I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters this week for something I’m working on at church and I came across this brilliant bit the other day:
The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.
For those unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, it’s important to note that the book is written entirely in the form of letters from a “senior demon” named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a “junior tempter.” The “Enemy” is God. The man is someone only called the “patient” in the book but really, the man is all of us.
The excerpt is especially timely for our day and age. We’re living in an era of cathedral-builders. Everyone’s working on the next big thing. Here in the Silicon Valley, we’re surrounded by the best and brightest, men and women who are making and creating some of the most interesting stuff in the world. And regardless of the industry, we all find ourselves caught up in the energy of this ever-growing cadre of innovators. My industry happens to be the church – the world of preachers and prophets, artists and theologians – and even we find ourselves swept up in it, laying brick on brick, admiring our cathedrals as we build them high into the limitless heavens.
There is however a subtle danger that Lewis astutely points out. It’s the danger of self-centered attachment. I have time and time again found myself dealing with this destructive sort of fastening on to the various cathedrals I work so hard to build. Sometimes it’s a message preached and other times it’s a blog post written. Sometimes it’s something else. I build my cathedrals and admire them as my own. But soon enough, each and every time, they come crashing down and I’m left with the familiar rubble of my own shallowness and self-centric tendencies. Much like a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall, the real power of the cathedrals we think we’re building lies in something completely beyond us. The sooner we recognize that, the better off we’ll be.
Some friends of mine wrote a song a while back called Cathedral (be forewarned – it’s loud). The song is about the Church and the many ways we try to build her in our own image…
We raised Her body.
We made Her mind think.
We told Her mouth speak.
We built Her heart beat.
…only to be left with a single unwavering question in the end: But where’s Her spirit?
Despite all our best efforts, all of our brilliance and imagination, there is only one thing that elevates those cathedrals which most move and inspire us. Spirit. And for that, may we acknowledge God alone, who is Himself the Spirit and gives to us freely. As Lewis encourages us, may we rejoice, free from any bias in our own favor, with gratitude.