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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

If I Were the Evil Spirit…

The great British writer C. S. Lewis wrote (in the midst of World War II) an intriguing book entitled The Screwtape Letters. The book, one of his most popular works, consists of letters written by a major devil, Screwtape, to his nephew devil, Wormwood. He advises the younger devil on how to best tempt a Christian man (referred to as the Patient) into sin and possibly even lead him into Hell.

Screwtape advises Wormwood to convince the Patient that religion is an internal spiritual thing rather than an outward way of being in the world. He should also persuade the Patient to believe that he is better than his fellow churchgoers. In addition, Wormwood should work hard to get the man to marry a woman who will have a very negative impact on his life and faith. I won’t tell you how the story ends. But the book made a deep impression on me when I read it as a college student many years ago.

Years later, with Lewis’ book in mind, I wrote a short reflection entitled “If I Were the Evil Spirit.” It was included in my book, Rummaging for God. Here are some excerpts from that reflection.

Photo by Elti Meshau – Pexels)

“If I were the Evil Spirit, I would work very hard to prevent good people from doing good things. What tactics would I use? I would make evil attractive. I would make it easy to do. I would make evil look natural and fun. On the other hand, I would make goodness look unattractive and difficult to do. I would make goodness look unnatural and boring.

If I were the Evil Spirit, I would be persistent. I would never give up. I would never leave good people alone. I would often make use of one of my most effective ploys: discouragement. If I couldn’t get good people to actually engage in evil acts, I would discourage them from engaging in good acts. How? By whispering in their ear things like this: “You are only one person, you know… what good can you do?… Christianity has been tried and it has failed… why waste your time with it?”

If I were the Evil Spirit, I would put in long hours convincing people to fear and mistrust everyone and everything. I would split good people into factions. How would I accomplish that? I would rely a lot on basic human insecurity and low self-esteem. These have proven effective throughout human history for unleashing all kinds of evil—even entire evil empires! I would also distract good people from doing good things. I would draw their attention to petty things. I would get them to focus more on their personal appearance than the poor in their midst. I would convince them that non-essentials were essentials, institutions mattered more than individuals, and personal freedom always superseded the common good.

(Photo by Rahul – Pexels)

If I were the Evil Spirit, I would convince people that God does not exist. If that proves impossible, then I would tell them that God is far, far away and is not interested in them at all. I would say to people, “Do you really think God cares one iota about your puny little life?” I would also argue that God holds grudges and never forgets the wrongs they have done. If they say, “But what about the parable of the Prodigal son?” I’d say, “It’s just a story. Nothing more than wishful thinking.” I would also convince people that they are alone in the world. I would whisper, “No one can possibly understand what you’re thinking and feeling.” Isolating people from one another is one of my most effective tactics.

If I were the Evil Spirit I would have my work cut out for me. My job would be difficult, yes, but far from impossible.”

C. S. Lewis said that writing The Screwtape Letters was “not fun” for him. Maybe reading this reflection was “not fun” for you. So let me close with this beautiful insight from the book. At one point, Screwtape and Wormwood reflect on God’s great love for humankind. Neither devil can comprehend why God loves human beings so unendingly and so completely. It’s ironic, I thought: The evil spirits seem to appreciate God’s great love for humans more than humans do! Amen.

(Photo by Pixabay)

For reflection:

Would any of the Evil Spirit’s tactics work on you?

What other tactics do you think the Evil Spirit uses?

PS: Once again I am posting this reflection on Sunday (July 10th) hoping it arrives to you by Monday or Tuesday.

As Christians, we believe Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be with us always. Let us conclude today’s reflection by praying these beautiful words to the Holy Spirit. The song is entitled simply, “Welcome, Hoy Spirit.” May the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the flowing water, bring you peace and courage this day.

I hope many of you will respond below to today’s reflection. Your simple additions and profound insights enrich my blog! Thank you!

27 Responses

  1. I’m a recent newcomer to your blog and want you to know how much I appreciate it. It’s a peaceful, calming, loving and restful experience to me. I feel like I’m soaking up warmth and goodness and love. Thank you so very much, may God bless you abundantly.

  2. I too have just read your blog for the very first time! My husband and I enjoy reading your words when you write in Give Is This Day. My husband’s son sent him a small collection of C. S. Lewis’s books, one being the Screwtape Letters. Now I intend to read it for myself! I am having surgery Tuesday and part of my recuperating time will be spent reading and praying. Thank you, Sister for inspiring me to read more of CSL. I am currently reading the Complete Tales of Narnia with very much enjoyment.

  3. Dear Maureen, My favorite book by C. S. Lewis is “A Grief Observed.” It consists of excerpts from his journal when his wife, Joy, died of cancer. Louis married later in life in 1956. He was 58. Joy died of cancer in 1960. I have read this book when I struggled with my own grief, and I have recommended it to others who are mourning a significant loss. Other favorites include “The Four Loves,” “Mere Christianity,” “Surprised by Joy,” “The Great Divorce” (his vision of Hell)… I’d better stop. Maybe other readers would like to recommend their favorite C.S. Lewis book(s). Welcome to “Sunflower Seeds,” Maureen!

  4. Good morning, Sister: I always look forward to your blog on Monday morning, it gets my week started off on the right note. I was surprised this morning because I am just reading The Screwtape Letter for my parish small group summer discussion. I liked your thoughts and I am going to suggest that the others in my group read your blog for inspiration. Thank you.

