June 19, 2007

Screwtape on Prayer

Category: Prayer,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Glancing through The Screwtape Letters, I realize that my temptation is to quote large sections.  For instance, the third letter, in which Screwtape instructs Wormwood on how to mess up the patient’s relationship with his mother, is worth reading and re-reading but I’m not going to quote the whole thing here.  But I will quote a couple things from later letters.

And so here’s Screwtape on prayer:

The best thing, wehre it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether.  When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.  In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part….

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls….

If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention.  Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so.  The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills.  When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing.  When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave.  When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.  Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment (pp. 24-26; I’ve added a paragraph break).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:13 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Screwtape on Prayer”

  1. Angie Says:

    Have you heard there is a movie version of “The Screwtape Letters” due to be released in 2008?


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