“DO I MAKE ROOM FOR YOU?” (Jn 8:31-42): 12 March 2008 (Wednesday)
C.S. Lewis of the “Narnia” fame wrote a different kind of book that he called The Screwtape Letters. The protagonist is called Screwtape, a middle-level demon in Hell, who writes a series of letters to his nephew, a novice demon named Wormwood. In his letters, the elder demon dishes out all sorts of advice to train his nephew on the art of tempting and corrupting a human soul. He has a lot of experiences, and as expected, he is quite capable of boasting about his conquests.
One of the nuggets of wisdom he gives Wormwood is “how enslaved [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary.” Screwtape then proceeds to recount the case of a “patient” of his, a self-confessed atheist. I will quote the passage in full because no one can tell it as delightfully and as wittily as Lewis:
“One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy*, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was, I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quiteoverhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said ‘Quite. In fact much tooimportant to tackle at the end of a morning,’ the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added ‘Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,’ he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of ‘real life’ (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all ‘that sort of thing’ just couldn’t be true.”
Screwtape ends his story by saying, “He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of tlaking about ‘that inarticulate sense for actuallity which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrrations of mere logic’. He is now safe in Our Father’s** house.”
I thought of this letter describing Screwtape’s devious schemes because in the gospel passage today, the Lord tells the Jews, “But now you are trying to kill me because my word has no room among you.”
As the master tempter, Screwtape, proves, that observation can very well apply to us today. These days, technology offers us nonstop entertainment and distractions: Think about the hundred and one cable channels to surb, the explosion of information available on the Internet, not to mention all the “free time” we devote to text messaging. There’s just not much time left to be by ourselves, and there’s just no more room for “odd ideas” about God.
The problem is, it’s only when we’re able to carve out time from our busy schedule and make room for the Lord and ourselves that what Screwtape calls “odd ideas” come into our heads. These odd ideas are of course thoughts about God and the more truly valuable and long-lasting things in life.
That’s one of the reasons I like traveling alone. There are several other such places, but there’s something about airports and airplanes when one travels alone. After the frenzy of checking-in and the rituals of airport security and Immigration, almost immediately it begins: this opening up of an inner space and this silencing of the soul. The space and silence deepen all throughout the trip, especially the long hauls. And I am at once surprised, scared, and saddened.
Surprised because I almost always forget how just vast our inner universe is. Scared because I rediscover the depth of the abyss within. And saddened because I think beneath all the beauty and joy of life, there is also still a great river of sadness running through us all.
Be that as it may, I eagerly welcome this space and silence. It is a space that only God can fill, and and it is a silence that’s a language all his own. This occasional solitude is a rare luxury, something that doesn’t happen to us too often, given the usual hectic routines of our life.
I remember an email I received sometime ago that says how idle the Devil actually is these days. The reason is that he doesn’t have much work to do because our lives have already become too cluttered and we have become too busy for God. In others, we have no room for the Lord and his word.
How true! At the rate we’re going, the way we always seem to be running around like frantic little headless chickens, we may, like Screwtape’s patient in the book, all end up somewhere else for all eternity. And that without our demons even lifting a finger!
So here’s a Quick Question for you: “How much room are you able to make for God in your life? Are you able to make time and create the needed space for him in the course of your day?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: cover of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters)
* “The Enemy” is, of course, the demons’ term for God.
** “Our Father,” as you may have figured out, is their term of endearment for Satan.