Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

(An Essay regarding The Screwtape Letters,[1] by C.S. Lewis and St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment[2])

            A key to discernment in the life of a Christian per The Screwtape Letters, is understanding humility and pride… “All virtues are less formidable to us [Satan and demons speaking] once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility” (Letter 14, p. 81).  Satan wants us to take false pride in our humility whereas God wants us to accept our areas of giftedness and give the glory to God alone, using our giftedness in service for His greater glory.  Turning away from self to God’s desires, letter 14 continues, “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free of any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents…” and “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things” (Letter 14, p. 84).

Ignatius wants us to see God in all things and recognize Him in all decisions and desires.  Ignatius understands the wiles of the enemy, Satan.  Satan is likely to use reverse logic on us, just as Screwtape advises Wormwood.  Rules of Discernment I, (Note 314. 1.) states, “In the case of those who go from one moral sin to another, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose [tempt] apparent pleasures.”  Satan rewards for our sins.  On the other hand, Ignatius advises that if we are in a good spirit, Satan reverses his logical method on us and “Then it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles” etc. (note 315 2.).  Forgetting the self is a key to discernment.  Attention must turn outward, away from “self” and ego for proper discernment.  Both Screwtape Letters and The Spiritual Exercises advise that we have an enemy (n. 314.1).  The enemy’s desire in the Screwtape Letters to alter our awareness of the self.

One of the temptations of our enemy can be false consolations which counterfeit God’s true consolations.  Temptations can be matters of the mind, or of our imaginations, just as well as physical feelings.  Pleasure may come from actual infidelity or from imaginary infidelity.  Deep and lasting love is justified by decisions of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whether married or not married.  In the contemplative spiritual life, spiritual chastity, spiritual poverty, and spiritual obedience bring depth, width, and height to the practice of discernment in Christian living.  Our enemy would like it otherwise because he does not like such transcendental relationships (Letter 18, p. 108) lived in lasting humility, filled with love.  Life in the practice of discernment is not only about transcendent theories of love, or worship.  This life involves a type of dying, of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  Everything is brought to light in Examenation for discernment.

C.S. Lewis speaks of “ownership.” “The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged” says Screwtape (Letter 21, p. 125).  Mankind is to think he “owns” his body, to do with as he or she pleases.  Ownership and attachment are to be valued for everything – “my” house, “my” wife, “my” country, etc. until we are completely addicted to possessions (Letter 21, p. 126).  Pride and clinging to ownership without consideration of how “things” are to be used to praise, reverence, and worship our Lord is a way of deception.  God already “owns” everything and desires us to be “stewards” of all things given to us for His greater glory. Demanding that things are “ours” brings destruction to all, just as Satan wants.

One area I find C.S. Lewis himself may not have properly discerned is the ethics of war.  Does he to think that the death of humans in battle guarantees their place in heaven?  Screwtape says, “Or do you not realize that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” (Letter 28, p. 165).  What about the Christian German soldiers, and Jews, killed and cooked to ashes in German prison camp ovens?  Are they going directly to heaven?  Are German prison camp guards sending these Jews directly to heaven?  Is Screwtape mad at Hitler too?  Perhaps C.S. Lewis has been triple tricked by the enemy in this one area.  In Letter 29 Screwtape asks, “Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with subsequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?” (Letter 29, P. 171,).  Screwtape is confused.  “There is here a cruel dilemma before us.  If we promote justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces … a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor” (Letter 29, p. 173, 174).  The Myth of Redemptive Violence continues.

How are Christians to practice discernment?  When presented choices about loving or killing, following Jesus to the cross, or not following Him, dying daily to the self or feeding the self, what are we to do?  What are we to do with the choices between two or more good things?  Proper discernment is crucial.  It is crucial not to be deceived by the ploys of Satan as are imagined in The Screwtape Letters and spoken of in The Spiritual Exercises where Ignatius warns us about the trickery and false consolations of Satan.

For a Christian in the practice of discernment, there are always choices.  The first choice may be between humility and pride.  Another choice may be between love and hate, or war and peace.  Always discerning, always choosing, hopefully always in view of what is best to love, reverence, and praise our Lord, for His greater glory!

John Cooper

[1] Ltd. Annotations copyright, 2013, by Paul McCusker, ISBN 978-0-06-202317-9

[2] From The Spiritual Exercises, by Ludovico J. Puhl, S.J. ISBN-10 0-8294-0065-6

Respect for Prayer

Respect for Prayer

            I was once a little Catholic boy…  I recall verbal prayers such as, “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts…”  “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” the “Apostle’s Creed,” etc.  One of the most effective prayers I experienced, although I did not understand much of it as prayer at the time, were the long walks in the woods.  The wonder of the things of God and the non-verbal sense of peace and communion with nature were cherished in my youth.  I also recall the prayers of Penitence Monsignor Donahue gave to me.  I was a sure fire sinner and he gave me plenty of those types of prayers.

At a conversion experience in life, I left the memorized, rote prayers for what I thought was a “better way,” verbal prayers on my knees.  Sometimes I had lists of petitions I prayed about, in long, drawn out, and I am sure, boring prayers.  I thought I was doing my duty.  Still, on occasion, the walks in the woods and thinking about the things of God were prayers interspersed with those verbal prayers.

