Friday, February 29, 2008

Many Things Passing Through My Head

I spent three posts on some words of Ralph Waldo Emerson; it's only fair I spend some time on those of his receiving correspondant, Thomas Carlyle.

Emerson to Carlyle, 15 Aug 1842 - letter missing

Carlyle to Emerson, 29 Aug 1842

"Thanks for asking me to write you a word in the Dial. Had such a purpose struck me long ago, there have been many things passing through my head,--march-marching as they ever do, in long-drawn, scandalous Falstaff-regiments (a man ashamed to be seen passing through Coventry with such a set!)--some one of which, snatched out of the ragged rank, and dressed and drilled a little, might perhaps fitly have been saved from Chaos, and sent to the Dial. In the future we shall be on the lookout."

Unfortunately Carlyle lost this letter of Emerson, but we get the picture. Emerson had taken over editorship of the Dial (which was the reason for his having difficulty getting to writing his chapter on poetry), and requested that Carlyle contribute something--for no compensation due to the magazine's finances. You see Carlyle's answer. He did eventually send something to Emerson to include.

I like what Carlyle says about the difficulty of capturing ideas and turning them into marketable copy. I don't even pretend to understand the Falstaff reference, so let me simplify what Carlyle said: "...there have been many things passing through my head, march-marching as they ever do, in long-drawn...regiments...some one of which, snatched out of the ragged rank, and dressed and drilled a little, might perhaps fitly have been saved from Chaos...." This describes me to a tee. Now, don't take me wrong, I am not comparing my feeble skills or finished product with the great Carlyle, but the ideas of something to write about go through my head faster that cars on the Interstate. Oh for a traffic jam that would slow them down! allowing me to look at and listen to one for a while, kick the tires and peer in the windows, and see if it might be a vehicle for publishing.

I love Carlyle's metaphor: ideas marching like new military recruits--ragged, stretched out, undisciplined, headed to chaos. He recognizes that, given a purpose, he could have captured some of them and made them fit for publishing, but he didn't. Was it the lack of a purpose? Maybe, but Carlyle was seldom without a writing project. As he wrote this letter, he was researching for a history of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth era. He never quite wrote the history, though he did publish Cromwell's letters and speeches, with elucidations. Also at this time he was working on his classic Past And Present, a treatise on what he saw as the sad state of affairs in the British Isles brought on by the Industrial Revolution. I started this book some years ago, but put it aside as being more difficult to grasp than I wanted at that time. So, maybe Carlyle did pull out of the ranks the ideas that seemed to be marching straightest, tallest, that showed the most promise for dressing and drilling.

Was it lack of desire that caused Carlyle not to do something with those many ideas, at least capture them in a notebook for possible training at a later date? Or was it because he saw, at the age of 47, that he had enough ideas already captured to take him the full distance to the end of his writing life? Sometimes I feel like that. If I found time to write every novel, every non-fiction book, every short story, every political essay, every historical-political newspaper column currently whirling through my head, and mix in a poem from time to time, and if I had no day job, no family responsibilities, no church responsibilities, no Savior to worship, I would have to live to 100, never slacking the pace or research, writing, revision, selling, and marketing to complete them all. Again, I'm no Carlyle, but I get his drift.

Oh to pluck a few more ideas from the ranks and begin to dress them and drill them and save them from Chaos.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Few More Thoughts On Emerson's Words

I want to make one more post on the words Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Thomas Carlyle in 1842. For convenience, here's the quote.

"I had it fully in my heart to write at large leisure in noble mornings opened by prayer or readings from Plato or whomsoever else is dearest to the Morning Muse, a new chapter on Poetry, for which all readings, all studies, are but preparation; but now it is July, and my chapter is in rudest beginnings. Yet when I go out of doors in the summer night, and see how high the stars are, I am persuaded that there is time enough for all that I must do; and the good world manifests very little impatience."

I find in these words much to apply to my own life. I'm not comparing my writings to his, nor my brain power to his, but I find much in his words to inform and inspire me. Consider these nuggets.

