Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 20 – Thursday after 3rd 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
I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books.
Your affectionate uncle
Maybe part of God’s economy to help us keep distance from the tempters is for us, and this is especially so for Church of England clergy, to have weird and peculiar hobbies and pastimes. The stereotype is the train mad vicar (either model trains or live steam) but there are others. The twitchers, the bee-keepers, the church crawlers (bit of a busman’s holiday that one), the model builder (using match and lollypop sticks of course), and my personal favourite the rosary and prayer bead crafter – a hobby owned by more than just the vicar of Felixstowe.
I do not believe in salvation by rosary-making, though I do know the truth that – as family members frustrated at living with an over stressed vicar thrust a box of beads in my direction – an interest or fondness in something trivial helps me seek a humility and innocence which I thought I had lost many sins ago. And with rosary making it becomes a focus for prayer.
There is a gift in being able ‘to not care twopence’ about what others think about the crafts, hobbies and pastimes which we would do well to cherish and pursue. The ancient Shaker song rings true:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right
Screwtape is correct, simple pastimes will not bring great illumination, but they do bring protection against the wiles of the tempter, one of whose strategies is to make us unhappy with the things we enjoy (along with other vague uneasiness’s). To learn, as I still have to, that an appropriate interest in something of no extrinsic value but much intrinsic worth will bring peace and fulfilment is a wonderful aid to mature growth in Christ.
I think part of the reason for this lies in the sense of achievement and place that simple acts bring to each of us.
A challenge many people face today, and especially ‘professional’ Christians such as ministers, is that noting ever seems to be finished. It is all too easy to look back in weariness on a busy day and ask the question ‘What have I done today?’ Those raising young children can have the same sense of tired frustration at the incompleteness of following their calling to parenthood. Yes, I know I need to remember that the journey is about seedtime, hidden growth and then harvest but would it really be that bad if, once in a while, I had the scythe in my hand instead of the dibber? For the harassed young mum why does life always seem to be more about tantrums and poonamis than hugs, kisses and a sound night’s sleep from their toddlers?
A small inconsequential pastime allows us a tiny sense of achievement. It gives us something that can be finished and then, best of all perhaps, the chance to give our labours away to another.
So too with place. Many people find life to be not just busy but much more mobile than life was for a past generation. Rushing about here and there, combined with a sense of never quite getting any task finished, quickly leaves us with feelings of homelessness and being without roots. And we all know that plants without deep roots wither and die. The regular routine, occasion, or equipment that a hobby or a pastime gives to us causes us ‘to come down where we ought to be’. And finding a home we are not tempted to chase after ‘the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books.’
Perhaps the words of John Keble’s old hymn and out things being ‘New Every Morning’were correct all along:
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we need to ask,
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God
If you have a neglected pastime or hobby – pick it up again.
If you do not have some such ‘triviality’ in your life consider taking one up.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 96 – JOY IN GOD
Refrain: Sing to the great God a new song,
sing to the Creator, sing the whole earth.
Let nature and peoples join in harmony
to sing praise to the God of glory.
We sing to you, God, and praise your name,
telling of your salvation from day to day,
declaring your glory to those who do not know you,
and your wonders to the peoples of the earth.
Marvellous God, you are greatly to be praised,
more to be honoured than all the powers.
Glory and worship are before you,
power and honour are in your sanctuary. Refrain:
May we, the household of your people,
ascribe to you the worship and glory,
giving you the honour due to your name,
bringing presents as we come into your house.
We worship you in the beauty of holiness:
let the whole earth stand in awe of you.
Let us tell it out among the peoples that you are God,
and that you are making the round world so sure,
held within the bounds of your love,
and that you will judge the people righteously. Refrain:
Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad:
let the sea roar, and all its creatures delight;
let the fields be joyful, and all that is in them:
then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy.
For you come to judge the earth,
with justice to make right what is wrong,
to judge the people with your truth. Refrain:
All creatures of the earth will sing your praise,
for you are a God who is faithful,
for ever loyal to your covenant,
creating out of discord a harmony rare. Refrain:
God of glory and splendour, whose bright radiance we see in glimpses of wonder, both rare and everyday, open our eyes and hearts, alert the nerve ends of our being, that in trembling and rapture all our fears may dissolve into joy. AMEN. (Jim Cotter)
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