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The Screwtape Letters XXII

Posted by C.S. Lewis on

XXII

My Dear Wormwood,

So! Your man is in love - and in the worst kind he could possibly have fallen into - and with a girl who does not even appear in the report you sent me. You may be interested to learn that the little misunderstanding with the Secret Police which you tried to raise about some unguarded expressions in one of my letters has been tided over. If you were reckoning on that to secure my good offices, you will find yourself mistaken. You shall pay for that as well as for your other blunders. Meanwhile I enclose a little booklet, just issued, on the new House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters. It is profusely illustrated and you will not find a dull page in it.

I have looked up this girl's dossier and am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian - a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit. She stinks and scalds through the very pages of the dossier. It drives me mad, the way the world has worsened. We'd have had her to the arena in the old days. That's what her sort is made for. Not that she'd do much good there, either. A two-faced little cheat (I know the sort) who looks as if she'd faint at the sight of blood and then dies with a smile. A cheat in every way. Looks as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth and yet has a satirical wit. The sort of creature who'd find ME funny! Filthy insipid little prude - and yet ready to fall into this booby's arms like any other breeding animal. Why doesn't the Enemy blast her for it, if He's so moonstruck by virginity - instead of looking on them, grinning?

He's a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are "pleasures for evermore." Ugh! I don't think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He's vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least - sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side. (Not that that excuses you. I'll settle with you presently. You have always hated me and been insolent when you dared.)

Then, of course, he gets to know this woman's family and whole circle. Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odor. The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a weekend visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. And a house full of the impenetrable mystery. We are certain (it is a matter of first principles) that each member of the family must in some way be making capital out of the others - but we can't find out how. They guard as jealously as the Enemy Himself the secret of what really lies behind this pretense of disinterested love. The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity. It nears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven: "the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence."

Music and silence - how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell - though longer ago than humans' reckoning in light years, could express - no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise - Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile - Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress. Meanwhile you, disgusting little --- ---

[Here the MS. breaks off and is resumed in a different hand.]

In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. Now that the transformation is  complete I recognize it as a periodical phenomenon. Some rumor of it has reach the humans and a distorted account of it appears in the poet Milton, with the ridiculous addition that such changes of shape are a "punishment" imposed on us by the Enemy. A more modern writer - someone with a name like Pshaw - has, however, grasped the truth. Transformation proceeds from within and is a glorious manifestation of that Life Force which Our Father would worship if he worshiped anything but himself. In my present form I feel even more anxious to see you, to unite you to myself in an indissoluble embrace.

Signed Toadpipe
For his Abysmal Sublimity Under Secretary
Screwtape, T.E., B.S., etc.

Scripture

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." ~ 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

"'Be still and know that I am God...'" ~ Psalms 46:10 (NIV)

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord..." ~ Ephesians 5:19 (NIV)

Discussion Questions

1. What part of this week's reading struck home to you the most? Why?

2. How does noise defend against "silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires"? Why do some people surround themselves with non-stop noise?

3. What kinds of things might occur when one is still and silent before God?

4. What affect to different kinds of music have on people? Consider patriotic songs, love songs, rock music, classical music, and worship.

5. Mothers often sing to calm a frightened child. Consider Psalm 63:7: "Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings." Explain what David means. How can we apply this in our lives?

6. God told Moses to teach the Israelites a song to be passed on to all generations. Name a song that instructs. Why did God choose a song to instruct the Israelites and their children?

7. How can we apply Ephesians 5:19 (above) to our lives?

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