1. I had it in my heart to write pretty much sums up how I feel. This desire hit me relatively late in life compared to Emerson, who seems to have written essays from the moment his motor skills were sufficient to use a pen. But I have it in my heart now, and early enough in life that there is time enough for all that I must do. These umpteen ideas running through my head will hopefully each find their quiet time in turn, and turn into words on paper.

2. to write at leisure in mornings tells me that Emerson planned his day, and had a specific writing time. His output was perhaps not the most prolific among writers of his stature, but it is certainly some of the best. I could stand to emulate his habits: to write at a specific time, possibly in the morning when the mind is freshest; to write at leisure, by which I think he means at an unhurried pace, allowing the mind adequate to think before the hand moves the pen. Yet Emerson's obligations, especially his recent assumption of the editorship of The Dial magazine, caused him to not have his leisurely writing time in noble mornings, and not prayers, nor Plato, nor anything else was helping him get his chapter written on poetry. How well I can relate to that! Though my interruptions are much more mundane, such as a day job, family responsibilities, and a thousand trappings of community. Oh that it would be an editorship that stunts my writing!

3. my chapter is in rudest beginnings tells me that Emerson had a realistic understanding of his skills and where his writing stood at any given time relative to what he knew the finished product should look like. By rudest beginning, I don't know if he means barely started, or written but still subject to significant editing, or maybe just in outline form. No matter; I need to keep repeating Scavella's Mantra: I'm not as good as I think I am.

4. the good world tells me something of Emerson's overall outlook of life. The world was good, good enough to say so to his friend, good enough to write about. Emerson was optimistic about life, and I believe his writings reflect that. In comparison, his friend Carlyle was down right dour and pessimistic. He felt like the world was going downhill fast, and English civilization well past its zenith. Unfortunately, my outlook on this world is closer to Carlyle than to Emerson, and I'm sure my writing reflects that. I need to be able to say "the good world" and mean it. There is good in the world, but unfortunately the bad overwhelms it sometimes. Help me, Lord, to look for the good around me and let my outlook be atuned to that.

Soon I will give a quote from one of Carlyle's letters, in which I find some inspiration and comfort.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The World Manifests Little Impatience

Today I'd like to look at the other part of Emerson's statement to Carlyle: "Yet when I go out of doors in the summer night, and see how high the stars are, I am persuaded there is time enough for all that I must do; and the good world manifests very little impatience."

Even for a writer of the stature of Emerson, just in his early 40s when he wrote that, but already with a following for his lectures and essays, the world was not clamoring for his works to be rushed to print; no demand for accelerating the process. Emerson recognized that, and seems was not troubled by it. If there was time enough for all that he must do, the readership would be there when it was done.

So with me, so with me. The world is not clamoring for my work, either. Editors are not calling; agents are not filling my inbox with urgent e-mails--indeed, they are not begging me for partial manuscripts and proposals. Jon at work may be a little impatient for me to get back to writing my baseball novel, but most likely he's being nice. My writing critique group, which I attend very rarely nowadays, may rave at my stuff and urge me to get it published, but they are hardly "the world."

Tonight when I got home from church and took the day's mail from the mailbox, I looked up at the clear, brilliant southern sky. Orion is still fully visible, signifying plenty of the current season left. The Hunter looked just like he did when I was in Boy Scouts and learning about constellations. Forty-five years and he hasn't aged a bit. Yes, there is time enough, and the good world manifests little impatience for my work. I'll deal with it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time enough for all that I must do

I have a new writing project, which I'm not going to write about here until I'm further along in it. This project has both stretched me thin and caused me to temporarily lay aside some other things I was working on or working up to.

