Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
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 more one thinks about it, the worse it becomes. He got through so easily! No gradual misgivings, no doctor’s sentence, no nursing home, no operating theatre, no false hopes of life; sheer, instantaneous liberation. One moment it seemed to be all our world; the scream of bombs, the fall of houses, the stink and taste of high explosive on the lips and in the lungs, the feet burning with weariness, the heart cold with horrors, the brain reeling, the legs aching; next moment all this was gone, gone like a bad dream, never again to be of any account.
Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally – as if he’d been born for it – the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous? I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?
……Meanwhile, I have you to settle with. Most truly do I sign myself.
Your increasingly ravenous and affectionate uncle
May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour
before the devil knows you’re dead.
This Irish toast describes wonderfully what happens in the last of Screwtape’s Letters. Wormwood’s patient has ‘escaped to heaven’ and the young apprentice now finds himself to be devil’s food.
The passage home was swift but not easy. Doubt and worry still lingered before the new Christian finally saw the light. So it is with many of us. Throughout life, despite the assurances of Mathew 6 that our ‘Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask’, it remains tempting to give in to worry. Worry about food and drink, worry about shelter and comfort for our loved ones, worry about why we worry so much!
How our Beloved must shake His head over us. Didn’t you know that I was revealing a profound truth when I spoke to Julian in her anchorage in Norwich that ‘all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well?’ Didn’t you understand that I meant it when I said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you?’ Why was it so difficult to believe me when I promised you to ‘not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom?’ (Luke 12.31-33)
All is indeed well and we see at the last, especially in the light of the new life of Easter Day, that the extraction only hurt until the tooth was removed, the pain of Good Friday vanishes as if it were morning dew on the Day of Resurrection.
A truth that is easy on Easter Day but does fade as the year progresses. After all if we got it right this year we would not need another Lent next year…
There must be a better way. Who wants to spend their life worrying that they are only ‘half an hour ahead of the devil’? How can we live the resurrection everyday so that we become lights for others instead of struggling to keep our own flame burning all the time?
Many of us will today renew our baptismal promises. Here are some words from Romans about the consequence of that baptism,
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6.4 – a reading of all of Chapter 6-8 is a good idea.)
As today we say ‘I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil’ may each of us choose to die to all the worries of the world and the ear tickling of the tempter and learn to live life in all its fullness.
I know from experience this is difficult, the undulations of the human life will assail us frequently, but in all the ups and downs and troubles of life hold on to this Gospel Truth made fact by an empty tomb today.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16.33)
Go outside and shout ‘Alleluia!”
if you have no opportunity to do this publicly, renew your baptismal promises – this can be done privately or with a few friends
Eat chocolate – or enjoy whichever other luxury you denied yourself during Lent.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 16 – PRAYER FOR THE DEPARTED
Refrain: Greet them in the joy of your presence.
O GOD our refuge and strength,
preserve us from lasting harm.
Again and again we affirm,
in times both of doubt and of trust,
You are our faithful Creator,
in you alone is our bliss. Refrain:
We thank you for all your holy people,
all whose lives give you glory.
We praise you for your martyrs and saints,
in whom you take great delight. Refrain:
As for those held in the highest esteem,
those idols adored by the crowd,
those gods they fete and run after,
we will not take their name on our lips.
They are bloated with pride and success,
punctured by thorns in the late autumn wind. Refrain:
Your name alone do we praise,
our resting place now and for ever.
You feed us with the Bread of Life,
you nourish us with the Cup of Salvation. Refrain:
We have been so fortunate in our days,
and in the places where we have lived.
To no one else belongs the praise,
but to you, the great Giver of gifts. Refrain:
We give you thanks for the wisdom of your counsel,
even at night you have instructed our hearts.
In the silence of the darkest hours
we open our ears to the whisper of your voice. Refrain:
We have set your face always before us,
in every cell of our being you are there.
As we tremble on the narrowest of paths,
the steadying of your hand gives us courage.
Fleet of foot, with our eyes on the goal,
headlong in the chasm we shall not fall. Refrain:
Therefore our hearts rejoice and our spirits are glad,
our whole being shall rest secure.
For you will not give us over to the power of death,
nor let your faithful one see the pit. Refrain:
You will show us the path of life:
in your countenance is the fullness of joy.
From the spring of your heart flow rivers of delight,
a fountain of water that shall never run dry.
O God of the living, keep our eyes fixed on the goal of our journey, that we may be fleet of heart, and in all our dyings leap to the embrace of the One who lures us with love, the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus, our elder brother and faithful friend. 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