Spiritual Warfare is a topic that the typical Christian shies away from. The media ("Exorcist" movies) tend to be quite dramatic, exciting, and terrifying to most of us. There is reason for fear, the dark side is dangerous and treacherous. Even so, the majority of spiritual warfare is rather plain, mundane and even "boringly ordinary." Also, baptized Christians are empowered and authorized to defeat the Evil One. We have a mission to do this. However, few of us are educated. Not even clergy.
In discussing a lifetime of issues with someone recently, they shared that several times they had reached out to priests who had supplied limited support. None of them seemed to have discerned any spiritual dimension to the problem (in spite of some pretty obvious indications). My point is not to publish her story but to illustrate a larger church problem. In seven years of seminary (three years undergraduate and four years theology) I never had one class on demons, Satan or exorcisms. Obviously, studies in the Gospels included some mention, but only as related to the texts (with some question about the exact meaning of the words "demon" and "satan"). Secular thinking and a 'flat' material universe was strongly influential on our imaginations. Psychology, sociology, and other sciences have given us remarkable insight into the breadth and depth of human persons. However, the assumption that there is not a spiritual realm, is rife with its own problems. The human person is a body animated by a soul (physical and non-physical). The "spirit" of each person is the image of God, we share in God's life and being. The "flesh" is the whole person in our fallen state. It includes sins and brokenness of mind, body and soul--flesh is not simply the body and its desires. To see the flesh as the prison of the soul is a popular idea, but as we saw last week, it is more Greek philosophy than Biblical. The human person is flesh and blood, but also spiritual. The resurrection body will be a spiritual body, though still physical.
Friday, the MP Gospel (Mk 14) is the passion of Jesus in the Garden. He asks the disciples to pray with Him as He experiences the deep spiritual battle which He describes as "sorrowful, even onto death"-- "stay with Me and watch" He tells His friends....He prays in torment to be delivered form His task. He returns to find the men asleep. "Could you not watch one hour?" He asks, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." As we all know, they could not stay awake. They fail. And then it is too late; the betrayer arrives and they are unprepared. They have slept not prayed and watched.
For me, this illustrates "spiritual warfare" very well. We see that the work of the demonic is appears rather ordinary. It is the battle for prayer or sleep... It is also expressed in the choices of human authorities, in this case Jewish and Roman. The abuse of justice is demonic. The power at work is human, yet Satanic. Last Sunday at eucharist the second reading was from Ephesians 6. We were exhorted to put on the full armor of God. We were instructed that "our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities and powers of this present darkness [NB, post Jesus, darkness still] against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Spirit and Material are two dimensions which interpenetrate. Each is 100% active. So our disciplines must also take in each dimension: mental, emotional, physical, etc. Spiritual exercises alone are not sufficient for the whole human person.
Yet, the realm of the spirit is hard to penetrate. You must be of God (Jesus says). Prayer and obedience are the prerequisite to the knowledge of God and discerning Him. In John 8:47-59 we hear the "Jews" accuse Jesus: "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" The first stage in spiritual warfare is the belief that there is a spiritual realm. However, the next step is the challenge: how does one discern the demonic. Clearly, Jesus was a good man, so how could He be accused of being possessed? Pause and ponder that amazing idea. How can the Good One be called evil. In another place, Jesus refers to this as the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit: a heart so distant from God that it considers God to be demonic.
How then to enter spiritual combat?
1. Watch and pray. Cry out to God with a submissive heart.Attend to the orthodox faith, the truth. Immerse yourself in it.
2. Watch and wait. Love openly and freely, especially love those nearby in family, church, work and friends. In loving others we learn to love, and loving God requires that we know how to love (cf 1 John)
3. Watch, wait, pray. Time spent in patient attentiveness to God, even when He "feels far away" is the foundational. It is about being open to God, not "experiences." Those who seek God find God. Listen and learn His voice. Learn His heart and mind. (scripture and sacramental mediation of church)
4. Watch and guard. Be ruthless in seeking sin, hold yourself to the Divine standard. Repent and trust His (hesed) covenant mercy-faithful love-kindness. Confront the evil one and rebuke lies, break covenants with 'other gods'; you will know It if you know God. It's lies and deceit will be more obvious. Battle to stay in God: a struggle, a constant choice, a vocation and lifelong journey.
5. Watch and pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to live in you (The recent Temple readings in Kings are metaphors for your heart and body too) Ask Jesus to be Lord over thoughts, feelings and desires. Ask God to make you His child.
The battle ground in spiritual warfare is you. You are the front lines of the war: in your mind and heart, body and soul, in your spirit. We tend to project the inner conflict onto the world (where there is also a Great Battle being waged). The public realm is rife with our denial and accusations--this is what happened to Jesus. The leaders had lost their way (spiritually) and in the battle "for the faith" (and God) they ended up not recognizing His face (in Jesus). If we take the plank from our own eyes, we can help others with their eyes. If we meet Jesus in our heart then we can recognize Him at work in the world (especially at work in those with whom we disagree or find unappealing)...
Spiritual warfare is unavoidable. You fight and win, you fight and lose, or you do not fight and you are consumed...