Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 40 – Holy Saturday
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
This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world – a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.
It is therefore possible to lose as much as we gain by making your man a coward; he may learn too much about himself! There is, of course, always the chance, not of chloroforming the shame, but of aggravating it and producing Despair. This would be a great triumph. It would show that he had believed in, and accepted, the Enemy’s forgiveness of his other sins only because he himself did not fully feel their sinfulness – that in respect of the one vice which he really understands in its full depth of dishonour he cannot seek, nor credit, the Mercy. But I fear you have already let him get too far in the Enemy’s school, and he knows that Despair is a greater sin than any of the sins which provoke it.
Your affectionate uncle
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Screwtape has a point here. Without the courage to actually get on and put our beliefs and aspirations into action they are nothing other than the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals of 1 Corinthians 13.
There has to come a moment when we ‘nail our colours to the mast’ (or hands to the cross even….) and say this is who I am. When we do this courage enables us to find a deeper commitment for the virtues to which we aspire and we can begin the path of transformation.
There is of course the danger of turning away and becoming ashamed of the lack of courage to hold on to the virtues to which we seek. After all the fact of courage must allow for the possibility of cowardice. It is all very well to cheerlead others to get on and ‘do something’ but it feels very different when we are the ones who are supposed to stand up and be counted.
Have you not, when faced with a call to personal transformation, felt a little like the ‘one-talent servant?’ (Matthew 25.14-30). Turning back to God and saying ‘enough!’ Having given everything away to God and becoming slaves in God’s service do we then really have to lead fruitful and productive lives as well? Sometimes ‘miserable sinner’ is a comfortable place to wallow!
‘Here you are’ I sometimes find myself saying to God, ‘you can have this virtue, this vocation back.’ Too challenged by a call to holiness, too much of a coward to pay the cost of commitment, too ashamed to ponder the consequences of failure, it becomes very easy to dig a hole and bury the gifts of God.
Of course what the one-talent servant forgets is that without God he, and his better-off fellows (apart from the generosity of the Master) have nothing to hold on to in the first place. Each of us stands before God empty-handed waiting to be filled. There is no space for shame, embarrassment or cowardice; only opportunities for grateful service fuelled by the courage of a life lived in the light of the victory of the cross.
Mercy is perhaps the word we need to find in the middle of our seeking after virtue. Whether we are courageous servants or cowardly slaves it is the Mercy of God which makes transformation possible, tills the soil of our heart wherein the seeds of virtues are planted, and encourages us to be more like Him who gave His life for us.
As an Easter gift for the love which you have received from God find the courage to commit yourself to a virtue which you know you should be growing in but have so far avoided.
To help here is a list of 26 virtues to give you some ideas – if anyone knows of a better virtue beginning with X please tell me.
*hospitable; being kindly to strangers
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 6 – A DESPERATE CRY IN TIME OF ILLNESS
Refrain: I cry out to the Void: How long, O God, how long?
HIDEOUS afflictions of a turbulent age –
virus, cancer, thrombosis, ulcer –
warheads in the fluids of my being:
I am caught in a world that is twisted,
trapped in its web of corruption,
tempted to blame my ills on to ‘them’,
tempted to avoid the hatred within. Refrain:
Hard pressed by anxiety and discord,
carriers of disease, injectors of poison,
overwhelmed by malice and fear.
Paralysed, depressed we cannot move,
spun in the vortex of death. Refrain:
Distressed in the very depths of our being,
bones shaking, cells mutating,
we are almost in despair. Refrain:
In your mercy and grace set us free.
Refine us in the fire of your love.
Our cry is of hope, yet struggling with doubt,
a stammer gasping for breath in the night. Refrain:
Turn your face to me, save my life;
deliver me in the endurance of love,
ease the burden of guilt and of pain,
let me know the grace of your presence,
now in this life and through the shades of the grave. Refrain:
I am weary with my suffering,
every night I flood my bed with tears.
I drench my couch with weeping,
my eyes waste away out of grief,
I grow weak through the weight of oppression. Refrain:
You that work evil and seek to destroy,
loosen your grip, away from my presence.
For God has heard the sound of my weeping,
forgives me with delight and lightens my gloom.
The destroyers will be ashamed and sore troubled:
trembling, they will be stripped of their power,
no longer able to harm. Refrain:
And no, I will not gloat or hate,
in the Love of God I will hold on to you yet.
In the anger and hope of the wrath of our God,
come to the place of repentance and mercy.
And you, silent virus, invisible, malignant,
bound up with my bodily being,
are you an enemy that I can befriend,
or at least contain in a place of your own –
your power to harm taken away,
brought with us to the glory of God?
God of mercy and tenderness, giver of life and conqueror of death, look upon our weakness and pain, and bring us to health and to wholeness, that we may sing as new song to your praise; through Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the powers. 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