Recently, while reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, I came across this quote, and it stopped me dead in my tracks:
“We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear.”
And I thought: Imagine if C.S. Lewis— one of the most influential Christian thinkers of his day (and of all time, perhaps?)— listened to the naysayers- and was choked up, grabbed and threatened, and crippled from writing, because of fear? This book suggests that certainly, that would have been a sinful temptation. To not hold out, to not radiate truth in spite of- or rather, because of- the spirit of negativity? That would be giving in, and not holding out. It might even mean giving up, defeated because of a feeling.
There are all kinds of dryness. And truly daily, I feel crippled by a thousand things. Spiritual dryness. Selfishness. Or even the ongoing thought: “Now, if only I could get a few minutes to myself…” or, the thought that: “All of this stuff (material and immaterial) is in the way… dry-cleaning, chores, gunk on the sink, junk in the attic, grime on the shower curtain.” A quick scroll through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and a fleeting thought steals even more peace:
“If only I could get to that person’s life and way of finding happiness! She/they doesn’t/don't have a pile of crap on her/their stairs! Now if only I were at that person’s house right now! Then things- certainly- would be better…”
The book is opening my eyes to idols and temptations I didn’t know I had. There are all sorts of bad spirits: they come in the form of food, sugar, even the idols of certainty and earned respect. It’s making me realize how often I battle hard against the “if-only’s” and “I’m lonelies,” and all the thoughts given to the Patient by Wormwood, to make him miserable.
As I was reading this book, I was thinking: I know this feeling of dryness! The feeling that nothing is appealing to me. I need to DO something. I’m bored. I’m losing the vigor and the joy of life, AKA the joie de vivre! What is getting in the way?
Another quote that took me aback, as those little crippling demons came into full focus:
“Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours- and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.”
Additionally, to highlight one of the main themes of the book for you with another quote, is to bring up, or to bring to your attention something at the core of a sad spiritual state:
“So fix his attention outward so that he does not reflect…” (the rest of the sentence is fantastic, but let me stop you RIGHT THERE.)
Does not reflect! Again, a writer ought to write, and a person ought to reflect. Getting him to avoid it is good work, Wormwood! If he cannot stop to say, "What am I thinking right now," Lewis says it is much easier to get the Patient to think greedy or selfish thoughts! Well done, Wormwood! He’s in the can. Or more accurately, he’s in a cage, in Hell.
And another quote, which is so good, it is the one I will leave you with:
“He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during the trough periods, much more than the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best.”
So yes: "....prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best." In the end, all of the demands, promises to self, clutter in our minds and brains, could be boiled down to laziness. But could it be even more important to face up and man up in the face of our “worthiness?” I’m not worthy to write because of what I’ve done in the past. I’m not worthy because of the meetings, policies, campaigns, causes and crusades. Work is good, mind you. But keep writing, keep praying, keep doing. Even- and especially- when it feels dry or dull to do so.
Of all things, this is what I think C.S. Lewis would want us to come away with in the reading of this clever little book!;)
And maybe the thought that growth is not impossible will give you just an ounce of hope, though at times our roots are so dry, we think it just might be worthless!
….It’s not. ;)