At another crossroads in life, a renewed prayer experience was the 19th Annotation.  I was gradually being drawn back into the Roman Catholic Church of my youth.  This drawing included new types of prayers to me, Lectio Divina, and meditation, which occasionally slipped into contemplation.  Then I discovered Centering Prayer, the thoughtless communion with the Divine Mystery, a resting in the Presence of God.  This seemed like a journey into Eternity, a fathomless, non-verbal communion with God, for longtime.  More often it was just a few minutes, but to me, it was enough.  One might think that, “Oh John, now you are really going somewhere up the ladder of ascent…  I even imagined myself I was making good progress in understanding how to pray, leaving behind the “banal” memorized payers, the lists of petitions, and now entering a “more advanced” state of prayer.

Hart speaks of the motivation to pray as being a call to union with God (The Art of Christian Listening, by Thomas N. Hart, p. 49).  The reason we pray is love (p. 51).  As to the methods of prayer, he speaks of many methods (p. 60-61).  Hart respects all methods of prayer, “Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi traditions” (p. 49). As I mature in years and spirituality, I also respect all methods of prayer.  I wish I had known earlier in life, but one has to begin again when and where the grace is given, even if it is late in one’s life.

Teresa of Avila understood ways to pray at a higher level and at an earlier age in life.  She had a journey into stages of prayer which she likens to watering a garden.  She says, “I am one who underwent them for many years. [Beginner stages of prayer] When I drew but one drop of water out of this blessed well, I considered it was the mercy of God” (Teresa of Avila: Life, Ch. XI, Note 13).  I am a kindred soul on the same journey as her.  I like her tongue in cheek sarcasm, “I am a woman,” “write simply,” “you see my stupidity,” “my memory is bad,” etc. (Avila, Note 9).  Her explanations place some methods of prayer as for beginners (Avila, Note 10).  It isn’t that she disrespects anyone’s journey in prayer, but she points out we might want to advance a bit in how we draw water out of the well and how we water our spiritual gardens. We might like to be given the grace for prayer requiring less work on our part and more grace on God’s part for us.  Never-the-less, I respect the ways I used to pray, and the combination of ways I now pray.  It is crucial to respect all people’s prayers,

We are guests of this earth.  Our soul is a guest of our body.  Back when I was a little boy I must have been hard of hearing then too.  The first prayer I memorized was “Bless us, Oh Lord, for these Thy guests…”  I wondered for a long time, “When are the guests coming?”  I learned later it is really “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts…”  I think God respected both prayers and, since we are just guests on this earth, and our souls are just guests of our bodies, maybe God respected the first prayer I learned more than any prayer since….

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper

My Sin

My Sin

Before I get going on my reflections for this morning, day 166 of my St. Ignatius exercises, let me tell you about what happened to me last night when I woke up one time. I realized I had sinned. Let me tell you about it and confess it…..

 
It was on Monday, after I had gone to my Chiropractor, Dr. David Hitt, on a special visit because my back had been killing me and I had numbness in my right leg, and still do for that matter. I went into the post office to get my mail and on the way back to my truck noticed an older looking slightly blue, faded out car. I walked by it and suddenly the door popped open and a woman, perhaps a widow, or at least she had no husband with her, popped her head out in the cold air. I think I noticed a little child in a car seat in the back. Oh no, I immediately thought, I am about to be scammed, as she smiled a toothy smile that indicated she could use some dental work.

 
“Could I get a jump?” she asked with eyes looking up pleadingly. In my haste, thinking I was to be taking it easy according to my Chiropractor, I felt a sense of relief that it was not money she was asking for, but out of my mouth came the words, “I can’t do that”, as I continued to walk on. “Oh well, thanks anyway”, she politely said. I felt a little bad about it, hoping someone else would help her but I did not. I lied. I could have and probably would have if she had perhaps not surprised me, or had been a little more presentable, or perhaps had a lower cut in her dress or some other way. I sinned and will have more to say about it later.

 
Today in my Ignatian reflections I chose to meditate on Luke 21 verses 1 through 4, the text you will recognize about Jesus watching the poor widow give two copper coins into the Temple Treasury. That was all she had, Jesus said, and that had given more than all those rich folks who gave out of their plentitude.

 
Well, I got to thinking I had done something similar a couple of times in the past, but not really, because it was not really everything I had, but it was a sacrifice to me. Then “DING”, I realized the connection between my waking in the middle of the night in guilt, worried about my sin against the poor person in the car who only wanted a jump, not everything I had. Had she asked me for money too, as I suspected she would, I should have given her some. This woman was the Temple. Jesus was living in her and Jesus was watching me.

 
I was given a gift of repentance this morning as I confessed my sin and I confess it to you. Let me quote below:

 
“If you’re going to care about the fall of the sparrow, you can’t pick and choose who’s going to be the sparrow. It’s everybody.”

Madeleine L’Engle

 
Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. Also, I will be watching for this same person again. Maybe I can apologize, and listen to her story… Let me, let her, tell me, her story…

 
Epilogue:
Most of my writings on this blog site are promoting Peace and Nonviolence. Actually, this one does too. Confession and self-purification is a principle of Peace with ourselves and others, of not doing violence to ourselves and others in that we should confess our sins to one another. We should do it as Nations, as people groups, religious systems, and as individuals to set ourselves free of the interior black holes in our lives that close in on themselves if we do not.

 

Grace & Peace,

 

John Cooper