In 1942, C.S.Lewis published one of his most enduring and endearing books. Screwtape Letters is a collection of epistles from a senior devil to his junior colleague, outlining how he should handle his ‘patient’. Lewis wrote the book as a series of articles for The Guardian newspaper and confessed that the letters were not ‘fun to write.’
Over the years Lewis’ Luciferian Letters have become ever more popular. In 2003 the Fellowship for the Performing Arts did a stage adaptation of Screwtape Letters which ran for eleven weeks in New York City and is now on a national tour. Walden Media, who produced the Narnia films has promised a film version, and various famous actors have recorded audio versions of the book–the most recent being Andy Serkis who plays Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Lewis’ classic has also spawned a sub genre of books. Peter Kreeft wrote The Snakebite Letters. Randy Alcorn has written two books, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and The Ishbane Conspiracy. Screwtape has featured in a Bono music video, the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes and there has even been a Mormon book written in the same style.
Lewis doesn’t apologize for the fact that Screwtape Letters is an entertaining and amusing read. Indeed in the opening pages he quotes Martin Luther and St Thomas More on the need to take Lucifer lightly. Luther says, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” For his part, St Thomas More writes, “The devil… that proud spirit… cannot endure to be mocked.”
A few years ago on my blog I started writing some of my own Luciferian Letters for Lent. I found the exercise to be fascinating and frightening fun. It was a challenge to see things from the devil’s point of view. Eventually I fleshed out the letters and added a plot line that begins on Shrove Tuesday and finishes on Easter Day.
What I came to realize as I wrote the book was that Luther and St. Thomas More were right. One of the best ways to battle against the devil is to mock him. Books in the tradition of Screwtape Letters do just that. Of course this doesn’t mean that we dismiss the devil or underestimate his power. What it does mean is that we engage in the battle with a sense of humor, and a sense of proportion.
Of course we must take sin seriously. The reality of the devil must be admitted and especially during Lent we must enter the spiritual battle wearing our full armor. All I am suggesting is that part of that armor should be the swift arrows of good humor and humility. Laughing at Lucifer is a good way to do just that.
Laughing at Lucifer in Lent means that we are happy warriors. We are launching out on the spiritual battle with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. The gospel says when we fast we should wash our face and put on a smile, and the spiritual writers speak always of keeping a ‘joyful Lent.’ We’re not going about as gloomy defeatists. This requires a clear understanding of our own faults and the reality of temptation. As we engage in the spiritual battle during Lent we should do so with the joyful knowledge that, no matter what, Christ’s forgiveness upholds us and that in him, as St Paul says, “we are more than conquerors.” When we face temptation we should overcome not just with a serious resolve and a whopping amount of self control, but we should also have the wisdom and insight to see the temptation for what it is and side step the attack and parry with a counter thrust in the robust spirit of a jaunty swordsman or a laughing cavalier.
We fight with joy because the devil is already defeated. On Easter Day he was trampled down forever. Furthermore, he was defeated in a kind of Divine practical joke. It was a plot reversal that would make any film maker proud. Jesus is down and the devil seems to have killed God’s Son, then in a totally unexpected twist Jesus rises again and Satan is defeated by his own wicked plan. This is the ammunition to fire at Satan. Like a teasing teenager we can point at Lucifer and say, “Loser! You were hoisted on your own petard!”
We fight with confidence because Christ has won the victory. “Principalities and powers and nothing on this world or the world to come will ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ.”
Finally, laughing at Lucifer in Lent reminds us to laugh at ourselves too. When we see his mock dignity, his pomposity, his wounded pride, his vaunted self importance, his know it all attitude and his sublime arrogance we ought to see our own souls reflected there, for if we can laugh at his foolish pride, then we ought to be able to laugh at our own as well.
I am often reminded of a dear old nun who told me that her confessor had fallen asleep while she was making her confession. She smiled ruefully and said, “Oh dear, it seems that not even my sins are very interesting!” Then she laughed and at that moment her real humility was displayed.
If we learn to laugh at Lucifer and laugh at ourselves we might find that before long we too are taking ourselves lightly and who knows – that’s when we might just fly away.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Gargoyle Code. Written in the style of C.S.Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, it is also a Lenten book. The diabolical correspondence begins on Shrove Tuesday and ends on Easter Day. Visit Fr. Dwight’s website to buy a copy here.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of thirteen books on the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is available in Catholic bookshops and through his website: dwightlongenecker.com
Follow Fr. Longenecker on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frlongenecker
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