Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 27 – Friday after 4th 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 contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great, achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient’s mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished – one day, I hope, will be – to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sign and a smile ‘Oh please, please… all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast’. You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance. In a crowded restaurant she gives a little scream at the plate which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, ‘Oh, that’s far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it’. If challenged, she would say she was doing this to avoid waste; in reality she does it because the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.
The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things ‘properly’ – because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. If ever the Enemy introduces into her mind a faint suspicion that she is too interested in food, Glubose counters it by suggesting to her that she doesn’t mind what she eats herself but ‘does like to have things nice for her boy’. In fact, of course, her greed has been one of the chief sources of his domestic discomfort for many years.
Your affectionate uncle
‘All you need is less’ is the wording of a ‘meme’ which I recently posted on Facebook as a way to encourage my Facebook friends, some of the best I have ever had, to help them through Lent.
However, as our ‘patient’s’ mother proves, desiring ‘less’ can be just as full of gluttony as those who demand that we fulfil their every need. Or is that every want?
The line in the Coldplay song ‘Fix You’, which runs ‘When you get what you want, but not what you need’ reminds me that having everything my own way is not always the best thing for me to have. Sometimes having things ‘Just So’ is not good for us but, as Glubose’s patient reminds us, we can easily turn our ‘small desires’ into large obligations.
The choice is up to us. Do we, choose that everything must be ‘Just So’ (with profound apologies to Rudyard Kipling) or are we content to be satisfied with just what we need?
The journey through Lent is about fasting from things that are harmful. Being over particular, even if it is only in a ‘small’ way which ‘everyone’ should understand, is often about greed rather than denial. Each of us needs to learn to be careful about our own devotions and ‘wants’. All too easily our indulgent fasts may become over-bearing burdens for those around us.
Just for fun, read some of the ‘Just So’ stories – if you have a young child or grandchild nearby that will make them even more fun
Make sure you take enough time to read today’s Psalm
A Psalm To Ponder:
Today’s Psalm is a long interpretation of the original……
Maybe it is time to make a hot beverage, one which has been ‘properly made’ of course, (especially if you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory) and settle down for a good read
Refrain: Deluded, rebellious, estranged, we know neither ourselves nor our God,
whose ways are mysterious, an enigma, a question, a riddle.
Listen to my teaching, O my people:
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
For I will open my lips in a parable,
and expound the mysteries of former times.
What we have heard and known,
all that our ancestors told us,
we will not hide from our children,
but declare to a generation to come:
the praiseworthy acts of God,
God’s mighty and wonderful works.
O God, you established a law for your people,
you witnessed to your ways in Israel,
which you commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
that future generations might know you,
and children yet to be born,
that they in their turn might teach it
that their daughters and sons might trust you,
that they might keep your commandments and not forget your works
– as did their ancestors,
a rebellious and stubborn generation,
a generation whose heart was warped,
whose spirit was not faithful to God. Refrain:
The children of Ephraim armed with the bow
turned back in the day of their battle.
They did not keep your covenant, O God,
they refused to walk in you law:
they forget what you had done,
and the wonders you had shown them.
You worked marvels in the sight of their forebears,
in the land of Egypt, in the country of Zoan.
You divided the sea and let them pass,
you made the waters pile up in a heap.
In the daytime you led them with a cloud,
and all night long with the pillar of fire.
You cleft rocks in the wilderness,
and gave them drink in abundance.
You made streams flow out of the rock,
you caused the waters to tumble like rivers.
But for all this they sinned against you,
and rebelled against their God in the desert. Refrain:
They wilfully put you to the test,
and demanded food for their appetite.
They spoke against you and said,
‘Can you prepare a table in the wilderness?
You indeed struck the rock and the waters flowed,
but can you also give bread and meat for your people?’
When you heard it you were angry
and a fire was kindled against Jacob,
your wrath blazing against Israel.
For they put no trust in you,
nor would they believe your power to save.
Then you commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven.
Mere mortals ate the food of angels,
which you gave to them in abundance. Refrain:
You stirred up the south east wind
and guided it by your power.
