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Monday, October 7, 2013

Your Festering Prayer Life

I picked up The Screwtape Letters again over the weekend. If you're not familiar with them, they are what I think to be one of CS Lewis' more ingenious scenarios: an uncle demon who is well-practiced in his trade giving advice to his nephew, a junior tempter. I mean, really, what a marvelous idea.

My roommate and I were discussing the third letter. In addition to what you might glean from the following excerpts, remember her words of wisdom on the subject; those "daily pinpricks" and "unendurable irritations" are cemented as such when the two people don't talk to each other about them, either out of fear of confrontation, or from some misguided attempt to "be noble" and "offer it up" and view the other person as "a source of constant mortification." Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that holding your spouse/sibling/roommate/parent in the same category that you do a medieval flagellum is not the way to love and respect them. A personality can be a mortification; we all have those individuals in our lives who "rub us the wrong way" with whom we just don't "mesh" (I'm using a lot of quotation marks -- sorry). But somebody you live with, rather than that person who runs in the same social circles and whom you should maybe just try to avoid, cannot remain in that box of "the person who exists to get me to heaven faster because they're so annoying." (And yes, I do realize that no one should be in that box. But if you're going to start getting people out of it, start with the people you live with.)

Confront them. Talk to them. Work it out. Realize that you're annoying, too. Don't let hatred fester in your "prayers." (I don't have it all figured out, either, just so we're clear. A note on my list of classes for this year: "COMM 114: Communication Skills - still required." Ouch.)
My dear Wormwood,
I am very pleased by what you tell me about this man's relations with his mother. Keep in close touch with our colleague Glubose who is in charge of [her], and build up between you in that house a good settled habit of mutual annoyance; daily pinpricks. The following methods are useful:
1. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.
2. It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his prayer for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very 'spiritual', that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. His attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining.
3. When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother's eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy -- if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed.
                                                                                                Your affectionate uncle
Bear in mind, if you find yourself prompted to return to this "collection of letters" or to pick it up for the first time, what Lewis warns in his preface:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Evil is real and actively working to capture you. Be careful how and why you choose to grow in your understanding of it.

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