Tag Archives: Satan

“Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God”

John Donne’s famous sonnet, “Batter My Heart, Three Person’d God” reveals the intense spiritual passion of those whose “god-spot” in the brain is over-heated.  Donne’s sonnet vividly conveys his deep desire to know God with complete abandonment though he also realizes that it is his rationality that stands in the way of this experience.  He knows that this reason is itself a gift from God but intuitively knows that it has been “captive’d” by something or someone (i.e. Satan) so that it is useless in the quest for God without Divine intervention, unless his reason be “o’er thrown.”

Donne recognized that our reason is not the primary driving force in our lives, even with religious impulses.  Being a poet he was in tune with depths of the heart which most of us never have any awareness of.  He knew that the phenomena of “god” would come to fullest expression only from these hidden spiritual resources in our heart and never as the result of rationality.  Donne was bringing to our attention that life is much more complicated than we like to think, knowing that our “thinking” when given primacy will always keep us on the surface of life.

But life spent on the surface will always be shallow and sorely lacking, with the absent quality always beckoning for attention.  Some use the term “god” to refer to this driving force but any word choice is not important for words can never capture this experience though our “captive’d” would like us to think so.  Religion was created to address this issue, the word itself meaning to bind together something which is divided.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
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“I Will to do Good, but…”

“I will to do good but evil is present with me.” The Apostle Paul was a bloke like the rest of us and faced his dark side. I bet that this lamentation revealed it even prevailed on occasion. I don’t think Paul was saying that he was abject evil; he was merely recognizing that there was darkness within his heart which opposed every noble enterprise he had. Yes, he wrestled with Satan.

But Satan is so much more than the popular conception that we have of him. I think he is that tendency to stagnate, to succumb to inertia, to not participate in the flow of life. That is merely another way of saying, “a tendency to not allow the Spirit of God to have free rein in our heart and life.”

Paul summed it up with the famous observation, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

And I close with my frequently quoted observation of W. H. Auden, “We wage the war we are.”

the enemy within

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. Prov. 25:28

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. Prov. 16:32.

Boundaries are an essential issue in human experience. If we don’t learn to set boundaries, and respect those set by others, we are going to be in trouble real soon. These two Proverbs describe it as “ruling your spirit.” We are ultimately merely bundles of impulses, energy if you please, and learning how to handle these impulses is essential to life.

“Taking a city”, in Proverbs 16:32, was perhaps the greatest example of power that one could exercise. The writer was noting that can one who can harness that internal energy is “better than the mighty” that can take a city. It was an image of masculine prowess.

Proverbs 25:28 emphasizes that this ruling of one’s spirit is essential in “keeping the enemy out.” He was saying that if you don’t rule your spirit, it is like the walls of a city breaking down, allowing “the enemy” to enter. Now in one spiritual tradition, Christianity, “the enemy” has been labeled Satan. To them, this verse means, “You don’t set boundaries, Satan is going to get in.”

I like to think of it in terms of energy. We are all the aforementioned “bundles of energy”, some of which is adaptive and some of which is maladaptive. I think “the enemy” is the maladaptive energy that we all have in the depths of our heart. Jung termed it the shadow.

Unaccomodated man/woman

When President Clinton was being impeached, he became famous for his splitting of one hair in particular.   In answer to a particular question, he responded with great deliberation, “Well, it depends on what the meaning of is, is.”  I intend to continue this vein of hair-splitting here regarding the same infinitive, “to be”.

I feel that the best we ever get from our various spiritual perambulations is “to be.”  We get our “is-ness”.   Now, I have always had a spiritual streak about me.  It was my endowment from my community and family.  The role I was to play was, anthropologically speaking, “a holy man”, some conservative Arkansas variation of a shaman.  However, in this particular little corner of the world, my title was “preacher”.   Writing now five decades later, I recognize that I wanted a whole lot more than mere “is-ness”.  I wanted an identity, I wanted a place in that little back-water village, I wanted respect, and I wanted a career.  And what this meant was that my brief ministry was, in the words of an evangelical preacher of the day, “a platform on which to display my carnal abilities.”  It was a “work of the flesh”, to borrow a concept from the New Testament.  It was all about me.

