Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 13 – Wednesday after 2nd 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
To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.
We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
Your affectionate uncle
Three phrases that go to the heart of God’s love:
We want cattle who can become food:
He wants servants who can become sons.
We want to suck in,
He wants to give out.
We are empty and would be filled;
He is full and flows over.
With such a God, pouring out such a profligate love for us day by day from the dawn of time to beyond eternity how is it that we can ever wander away? But I still do, and I know I am not alone in this sad journey……
I suppose that one of the chief challenges I (we) face is that of owning a love so complete and perfect that it comes with absolutely no strings attached. In a way God sets out every day to teach us the lesson learnt by Jonathan Livingston Seagull in his attempts at being truly free to fly..
‘Why is it,’ Jonathan puzzled, ‘that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?’
Why should it be so hard to believe that we are loved perfectly and are set free to love back if we so choose? Receiving a gift, especially such a big gift, with ‘no strings attached’ is a very hard burden to bear. We want to pay for this gift, for this freedom, but we will never possess the coins to pay the cost and so, perversely, find it easier to wander away and remain a slave to self instead of running home to claim our inheritance as a child of God.
I suppose, and here we slip over to Screwtape’s side, we become more interested in being filled then being emptied and grabbing rather than giving….
Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull)
Ultimately I suppose each of us has to decide to what purpose we put our freedom. Do we choose to see freedom as a path to fulfilment and end up as forever-hungry gannets, or do we use our freedom to learn to fly, really fly, for the very first time and discover that we are children of the Great Gull?
The Eucharistic prayer many Church of England parishes use during Lent reminds us of the purpose of this season:-
‘In these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again.’
We are on a journey of remembering. Remembering that we are meant for the freedom of flight, that we are children of God not devil’s food. Forever overshadowed by the generosity of God, we are called to learn to give rather than grab, to be emptied of self that we may discover again who we are and, with the gentle breath of the Spirit beneath us, finally learn to fly…..
In the days ahead choose to be emptied instead of full.
Look at things that, instead of holding on to them as gifts you grab as possessions. Ask yourself if you can let go of any of these – then do it!
If there is a windy day soon go and stand in the wind and feel God’s Spirit on your face.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 25 – A PRAYER OF THE LONELY
Refrain: You are the source of my faith, you are the god of my hope.
O God, the foundation of my hope,
you are the ground of my trust.
May I not be disappointed in my days,
may the powers of oppression fade away. Refrain:
Let none who wait for your coming
turn away with empty hands.
But let those who break faith
be confounded and gain nothing. Refrain:
Show me your ways, O God,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truths and guide me
for you are the God of my salvation. Refrain:
I have hoped in you all the day long,
because of your goodness and faithfulness,
your steadfast love to your people,
streaming towards us from days of old. Refrain:
Remember not the sins of my youth,
nor my trespass and trampling on others.
According to your mercy think on me, c
all to mind your agelong compassion. Refrain:
You are full of justice and grace:
you guide sinners in the Way.
You lead the humble to do what is right,
filled with the gentle strength of the meek.
All your paths are faithful and true,
for those who are loyal to your covenant. Refrain:
For your name’s sake, O God,
be merciful to me, for my sin is great.
I come to you in trembling and awe:
guide me in the way I should choose. Refrain:
I shall be at home with what is right,
I shall dwell at ease in the land.
My children shall be stewards after me,
your creation cared for in days yet to come.
Your friendship is your gift to me,
revealed in the keeping of your covenant. Refrain:
My eyes look towards you, O God,
and you free me from the snares of the net.
Turn your face to me
– it is full of your grace and your love. Refrain:
For I am lonely and in misery,
my heart is in pain and constricted:
the arteries of affection are hardened.
Open me wide and lift my heart high,
the breath of your Spirit filling my lungs.
Take to yourself my wretched affliction,
bring me out of my distress, and forgive me all my sins. Refrain:
See how strong are the powers of oppression,
eyes full of hatred and violence.
Guard my life and deliver me,
clothe me with integrity and love. Refrain:
Compassionate and loving God, take from me the burden of self-hatred, the whisper of loathing that says I am worthless. Fill me with the spirit of forgiveness and grace, that I may deeply accept that I am accepted just as I am, in Jesus Christ the beloved of your Heart. 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