Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 38 – Maundy Thursday
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
A promising line is the following. Now that he is in love, a new idea of earthly happiness has arisen in his mind: and hence a new urgency in his purely petitionary prayers – about this war and other such matters. Now is the time for raising intellectual difficulties about prayer of that sort. False spirituality is always to be encouraged. On the seemingly pious ground that ‘praise and communion with God is the true prayer’, humans can often be lured into direct disobedience to the Enemy who (in His usual flat, commonplace, uninteresting way) has definitely told them to pray for their daily bread and the recovery of their sick. You will, of course, conceal from him the fact that the prayer for daily bread, interpreted in a ‘spiritual sense’, is really just as crudely petitionary as it is in any other sense.
But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience, he will probably continue such ‘crude’ prayers whatever you do. But you can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway’, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.
Your affectionate uncle
John Keble’s famous Hymn ‘New Every Morning’ provides words to help those who have contracted the terrible habit of obedience: –
The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us, daily, nearer God.
The problem with prayer is that it is most effective when it is, in Screwtape’s terms, at its crudest. Simple frequent prayer – for daily bread and the recovery of the sick – is of more use in forming character and bringing us closer to home than many a great work or pious deed. Being content with the trivial and the common, learning that taking ourselves out of the way in self-denial, clears the road ahead of us and daily brings us nearer to the end of the pilgrimage.
The importance of the Daily Office of prayer, a regular scheme of ‘Common Worship’used by others throughout the church, cannot be stressed too much. Ask any minister or other ‘professional’ Christian and they will point to the times when it has been the simple prayer of the trivial round and common task that has carried them through the darkest and driest of times to a greater assurance of God’s presence and activity in prayer.
It has often been observed amongst biblical scholars that the words which our loving Lord uttered from the cross during his Passion on that first Good Friday was forged in his own regular saying of the Psalms – the prayer book of the Synagogue and the foundation of the Daily Office. If a regular cycle of prayer was what helped to hold Him to the cross I suspect it will get you and I through more than one sticky patch in learning the terrible habit of obedience.
If this habit becomes ingrained then the tempter’s ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument founders. As we learn to wrap ourselves in simple ‘crude’ prayer we learn that all of life is prayer and that every event, coincidence or happenstance is suffused with God’s decision to say ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ to those who desire to follow. When we become addicted to this crude habit, answer to prayer, though not always obvious or commonplace, becomes part of the warp and woof of our life and we find a new confidence that is not based on a false spirituality but on an honest thankfulness for every crumb of daily bread.
Ponder the possibility of having a daily pattern of prayer to use to hold you through the fertile and dry periods of your spiritual journey.
There are many forms available from many different traditions. At the very least try to find space in your life for the regular reading of the Psalms – A simple pattern is at the bottom of the following Psalm.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 111 – THE HEARTBEAT OF GOD
Refrain: The heartbeat of God, the Amen of love, faithful for ever, steady and sure.
My gratitude, O God, flows on,
like the deep and silent river.
I join in the streams of praise,
with your people gathered for worship.
We take our place in the Story,
re-kindled in the season’s round.
We celebrate your mercies of old,
and your deeds among us today. Refrain:
The great words resound in our ears,
we delight in the one who embodies them;
your glory and splendour and justice,
your beauty and grace and compassion,
your truth and faithfulness for ever,
your covenant of promise and life,
your creative and redeeming power,
your holiness, wisdom, and love. Refrain:
Day by day you nourish us,
feeding us with sacrament and word,
slaking our thirst from the wellspring,
the waters that never run dry.
You renew your covenant each morning,
loyal to your promise for ever.
Awesome is your love for us,
steady over aeons of time. Refrain:
In the fickleness of our will, I the doubtings of our minds, in the betrayals of our hearts, we can scarcely believe in your steady presence through the years. Startle us afresh. Take our breath away. Renew our trust. AMEN. (Jim Cotter)
30 DAY CYCLE of Psalms from the Book of Common Prayer
Day 1 — Psalms 1-8 Day 2 — Psalms 9-14
Day 3— Psalms 15-18 Day 4 — Psalms 19-23
Day 5 — Psalms 24-29 Day 6 — Psalms 30-34
Day 7 — Psalms 35-37 Day 8 — Psalms 38-43
Day 9 — Psalms 44-49 Day 10 — Psalms 50-55
Day 11 — Psalms 56-61 Day 12 — Psalms 62-67
Day 13 — Psalms 68-70 Day 14 — Psalms 71-74
Day 15 — Psalms 75-78 Day 16 — Psalms 79-85
Day 17 — Psalms 86-89 Day 18 — Psalms 90-94
Day 19 — Psalms 95-101 Day 20 — Psalms 102-104
Day 21 — Psalms 105-106 Day 22 — Psalms 107-109
Day 23 — Psalms 110-115 Day 24 — Psalms 116-119:32
Day 25 — Psalm 119:33-104 Day 26 — Psalm 119:105-176
Day 27 — Psalms 120-131 Day 28 — Psalms 132-138
Day 29 — Psalms 139-143 Day 30 — Psalms 144-150
*Day 31 — Pray the psalms for the day of the month on which you were born.
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
 This is available free of charge on the Daily Prayer App and includes an audio version for those who find hearing the words of the prayers as well as reading them helpful.