Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 30 – Tuesday after 5th 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 sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies – those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counsellors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.
We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun – the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’ and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my Teddy-bear’ not the old-imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like’. And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say ‘My God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘My boots’, meaning ‘The God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit – the God I have done a corner in’.
And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.
Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape is eternally correct; the word ‘Mine!’ can only ever be ultimately uttered by God or the devil. If we think we can ‘own’ anything we start the road downhill to the one who wants to devour his possessions instead of handing over our possessions (and our very life) to God and find ourselves set free on the journey heavenward.
Whenever I have felt lost, isolated, and confused one scripture verse holds me and helps me forward. I first encountered this in the music of The Fisherfolk who sang;
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43.1)
‘You are mine!’
I know that one of the reasons why this means so much to me was due to the struggle I had with names at Boarding School. Going to a Military school we were called not by name but by our locker numbers instead – for someone to use your name was a special moment. But, on the other hand, having an unusual surname – after all not many people reading these words will know anyone else surnamed Dotchin – led to a series of aberrations and variations of my name which drove me to anger, frustration and, quite often, tears. I know that this was not just my experience but that of many others as well. I suspect things remain the same amongst adolescents the world over…
However as I grew into a deeper knowledge of the One who Loves me Best I found that to be called by my name by Him brought freedom and joy. This has had a deep effect on me and, to the frustration of Registrars when I complete Marriage Certificates, I now name myself simply ‘Andrew’ and long to hear God whispering my name, looking to the day when I will be held forever close to his bosom.
To want to own things, to chase after them and label them as ‘mine’ means I remain in a contest (a war even) with those around me. ‘Ownership’ commits me to a daily struggle to grab hold of things, wrest control of events from others, and ultimately possess my desires. And in so doing I forget that I am as much possessed by my possessions as I think I own them.
To learn to be owned by God, to rest in the knowledge of God’s care and guidance for my good (though the path is full of challenges and works against my basest desires) is to discover freedom and joy. I have learnt that when I give myself over to being ‘His’ I finally discover what it is to be ‘me’.
Let go of a ‘my’ in your life by changing your language, here are some examples:
‘My’ ministry becomes the gift God has given me to share
‘My’ parish or congregation or church becomes the family I am called to serve
‘My’ possessions become the tools I have been given to spread the Good News
‘My’ time becomes moments when I can make space for God to speak.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 95 – ENCOUNTERING THE REDEEMING CREATOR
Refrain: Let us sing to the One who is creating us let us renew our covenant with God.
Let us sing to God who is creating us,
let us rejoice in the Rock of our salvation. Refrain:
Dear God, we celebrate your presence with thanksgiving,
and with our whole heart sing psalms of praise.
We greet you with love, Creator of the universe,
Spirit who strives with the chaos of the world.
With your finger you shape the mountains of the earth,
and the depths of the valley are scoured by your power.
The wings of your Spirit brood over the seas,
and your hands mould the dry land. Refrain:
Not one of the threatening powers escapes you,
the thundering of the gods on the cloud-capped mountains,
the rumbling of demons as the earth quakes,
the faces that loom in the dreams of the night,
the punishing voices from our helpless past.
The power of you love reaches so far
that nothing and no-one is beyond your redemption. Refrain:
O come let us worship and lift our hearts high
and adore our God, our Creator.
For you are indeed our God, and we are your people,
crafted by the skill of your hands. Refrain:
‘Listen to my voice this day
and harden not your hearts.
Do not be like your ancestors
who saw the great deeds I had done,
yet put me to the test in the desert,
at the place of Bitterness and Quarrel.’ Refrain:
‘They were wayward in their hearts,
they were ignorant of my ways.
So they could sense but the wrath of my love,
and were condemned to a restless wandering.’ Refrain:
If we listen to your voice deep within us,
we shall know your mercy and grace of your love.
We shall see you as Judge of the earth,
doing right in the sight of all peoples,
judging us all in your faithfulness,
quelling our rebellious strife. Refrain:
Spirit of Christ, take shape among us,
Spirit of the One who fulfilled God’s promise.
Humble us in awe at your presence:
let us adore you in the silence of love.
Deepen our gratitude in obedience and trust,
in your covenant made sure for ever.
To the beauty and bounty of your creation and grace, we have responded, O God, with desecration and greed. We have presumed upon the constant renewal of your gifts. Give us patient hearts and the will to cherish the earth, that we may know you again as our redeeming Creator, bringing good from our wastes and sorrows. 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