I found a passage in Emerson's writing applicable to this. I must first digress to tell about yesterday's mundane activities. Part of this was foraging in used bookstores--just two, actually: the Friendly Bookstore in Rogers, run by the Friends of the Rogers Library, and the Salvation Army thrift store in Rogers. We also spent a pleasant hour at the Bentonville library, a new facility that has a coffee bar (I bought a large house blend) and plenty of space to simply browse and read at leisure. But I prate. At the Friendly Bookstore, I found three volumes I wanted. Two are somewhat inconsequential, but the third is a find: The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 2, printed in 1888. I have read both volumes 1 and 2 of this work, which is available in the public domain, specifically at Project Gutenberg, but there is something about having the words in your hand, rather than on the screen. The feel of the book, the care to protect its fragile condition, the sight of the browning pages, are all wonders when compared to pixels and plastic, electricity and fans, which are lost when the power ceases.

So of course I opened this book and began reading. Since this is volume 2 only, I had a distinct feeling of coming in on the middle of something. But Emerson, in his wisdom, rewarded me for being an interloper. After covering life's business, he turned to his own writing and had this to say: "I had it fully in my heart to write at large leisure in noble mornings opened by prayer or readings from Plato or whomsoever else is dearest to the Morning Muse, a new chapter on Poetry, for which all readings, all studies, are but preparation; but now it is July, and my chapter is in rudest beginnings. Yet when I go out of doors in the summer night, and see how high the stars are, I am persuaded that there is time enough for all that I must do; and the good world manifests very little impatience."

So much to consider in these words, not the words of a well-worked lecture or chapter in a non-fiction book, but a simple letter to a friend, possibly not even proof-read as they were jotted down, possibly with no draft and revision. "There is time enough for all that I must do." That is something I really need to learn. With this new project started and uncomplete projects dropped or delayed, I need to say this over and over again, and take it to heart. Fifty-six years are gone; who knows how many are ahead. There is time enough, time enough.

By the way, this Blogger software is messing up the line spacing whenever I use the quote feature, so I'm not going to use the quote feature for a while, not until I can figure out how to do it right.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Marvelling at the Old Time Authors

Spend any time in writer training, either in real life or on line, and you will hear some variation of this as the process for writing good material.

1. Write
2. Revise
3. Repeat step 2 until it is perfect.

Authors are encouraged to write as fast as they can. Get it down on paper (or on the screen). Don't worry about the quality--that's what revisions are for. When you finish the full piece, go back and revise, revise, revise and make it a quality product. Revise it some more to take out all your bad habits and enhance those good habits you don't have yet. Revise some more. Perfect it. Edit it as many times as necessary to make it perfect. Almost everyone who teaches or coaches writers advocate this type of approach or something similar.

This is easy in the computer era. Successive revisions on a screen cost nothing but the electricity to run the machine, and it was probably running anyway. Occasional printouts have a cost of paper and toner, but printing fast-draft on re-used paper even reduces this cost. We have become a generation of writers who tend to write first and think later. Somehow out of this brain to fingers process we wind up with a finished product, hopefully a good piece--no, an excellent piece--no, a perfect piece.

My recent reading among writers of generations past has led me to think about how they approached writing. What about in the typewriter era, with all the cut and paste and re-typing? What about in the pre-typewriter era, when everything was written, and each revision meant a rewrite, at a time when ink and paper was more expensive than today? What about in ancient times, say at the time of Jesus Christ, when paper was papyrus, ink was soot mixed with water, and pens were quills or worse? Surely the ancients, and the moderately-distant past writers followed a different approach. They must have spent a lot more time forming the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs in their heads--an inexpensive medium, those gray cells--before putting anything on paper.

When Emerson put these words on paper in 1834 with his own hand, how many drafts did he go through?

Believe then that the harp and ear are formed by one revolution of the wheel; that men are waiting to hear your epical song; and so be pleased to skip those excursive involved glees, and give us the simple air, without the volley of variations.

And, when Carlyle wrote this back the same year, did he think first and write later, or the other way around?

Poor Teufelsdrockh!--Creature of mischance, miscalculation, and thousand-fold obstruction! Here nevertheless he is, as you see; has struggled across the Stygian marshes, and now, as a stiched pamplet "for Friends" cannot be burnt or lost before his time.

