Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From the Abyss, with Love

From the Abyss, with Love

By Tom Wachunas

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” - C.S. Lewis –

“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.” - Martin Luther –

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” - Ephesians 6:12 -

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I was in Cleveland recently to see a play at the Ohio Theatre – “The Screwtape Letters.” I wasn’t there as a critic, but rather to see how the 1941 novel by author and theologian C.S. Lewis would be adapted for the stage and, of course, to simply have fun and enjoy an evening at the theatre, sans notebook. So I wasn’t intending to write anything about it at all. That was then. Still, as it turns out, I don’t need notes. I first read the novel in high school. Now reacquainted with it in essence, the story simply won’t let me go. Further, I feel compelled – prompted, pushed, and otherwise encouraged – to acquaint someone else with it, even if indirectly. That would be you, dear reader. In a larger sense, it is my fervent wish that you read on with a willingness to be willing to search your self as it stands in relationship to art that glorifies God, and the forces that would keep such art – and you - from doing so. I say this fully aware of C.S. Lewis’ caveat in his introduction to his novel: “There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth.” And when I speak of art here, I mean it in its broadest sense – all the forms of human expression –including popular entertainment genres - that draw our time, attentions and affections.

Lewis’ story has gone to Hell. It is told from a demon’s point of view. His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape encourages his earth-roaming nephew, Wormwood, via letters he dictates to his secretary, Toadpipe, in the fine art of leading human souls into the jaws of Hell, where the damned are food for devils. The vibrant and faithful-to-the original play adaptation by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean (who plays Screwtape) is for two live characters – Screwtape and Toadpipe. The unseen object of their assaults, a young man on earth, is “The Patient,” and God, also unseen, is “The Enemy.” McLean (who in real life works for The Enemy) is astoundingly gripping in his characterization, and Elise Girardin is wickedly lithe and funny as Toadpipe. The script/novel is a lightning- fast barrage of pronouncements that are both deeply rhetorical and pragmatically wise. It’s as diabolically sobering as it is searingly comedic.

The clever genius of Lewis’ storytelling here is in its uncanny, double-edged capacity to make us feel comfortable in our smug mockery of the devil and his schemes, all the while very uncomfortable confronting our impoverished spiritual state and our intellectual complacency in dealing with it. It is a story that is in effect an uncompromisingly Christian moral inventory of humanity, and one just as disturbingly true now as when Lewis wrote it. And ironically enough, Lewis doesn’t offer anything about the human condition that writers of the Old and New Testaments didn’t already know. I am reminded that God is indeed a patient God.

Lewis’ novel - and this play - is neither a reliquary of outmoded thinking nor an irrelevant modern-day fantasy. It’s art of the highest order. Veritas ad Deum ducit. Truth leads to God. So….

Dear Reader,

Find the book. Read it. Do something about it.

With affection,

Tom W.

Photo, courtesy www.ScrewtapeOnStage.com / Max McLean (seated) as Screwtape, Elise Girardin as Toadpipe.

For more information on this production as well as Fellowship For The Performing Arts ( FPA, Max McLean, President and Artistic Director), please visit www.ScrewtapeOnStage.com

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