Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 34 – Saturday 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 real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And….’. You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.
Your affectionate uncle
‘Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing’ Screwtape advises his apprentice and in so doing taps into the age-old desire of the human race to have its ears tickled. Luke’s commentary on Paul’s meeting with The Areopagites of Athens is a good illustration of this:
All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Acts 17.21
Lewis, hopefully subconsciously, makes a pitch for his soon to be published antidote to our spiritual wanderlust when he chooses to use the phrase ‘Mere Christianity’ to describe the best way out of the ‘Christianity and….’ conundrum. Was I the only person, when Screwtape mentioned ‘Christianity and Spelling Reform’, who thought about our current Prime Minister and his obsession with teaching Mathematics throughout everyone’s school career? (With apologies to non-United Kingdom readers).
The journey home to the One who Loves us Best is much simpler than the devil and his demons would make it out to be. It is as pure and faithful as the frequency of the seasons – both of nature and of the Church’s year – and we would do well to breathe deeply the air of this ‘familiar’ change. Yet to call it ‘mere’ Christianity is perhaps a misnomer. Elsewhere Lewis re-phrases it as ‘deep’ Christianity (echoes of the ‘deep’ magic at the stone table on which Aslan was killed) and suggests that a return to the simplicity of moving frequently from a fast to a feast will find for us, year by year, a firmer assurance of our salvation, a greater depth in our call, a renewed vision which sees all Christians (high or low church) as family, and a firm assurance of our salvation.
The Communion service in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us (as does Article XXXI of the Articles of Religion in its own historic way) that Almighty God of His….
….tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.
If that is what we believe can there ever be space for ‘Christianity and Spelling Reform’? Or indeed any space for those other absurd prejudices we own which serve to separate us from our sisters and brothers, keep us from approaching heaven, and drive us into the eager arms of the devil?
I suppose the problem is that the Gospel is indeed a ‘mere’ message – a simple word. God loves us, what are we to do about it?
We can add nothing to this love, for that would simply diminish its perfection.
We can do nothing to force the hand of God, proclaim a “Christianity and….’, as we already have more than we can comprehend.
All we can do is to learn that we are beloved and see every other member of the human race, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Believer, Agnostic, Atheist, as beloved of God as we are. And in realising this live grateful lives in the rhythm of that ‘mere’ love.
Have a look at a list of C.S. Lewis’ published works and decide to read one of them before the year is out:
Three of my favourites are:
Surprised by Joy
Till We Have Faces
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 117 – A QUIET MOMENT OF PRAISE
Refrain: Alleluia! We whisper our praise.
A fragment of prayer from the psalmist of old,
Let all the people praise the name of our God,
So now in a quiet moment of praise
our gratitude whispers on the gentlest of breaths. Refrain:
Not always with jubilant shouts
do we sound our thanksgiving and joy.
From the depths of a silent heart
comes a word but softly spoken. Refrain:
Secure in the lovingkindness of God,
knowing the Love that always endures,
transforming the evils we face into good,
we waft the breeze and adore.
O God of Silent Loving, keep us from the trap of believing that the louder we shout the more genuine is our faith and the more fulsome is our praise. Keep us aware that love is fragile and vulnerable and that we know it best in the silence of the heart. 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