The Screwtape Letters – 3 & 4

Tonight we are beginning our discussion of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. These letters are a great guide to how the powers of this present evil age seek to separate us from God.

Letter 3: Relationships

In this letter, Screwtape counsels Wormwood on how to best sour the relationship between the Patient and his mother, with whom he lives. Significantly, Screwtape gives Wormwood pointers on how the Patient’s newfound Christian faith can actually be of benefit in this endevour. The goal is the have the Patient assume the role of the older self-righteous judgmental brother of the prodigal son.

Primarily, Wormwood should have the Patient focus only on spiritual matters rather than daily issues. This will insure that the Patient will remain focused on the state of his mother’s soul and her sins and not on her ordinary daily challenges to which the Patient could be of actual assistance. Wormwood should also encourage the Patient to focus on his mother’s annoying habits and to read too much into his mother’s voice inflections in order to create strife in the household.

As we read through this chapter, think how Lewis captures the problem of making the Christian faith one of simply a spiritual matter. If we only care about someone’s conversion, do we actually love them? Also, think about how a Christian faith focused solely on spirituality can bring about great friction in a relationship. As we have read in the Gospel lessons over the last several weeks, a sole focus on spiritual matters does not necessarily give a person a Christ-like humility.

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?

James 2:14-16

Letter 4: Prayer and Distractions

In the fourth letter, Screwtape addresses the issue of prayer. When the Patient prays, Wormwood should make sure the Patient invents his own prayers. These prayers should focus on the Patient and his feelings. Instead of praying for forgiveness, the Patient should try to feel forgiven. And even in silent prayer, the focus must remain on himself and not the Enemy (God).

Another means of distracting the Patient from true prayer, Screwtape writes, is to have the Patient pray to something and not the Enemy. These images can be real (a cross on the wall) or simply imaginary (a picture of God in his head). The goal, again, is to make sure that the Patient does not actually have any real connection with the Enemy.

As we read through this chapter, think about the foundational purpose of prayer. Why do we pray? What do we attempt to obtain? Think about the difference between prayer and having a “vaguely devotional mood?” What are the benefits or detriments of using rote prayers, personally composed prayers, or aides, such as icons, in prayer? None of these are wrong when used as a means to God and not an end unto themselves.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven . . ..”

Matt. 6:7-9.

We are opening back up after a short-Covid hiatus. We will be meeting on the back porch with the door to the family room open. We also ask that you be fully vaccinated to attend. If you plan to join, please let me know. Dinner is at 6:30.

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