So there I illustrated a basic problem with spiritual aspirations—the ego. The ego is not satisfied with merely “be-ing”, it prefers to shine, to “strut and fret” its hour on the stage and have people admire its holiness, its piety—“Wind my up and watch me be pious!”  And though my spiritual ego has today a degree of subtlety about it….I want to say…I still find myself from time to time really proud of how pious I am, something akin to the Pharisee’s pride in how broad their phylactery was.  (See Matthew 23:5)

AND, that is ok.  For, at that moment, sometimes the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh comes to the fore and I practice his “half smile” and prayerfully breathe the word, “mindfulness.”  I then go on with my day to day life.  There is no need to beat myself up, no need to bemoan my spiritual immaturity, no need to flagellate myself with, “Oh what a rotten sinner I am.”  There is only the need to be “mindful” and to then continue to “chop wood, carry water.”  For, no matter how spiritually “refined” we might become…or think we have become…we are going to find a hefty dollop of ego always ready to manifest itself.  And that is always going to be present.  I have a suspicion that this is some part of what the Buddha had in mind when he attested that “mara” was always with him.  And Jesus was always beset by Satan and I’m sure that ego was one of the seductions that Satan had even then in his repertoire.

The goal is to glory in our mere be-ing, in our “is-ness”, in the fact that we exist, that we “are”.  To recognize and experience that we have been “thrown into being” by some force or presence (and I like to say Presence) far beyond the grasp of our feeble minds.  It is to recognize as did Einstein that at the depths of our existence we find merely a mystery, and incomprehensible mystery, that some of us choose to term “God”.

But it requires joining King Lear out on the heath, “unaccomodated”, naked, pelted by the same “pitiless storm”, bereft of our kingdom and family, shorn of the trappings of our egoic consciousness.  It is to experience our emptiness which came to us in the New Testament in the doctrine of “kenosis”, merely meaning, “the emptying of ourselves.”  It is to experience our solitude, our “Dark Night of the Soul”. (St. John of the Cross).

Now the nice thing about this is that it does not have to leave us so “unaccomodated.”  This spiritual process merely loosens the attachment to our “stuff”.  No longer does our “stuff” have us.  We have seen and experienced our true self and that will be the core of our identity, not the piling up of earthly treasures, or the acheivement of success, and certainly not the acheivement of “spiritual” success.  We know that essentially we have only our “is-ness”, we have it only for this brief sojourn in this parenthesis of time before we return to our Source.  And in the mean time, we can have and enjoy our “stuff” but hopefully with less obsession and with an increased proclivity to share some of it with others.

Several weeks ago I quoted Shakespeare’s 146th sonnet and I conclude with an excerpt:

Oh soul, the center of my sinful earth

Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array;

Why doeth thy pine within and suffer dearth,

Painting thy outward walls so costly gay.

(And he goes on to conclude with:)

Within be fed, without be rich no more.

the shadow

Karl Jung wrote extensively of “the shadow”.  He described this dark side of human nature as always with it and insisted…iin my own words…“Resistance is futile”.  Or to use one of his bromides, “What we resist, persists.”  His teaching, of course, was not that this dark side should be indulged or acted upon, but that it should be embraced as part of our nature.  He taught that in this embracement we diminished the power of this shadow, given us more freedom to make mature, appropriate decisions.  In recent readings of Buddhist literature, I’ve learned that the Buddha called this shadow-side “mara” and reported that it was a daily part of his life.  Even the Apostle Paul lamented, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me.”  And, of course, in the Christian tradition, there is the ever-present “Satan.”

I think the Catholics have the right idea in confession.  There in the confessional booth, Catholics are encouraged to come and bare their deepest, darkest secrets.  In my work as a mental health counselor, much of the work I did was merely to listen to my clients lament their short-comings, to acknowledge their baser instincts.

The key is to just not pretend!  It is there and it will always be there.  To live in a world of duality is to realize that “mara” is there but to believe its power is diminished as we openly acknowledge it.  Even more so, as we openly acknowledge it “to another human being.”