These were just in letters between the two, and yet the writing is excellent, full of wit and wisdom, full of erudition. Such did not come from spilling their guts onto successive pieces of paper, but from churning words in the brain over a period of years. You might say these men are not typical of the writers of their day, but sit on the shoulders of all others. Perhaps so. But I wonder how much their process of writing (think, churn, write, revise, send) made them so.

My point? I don't know that I have one; just pondering about how we have changed. I began a new writing project Sunday night (as if I'm not trying too many things now), and spent the time Sunday in reading for research and putting concepts on paper. I did a little of the same on Monday, then went to the computer and followed the write fast method, getting as much on disc as I could. When I read it tonight or tomorrow, will I see the makings of something good, or simple rot-gut?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Loving Books

I was not going to blog about this today, but I can't pass it up.

Each morning I arrive at work about 7:00 AM. I don't have to start until 8:00 AM (though I'm not really on the clock and can set my own hours), but I come in early to miss traffic. That hour becomes mine. I have devotions and a prayer, a somewhat brief time with God, but becoming more meaningful the longer the habit continues. I print out my diary sheet for the day then lay it aside. I tear yesterday off my Dilbert desk calendar and enjoy the new laugh. I check out one or two of the writing web sites I either review or participate in, and sometimes make a post (made two this morning). Then I pull out something to read. For over a year I read a letter in the exchange between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle. These two giants of literature would speak to me through their words.

Once I finished both volumes of those letters, I picked up again Life And Letters Of Lord Macaulay, Volume 1, by Sir George Otto Trevelyan, Macaulay's nephew and literary executor. I found this book on Project Gutenberg, downloaded it, formatted it for printing, and printed it front and back. Several years ago I began reading it and read a good way through it, then laid it aside for Emerson and Carlyle. Now, without something new to read, I have picked it up again and read it for twenty to thirty minutes during "my" hour. Today I read (actually reading--I interupted it to make this post) his Feb 8, 1835 letter to Thomas F. Ellis. Macaulay was living in Calcutta, India, and was in the depths of despair, having learned in the previous month that his youngest sister had died in England. He makes this statement:
That I have not utterly sunk under this blow I owe chiefly to literature. What a blessing it is to love books as I love them;--to be able to converse with the dead, and to live amidst the unreal!
I thought that was an excellent observation, and pretty much sums up my feelings. Of course, for me it doesn't have to be "literature" per se. A textbook, and engineering book, even popular novel will do just as well.

Now back to Macaulay, to see what he says to Ellis about Pindar and Homer.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Feast and Famine

As I've said before, my day job sure gets in the way of writing!

I'm a corporate trainer for a civil engineering company. Since I'm also the senior engineer for the company, I wind up getting involved in a number of special needs, and am given those things all the youngin's don't know how to do. Since the company is in the midst of a slowdown, travel is restricted, and I'm not traveling to the branch offices to hold training classes. It's been a time where I had to force myself to keep concentration. I've always had plenty to do, but a lot of it was self-starter type stuff.

That all changed this week. I found a training seminar we can have in-house via a conference call, and invite in a bunch of clients and potential clients. This week I started the ball rolling on that. A "white paper" I wrote on a marketing issue a few months ago came up this week, and I'm to present it at a managers meeting next week. Our Phoenix office has a problem project, and I'm trying to help them out. Our Dallas office has a municipal recreational project for which that they weren't sure how to write the specifications, so I'm helping them, trying to teach them how to do it rather than do it for them--by long distance, of course. I've been working on revising a detail (our name for detailed information about a specific piece of construction work that goes on our construction drawings) that involves a change in the way we do our engineering. I'm finally ready to do the work needed, which is getting some final reviews, and that came to a head this week. On a large, local project, there is a sudden fear that an item I designed a year ago using approximate methods will not withstand the applied loads, so I now have to do a rigorous design. That is coming up this week. And the usual mix of people coming by my desk, asking for help with this or that relatively minor issue intensified a little. Maybe that is a leading indicator that our work load is increasing.

