind us ‘will be changed’ and it remains our task to decide as to where we will spend eternity…….
Earlier this year the Church of England tasked me to consult with other churches and groups about new developments in the funeral profession concerning the way we care for the bodies of our beloved dead. In the grand scheme of things the details of what happens to our bodies when we day has, and will continue, to evolve down the years. What does not change is the preparation we can make for our own passing.
When speaking about death and dying to church groups I often mention that the best gift we can leave to our families on our death is instructions for our funeral. To let family members know if you would like a service in church or at a graveside, what sort of music to be played and words to be read is a great comfort and a relief and perhaps the last gift we will ever give them
Before Easter Day why not leave a similar legacy for your own family?
A simple guide can be found here.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 144 – THE CREATOR LOVER
Refrain: O Lover, Divine and Human, intimate, insistent, and tender, courteous in paying attention, passionate in wholehearted embrace, bring us alive and alight, each a singular creation.
Blessed be you, O God our Creator:
you are the source of our power and skill,
you teach our hands to shape chaos,
our fingers to mould intractable clay.
You swive with us in a dance of delight,
creating what is new with your partners. Refrain:
We seem ourselves to be but a breath,
our days are a shadow that soon passes by,
insignificant in the vastness of space.
But O the wonder and marvel of your touch
– awesome that you would draw so near,
embracing, empowering the children of earth. Refrain:
You bring us alive with electrifying power,
you touch us with the fork of lighting.
Flesh and blood can hardly contain you,
yet your power does not destroy us.
At the heart of the flame is a tender calm,
in courtesy you never intrude.
Little by little you warm us to life,
and we take part in the work of creation. Refrain:
You strive with evil, with destructive powers,
not with the matching of strength,
but absorbing their harm in your dying,
in the expending of love and life.
Hold us steady when we are faced with chaos and fear,
when the waters foam and rage through the night,
that we may pierce the eye of the storm,
and know the love that sustains. Refrain:
So shall we sing a new song,
on flute and trumpet singing your praise.
We and your children shall be people of beauty,
burgeoning with life, maturing to vintage.
The earth will produce in abundance,
the sheep will lamb in their thousands,
their will be no distress of miscarriage,
no loud lamentation in our streets. Refrain:
Creator Spirit, surge through is with the thunder of the pounding waves, breathe through us with the whisper of the evening breeze, dance through us with the leaping flames of the sun, ripple though us with the merriment of the mountain stream. 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
 Church of England may allow human composting and water cremation.