    1. I have read the entire “Narnia” series. My favorite is the “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, probably because our daughter, Melanie, was cast as Susan many years ago (around 1986 or 1987) when the Christian Theological Seminary produced it in Indianapolis. At the end of the series, I was shocked to discover that Susan wasn’t really a very nice person. I need to read “The Screw Tape Letters” again.
      “Mere Christianity” is another good one.
      I’m going to suggest our” Zoom” book club choose a C. S. Lewis book for our next read.

  5. Beautiful reflection today, Sister Melannie! Thank you for such insight.

    Can you resubscribe me to your weekly blog? Right now, I’m having to go to your website to read your reflections.

    Thank you!


    [email protected]

    1. Dear Sr. Melanie,
      I too, like Liz, have to go to your website, ever since I changed my email. I’d love to be resuscribed, if you can remove the Century Link email.
      Your blog always has profound insights every week! God bless you!
      Cathy B.

  6. We have always loved the Narnia series. Of course we are a bit prejudiced because we had a daughter who played Susan in a theatre production of “The loin, the witch, and the wardrobe”. We now belong to a book club on ZOOM and we’re thinking may 1 or 2 of his books make make good choices for the club to read. I found this week to be very interesting. From the view of 85 years old I found some of the thoughts and idea’s were things I could identify with in younger years of my life. We’ve been married 66 years and have 8 children and around 30 or so progeny. I think every possible argument has been tried and rejected by now. I still feel God within and try to find him without when ever possible. I know he is in everything in existence (we’re Franciscan) but sadly not everyone else has found him, yet. God Bless, VJC & JL Canatsey

    1. Hi Jack, Yes the Narnia series has been very popular. It’s so imaginative! I appreciated your words: “I still feel God within and try to find him without whenever possible.” Thanks for sharing these words with us! Gratefully, Melannie

  7. This meditaion is SO relevant for me right now. I have a dear, dear family who have read and recommend Screwtape Letters, and in fact, give it to young people they know for confirmation. Yet in the last year, both adults have clearly come under the spell of EVIL — they have changed so much and it’s happened exactly the way you would do it if you were an evil spirit. I pray and pray for them — it terrifies me that they are doing this and that they have four children who are at very impressionable ages. Your description of how you’d do evil is spot on for how I see them sliding into it. We need to pray for all those who are on that slippery slope. I WANT these dear people with me in the kingdom…

  8. I also find inspiration in Lewis’s writing. I was thinking about Eustace in the Dawn Treader book. It was pretty easy for him with his selfish ways to become a dragon, but only through becoming less selfish and more giving could he change back. Even then he couldn’t do it alone. I guess to me this story exemplifies the devil’s way of tempting us a bit at a time but I hope and pray that each person has time to realize they don’t like what they’ve become and with God’s grace begin steps toward change.

    1. A good questions for us to ponder always: What kind of a person are we becoming? And do we want to be this kind of person? A good friend or spiritual director… and daily prayer… can help us with these questions. Thanks, Emilia! Melannie

    1. Sylvia, That problem is beyond me. I haven’t heard from others that this is a problem. Do you have someone you can consult on your end? I hope so! The pictures are usually very good and support the words each week. I hate having you miss them! Melannie

  9. Sr. Melanie I think The Screwtape Letters should be required reading for every Christian! It’s difficult to convince people just how insidious Satan is or even that he exists. Love C. S. Lewis’ writing. Thanks for spreading the word. Love getting your emails on Mondays!

    1. Dear Ceil, Thank you for your encouraging words… Yes, Lewis’ writing deserve to be read and talked about. By the way, did you know he died on the same day and year as President Kennedy?

  10. Good Tuesday morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    I read The Screwtape Letters in college — long, long time ago. As I recall, Screwtape urges Wormwood to keep the man away from beauty — museums, classical music, etc. — because beauty leads us to God. I think Lewis might be echoing Saint Paul’s exhortation that we keep our minds fixed on all that is true and good and beautiful. For some reason I’ve never forgotten that. I have two friends who are atheists, but they love the beauty of the arts, the beauty of nature, the beauty of kindness. I’d like to think this is the way God is showing her love to them.

    Of course, the other bit of advice I remember Screwtape giving to Wormwood is to convince the man that the devil doesn’t exist. Yikes! Sometimes I wonder about that very thing. In light of the spate of gun violence we’ve recently endured, I’ve heard that many of the shooters have had their minds altered by endless hours of trolling and scrolling through the “dark web,” a place of nihilistic despair. Evil indeed!

    1. John, Thank you for the reminder about beauty leading to God… Next week’s blog is going to highlight beauty again… And interesting comment about some of those shooters trolling the dark web”… Thanks again for your words, John. Melannie

  11. Thank you, Sister Melanie. I enjoyed your reflection. My husband and I worked with post-Confirmation students previously in a parish and we would discuss sections of the “Screwtape Letters” with them. There is a version that has been adapted just slightly to an audio theatrical recording which we sometimes used to helpe engage the students. I have never read Lewis’ book on grief, and am currently faced with a couple of huge losses, so I appreciate the recommendation. Thank you so much!

    1. Jennifer, I was really intrigued by your response–using “Screwtape Letters” with post-confirmation students. And that audio theatrical adaptation sounds fascinating too. You and your husband sound like great teachers!… My prayers and sympathy for your loses, Jennifer… Melannie

    2. Jennifer,
      Did you and your husband use a particular Screwtape Letters study guide with your post-Confirmation students?

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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