All of these things are unfinished as the work week ended. Next week will see all of these continuing, with more things added. Thus my time for writing will likely be minimal. I won't be able to sneak a few minutes here and there to read writing blogs and web sites. I'll likely have to work a few extra hours during the week, and I'll likely be mentally exhausted at the end of the work day. None of that bodes well for finding time to write, so I may be reading in my evening hours. This will be a real test of my mental stamina.

At least I'm not playing any computer games!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Tentacles of Research

I find myself with more time on my hands while abstaining from computer games during Lent. Last night I used that time to return to research on Doctor Luke's Assistant, things that have been nagging me and leaving me fearful that some things might not be historically accurate. So, using the miracle of search engines, I began this task.

In the book, I have the educated farmer, Jacob of Ain Karem, making ink from animal blood and keeping it in a container fashioned from a leg bone of an ox. Is this even possible? Would the blood congeal, even if mixed with something? Would it be absorbed into the bone? Or would it form a film, that maybe would prevent very much from absorbing? This may not be a major item, but I'd like to get it right.

So I searched for "ancient documents" and "ink", and had the usual large number of hits, many of which were not germane. One, however, was to the book Forty Centuries Of Ink, by David N. Carvalho. Who knew such a book existing, or that it was on-line at . I haven't yet found the answer to my question, but I have much more of this to read, and other links to pursue.

Then, since I'm preparing the correspondence of Augustus ben Adam, assistant to Doctor Luke, I wanted to research some expert references regarding ancient letters for form and content. I've done some of this already, but not as extensive as I'd like. So I searched for "ancient letters" and had thousands of returns, some amazing documents, either books or articles on-line, or blogs, or professors' web sites. And these sites have hundreds of references to original sources they used. It's a veritable treasure trove of information. When I am at home tonight, I will edit in some of the names of the originally found document and some of the references of interest. How I would love to access and read it all!

But, maybe I don't need to go that far. While perhaps one article or book cannot be considered definitive, maybe two is enough for the purpose at hand. The derivative research, which would be more pleasure than research, will have to wait.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Waiting, Waiting

Three months and three days. That's how long it's been since I sent a partial manuscrpt of Doctor Luke's Assistant to an agent I met at a conference. The agent requested the partial, and I complied a couple of days later. No word since them. This is about at the time when, if you listen to on-line writer groups, I should be thinking about a refresher contact to the agent. I think I'll wait another couple of months, however. It seems the waiting is getting harder on this one the longer it goes on.

Four months. That's how long it's been since I sent four items out for consideration by four different periodicals. Three were poems; one was a literary essay. I heard back from two of them over the next two months--two rejections. The other two, nothing. These are not ones I'm sweating over, as I don't think much payment, if any, is involved, and not a lot of noteriety. Still, knowing would be better than not knowing.

One day. That's how long it will be before they announce the results of the Valentine's Day love sonnet contest at Absolute Write. I entered an older one titled "Motif No. 1", a take-off of the famous fishing hut in Rockport, Massachusetts. One of forty-five entries with five prizes being awarded, I think I have a decent chance to get something. But I've been disappointed before, so my hopes aren't really up.

Waiting is part of the writing industry, with most waits ending in the disappointment of rejection. We'll see what these four unresolved submittals hold.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

So Much To Do

The whirlwind of life never seems to slacken. Or maybe I should phrase that otherwise, for life is not always a whirlwind. The things that tug at my time, things I would rather not be doing, continue to tug. When I resist, I feel the tension. When I yield, harmony reigns in life, though in my inner most being, I feel less fulfilled.

