Reading The Screwtape Letters can help us preempt our demons; it can help us see our blind spots and remind us that good things can be traps and seemingly bad things can contain blessings. I’ve found that having students write their own Screwtape letters offers them an eye-opening way of looking at the circumstances of their own lives. Playing devil’s advocate to one’s own vocation is a generative exercise.
In a previous post, I wrote about assigning “Learning in Wartime” in a vocation seminar when COVID first hit. I wrote about how profound that text was for my students and about their moving responses to Lewis’ sermon. Here, I want to describe the next reading I assigned, The Screwtape Letters, which was equally engaging to students, similarly insightful about vocation, and provided them with an essential skill for persisting in the right direction: playing devil’s advocate.
There are many resources available for engaging undergraduates in vocational exploration. I have found Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to be an abundant source, full of passages that engage students and which easily serve as the basis for journal prompts that can be met with authentic response, leading students into rich vocational exploration and discernment. Palmer provides personal stories and invites readers to engage in their own vocational discernment in a stepwise manner. By first exploring authentic selfhood, he then asks the reader to search the depths of their inner life prior to exploring how to live and serve others within their community—to serve in a way that is authentic to your true self. He then calls them to step forward to lead within society. Finally, Palmer leaves readers with the idea that the vocational journey follows a process akin to the cycles of the seasons. As the first in a series on using Palmer’s book as a resource, in this post I will highlight the first step: exploring selfhood.
In a new episode on the NetVUE podcast series, Callings: Conversations on College, Career, and a Life Well-Lived, sociologist of religion Tom Landy talks about his life’s work in helping people understand the “thickness” of religious traditions (their own and others’). Tom is director of the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. His primary research is in global catholicism, and he founded and leads research for Catholics & Cultures, a web-based initiative to explore the religious lives and practices of lay Catholics in their particular cultural contexts around the world. He is also the founder of Collegium, a summer colloquy on faith and intellectual life for faculty from Catholic universities and colleges from around the country.