Prayer and Distracted Hope
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gave us a masterpiece of reflection on the different temptations and schemes which draw our minds and hearts away from "things which really matter." Wormwood was of course devoured, but if instead he had graduated to more senior ranks, I wonder, what advice would Lewis' "junior demon" have to pass on now, decades later?
Of course, I cannot say how this correspondence came into my hands, but I trust that it proves instructive as we navigate Christmas this Covid-affected year.
My Dear Galltongue,
It has been some time since I last wrote to you. Needless to say, the current situation has kept us all busy and perhaps even entertained in our work at times. And it has created much work for us to do, has it not?!
I thought it best to once again pass on some of the great wisdom which my Uncle passed on to me. Your work with your patient has been near-satisfactory thus far, but although you may not realise it, there are great dangers given all that is happening.
Of course, at first look we may think that nothing could be better than all that has been occurring of late. Why the enemy allows such chaos to reign I’ll admit I cannot fully say, yet even now he is dangerous and has devious ways of winning victories. Would you believe that some of his adherents actually suggest that circumstances like these can help his cause and see that hideous announcement they call ‘gospel’ declared even more widely?
However, with such matters, dear Galltongue, you need not concern yourself. Your job is to remain focussed on your patient. And great focus is required. Be on guard, Galltongue. At all costs, you must not allow this hideous time of year to push her thoughts anywhere near “eternal” things. Keep her grounded. Indeed, I recall that the humans themselves have a wonderful word for this: keep her “earthed.” Let her focus be on immediate priorities.
Of course, the usual whispers and suggestions are still all of great use to you. Allow her to muse on how she can please her family. Both her and her husband’s parents could of course provide all manner of opportunity given that it seems she has concluded that they can’t possibly see them all this year. Resentment, Galltongue, is tremendously powerful in our cause. Allow it to build and the effects can be delightful.
Meanwhile, her children might spend a great deal of profitable time pouring over their screens, giving you every opportunity to prompt their asking for all manner of different items. You need only remind her of her desire to make her children happy, and her focus may be entirely taken up with collecting as many of those trinkets as she can for some days.
You may even allow her own eye to be caught by the advertisements oozing delicious sentimentality. Here we might have an almost unique opportunity. Given all that has happened to her this year she will no doubt be easily persuadable that she ‘deserves’ to indulge. Of course that's our message every winter, but this year makes the suggestion all the more powerful in your hands.
However, Galltongue, I need hardly remind you to be cautious. The enemy knows that sentimentality is but a step from yearning, and we all understand how dangerous that can be. Once awakened in the heart, yearning is incredibly difficult to extinguish, and has led to the total loss of the most promising of patients in the past.
Finally, allow me a word on that hideous practice of prayer. Yes, don’t think that I haven’t noticed this oversight on your part. Extremely irresponsible of you to allow your patient to develop that nasty habit, particularly when there are so many distractions available to you! There is nothing our lord finds more odious than our enemy’s people at prayer. You must pay particular attention to your patient in this area. It is most dangerous ground for our cause, yet shrink her horizons and still now all is may not be lost.
It may seem counterintuitive, but even hope can be a powerful tool in our hands here. Allow her to dwell on some of the problems which surround her. This is perhaps a most pertinent opportunity. Her vulnerable parents can help you stoke her fear of the virus. Then you may allow her that faint bit of warm hope that there might be light at the end of that tunnel. Have her dwell on that most profitable of topics: human ingenuity.
Whisper it carefully and help her feel just enough hope there that she mistakes it for the real thing. This is most advanced work but do it thoroughly and you will drop her eyes very effectively. She may still pray (I fear you have lost her on that front most carelessly), but the effectiveness of that weapon in her hands will be considerably reduced. Above all things, though, you must not allow her to lift her eyes at this point. Again, keep her "earthed." Should she catch a glimpse of that greater hope from which you must keep her distracted at all costs, and worse, even turn her prayers towards it, then all will be lost.
As will you dear Galltongue. Tread carefully!
Your unaffectionate uncle,