Today was the Lord's day, the Christian Sabbath, meant to be a day of rest and worship, recovery and devotion. So how did I spend it? Slept till 8:30 AM, since we were having a special service today and no Sunday School. Before leaving, read 1 Kings 16, 17, and 18, from which I will be teaching an adult Sunday School class beginning next month (on the lives of Elijah and Elisha). Church was in the gymnasium today, a special service for Upwards Basketball. We had a huge congregation, with many, many visitors. Drove by someone's house to loan a book, but they weren't home. Drove through their neighborhood, for some reason. Dropped off our recyclables. Went to Wal-Mart for grocery shopping. Came home and had meatloaf sandwiches. Read a few pages in a book. Took a nap, which lasted from about 2:15 to 4:00 PM. Spent time on the computer, posting to a political blog, then reading at a writers site. Read more in the book. Cooked a frozen pizza and ate. Read more in the book. Fixed popcorn and ate it. Read more in the book. Came downstairs, where I first filed some papers and checked e-mail before deciding what to post hear.

So did I keep the Sabbath? I hope so, maybe except for that shopping. Now, downstairs in "The Dungeon", as we call our computer room, I'm faced with choices of what to do. I filed a few papers, as I said, but a stack remains on the table. Still, if I file as many each day as I did a few minutes ago (11, I think), I will soon be caught up and can stay up to date. If I spread out reading writer websites and blogs, I'll recover perhaps 75 minutes a day (between work and home). Maybe, just maybe, that would help me see my way clear to write more often.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Getting Things Done, Part 2: The Impact of Lent

Lent began yesterday, and, while I haven't been in a church that practiced Lenten rituals in over thirty-five years (I do miss the hot-cross buns), last year I decided to use Lent as a springboard to give up a negative habit: computer games. I did so sucessfully, not even playing games on Sundays (which are not part of Lent), although I did backslide one day near the end of Lent and play a few. In the ten and a half months since, however, the bad habit has returned, and now I find mself eliminating mines and moving cards instead of tending toward business, that is, my avocations of writing, genealogy, and Christain studies. Thank God that all games are deleted from our computers at work, and it's only at home that I have the problem.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a new Lent season, I decided to do it again. So Tuesday night was the last time I'll see Solitare and Free Cell for forty days plus Sundays. Maybe, this year, the habit will stick and I will find myself still game free when Lent begins in 2009.

So what did I do with the time? Did I write a column in the Documenting America series? Did I work on a chapter in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming Poeple? Did I market anything? Did I pursue a new ancestor, and try to drag him/her out of the depths of some Internet web page? Did I start a new poem?

No, but I did something perhaps more important for the needs of the moment: I started on my income taxes. I had the goal for the evening, only one or two hours work, of making a start on the taxes for our (my wife's and mine) home business partnership taxes. I hoped at best to copy the spreadsheet from last year, wherein I calculate profit and loss, and make a handful of entries to check the formulas; in addition, I hoped to gather all the papers needed to complete the calculations another day. Instead, I was able to enter ALL of the transactions for our main business, leaving only the irregular items to do tonight. Since these are a much smaller set, I should be able to finish that tonight and know what profit we made. Yes, we appear to have made a profit this year, the first in four years of operating.

Which gives me a wonderful feeling of getting things done. Oh what I might accomplish in life if I could wrap my brain and body around getting things done that need to be done. If Lent can help me with that, I will celebrate it every year.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Reflections on the Death of Poetry

This is a frequent topic on the poetry boards I participate in and monitor. Poetry, if not dead, is minutes away from expiring. People don't buy it; people don't read it; newspapers don't print it and don't print reviews of it. Poets no longer have influence as they once did. The debate is heated on what has caused this. Some say competing entertainments, such as movies, television, and the internet has drawn off all but the most dedicated readers. Others say that poetry is imploding, due to the dominance of masters of fine arts (MFA) programs and how they produce poets just like their instructors, who are just like their instructors, thus resulting in a similarity of poetry that is strangling. Others say that the poetry community at large is to blame, that they are writing poetry that no one but other poets (or other MFA grads) want to read.