You rained down meat on them thick as dust,
and winged birds like the sands of the sea.
You made them fall into the midst of their camp,
and all about their tents.
So they ate and were well filled,
for you had given them what they had desired.
But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
your anger blazed against them
and you slew their strongest men
and laid low the youth of Israel. Refrain:
But for all this they sinned yet more
and put no faith in your wonders.
So you ended their days like a breath,
and their years with sudden terror.
When you struck them down then they sought you,
they turned and they searched eagerly for their God.
They remembered that God was their rock,
their strength and their redeemer.
But they lied to you with their mouths,
and dissembled with their tongues,
for their hearts were not fixed upon you,
nor were they true to your covenant.
Yet being merciful you forgave their iniquity,
and withheld your hand from destroying them.
Many times you turned your anger aside
and would not wholly arouse your fury.
You remembered that they were but flesh,
like a wind that passes and does not return. Refrain:
How often they grieved you in the wilderness,
and rebelled against you in the desert.
Again and again they put you to the test
and provoked you, O Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember your power,
or the day when you rescued them,
how you wrought your signs in Egypt,
your wonders in the country of Zoan.
For you turned their rivers into blood,
so that they could not drink from the streams.
You sent swarms of flies that devoured them
and frogs that laid them waste.
You gave their crops to the locust,
and the fruits of their labours to the grasshopper.
You struck down their vines with hailstones,
and their sycamore trees with frost.
You gave up their cattle to the hail,
and their flocks to the flash of the lightning.
You loosed on them a terrible anger,
a fierce indignation, your distress and your fury.
You would not spare them from death
but gave up their lives to the pestilence.
You struck down the first born of Egypt,
the first fruits of the womb in the dwelling of Ham. Refrain:
As for your own people you led them out like sheep,
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
You led them to safety and they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
You brought them to the land of the promise,
to the mountains your right hand had won.
You drove out the tribes before you
and gave their lands to your people.
You settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
But they rebelled against you, O God of deliverance,
and put you to the test:
they would not obey your Commandments.
They turned back and were treacherous again,
they turned aside, slack as an unstrung bow.
They provoked you to anger at heathen shrines,
moved you to jealousy with their carved idols. Refrain:
You heard and were angry, you utterly rejected them,
you forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh,
the tent where you dwelt among the people.
You gave the ark of your power into captivity,
your glory into the hands of the enemy.
You delivered your people to the sword,
and were enraged against them.
Fire devoured the young men,
there was no one to bewail the young women.
Their priests fell by the sword,
and there was none to mourn for the widows. Refrain:
Then, O God, you awoke from sleep,
like a warrior inflamed with wine.
You struck the backside of your enemies,
bringing them down to their shame.
You rejected the family of Joseph,
you refused the tribe of Ephraim.
But you chose the tribe of Judah,
and the hill of Zion which you loved.
You built the sanctuary high as the heavens,
and as firm as the earth which you founded.
You chose David the youngest as your servant,
and plucked him away from the sheepfold.
You took him from guiding the flocks,
to be the shepherd of your people Jacob,
and of Israel your own possession.
He tended them with a true and faithful heart,
and guided them with skilful hands. Refrain:
And so the story unfolded,
the mystery ever deepening,
a kingdom split apart,
a people carried off into exile.
Even the clue of the Cross
has left us many a puzzle.
Our loyalty ebbs and flows,
our sense of your presence too.
Those in high office betray you,
integrity crumbles in gossip.
The obscure are so often submerged,
the powerful far beyond love.
The stones of the churches decay,
your agelong spirit moves on.
We have become so timid and fearful,
we refuse to enter the unknown.
We desperately cling to our comforts,
one by one you take them away.
We resent you stripping us bare,
untrusting of this prelude to glory…… Refrain:
Mysterious God, choosing the small, the unnoticed, the obscure, to renew the way of your covenant when your followers wander and fail you, strive yet with our intractable clay; open us to the love you revealed to us in Jesus Christ, emptied of power, untouched by illusion, dying unrecognized, yet for those with eyes to see the decisive clue to the mystery of your being. 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