I think it is a combination of these. Many more entertainments exist than, say, when Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot were starting their careers--pre radio, pre television, etc. Entertainment in the home consisted of reading, and little else. Poetry was among the items read. But why does poetry not compete well with television, et al? I think it's because poetry, as the most compressed type of language, requires the greatest use of brain power of all the written arts. Prose requires less, visual arts less still, motive visual arts even less. So when faces with a choice of brain-taxing poetry reading or mindless sexually-oriented sitcoms most people choose the sitcoms.

However, I do find fault with poets for not providing a product their audience wants. I have always been partial to poems with rhyme and meter (or rhythm), but it seems poets and their marketing outlets (many of which are MFA-led "literary" journals) find fault with rhyme and meter, and go for free verse exclusively. The vast majority of the people simply don't like free verse. Why? I think Screwtape (see my last post) answered that. People have a love of change, while at the same time a love of permanence or stability. God fulfills that through rhymthm. The seasons change, but always come back to each other year after year. Daylight follows darkness. Low tide follows high tide. In poetry, rhyme and meter in poems to specific forms seem most enjoyable to the largest group of people. Yet, about the same time radio came in, the poets en-massse began moving away from rhyme and meter. Hence, in the face of a shrinking market, the poets turned their backs on what that shrinking market wanted.


Sunday, February 3, 2008


I first read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in 1975, and kept the small paperback copy I had of it until my daughter ran off with it (since returned). As a young man just starting my Christian walk, this book had a profound effect on me. Still, the years gave no opportunity for me to read it again until recently. I suggested to the co-teacher of our adult Sunday School class that this would be a good book to study. I found a study guide from Progeny Press, and we began the study last October, finishing up just today. While C.S. Lewis is sometimes very dense in his writing, everyone today said they were glad we did the study, that they got much out of it.

Now, much further into my Christian life, The Screwtape Letters has once again had a profound effect on me. I love the way Lewis puts himself into the voice of one of Satan's helpers, the senior demon Screwtape, who is corresponding with his nephew Wormword. Wormwood is just beginning his career as a tempter, and has been assigned to a young man in England, about the time that World War 2 is beginning. We never do learn who Wormwood is tempting; his is simply identified as "the Patient". But we learn much about him, as early in the book he becomes an adult convert to Christianity (reported by Wormwood and commented on by Screwtape in Letter 2). Screwtape tells Wormwood, "There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's [meaning God] camp and are not with us."

Throughout the rest of the book, Screwtape coaches Wormwood in the art of temptation, while Wormwood, in letters that we don't see, reports to Screwtape about what he is doing to tempt the patient and what the result is. The result is a wonderful insight into human nature, our relationship with God, and what temptation and sin are all about. When the patient's rocky relationship with his mother does not improve after his conversion, Screwtape tells Wormwood, "It is...impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always "spiritual," that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism." When the patient acquires a new set of friends, Screwtape says they "are just the sort of people we want him to know--rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly sceptical about everything in the world." When the patient meets and falls in love with a Christian woman who would be a perfect helpmate to him, Screwtape says of her, "a two-faced little cheat...who looks as if she'd faint at the sight of blood, and then dies with a smile...filthy, insipid little prude...she makes me want to vomit!"

With many such statements, Lewis keeps us entertained, while at the same time helping us to understand ourselves. In Letter 25 he talked about similarity and change, and has Screwtape tell how the world below has caused human ("two-legged vermin") to have a horror of "the same old thing". Humans want change, and the tempters should give it to them. But Screwtape warns Wormwood how God provides for change in a positive way. "The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart--an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconsistency in friendship...The humans...need change, [so] the Enenmy...has made change pleasurable to them....He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm." Wonder, wonderful stuff.

The main theme which seemed to stand out to me, in a way it didn't 33 years ago, was that Screwtape advised Wormwood to direct the man into a state of confusion. Confusion is what drives people to Satan. Unsaid was that order drives people to God: orderly habits, orderly thinking, orderly praying, etc.

If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters, I urge you to do so. Don't just read it: study it, meditate on it, reflection on Lewis's genius, and grow because of it.