Lent Reflection day 26
Since the twenty-sixth chapter of Unseen Warfare deals with the subject of imagination and memory, we need to understand the difference between the cultural situation of the authors and our own. For the authors of Unseen Warfare, the source of spiritually disturbing images in the mind came from memory and imagination. But we live in a time when we are constantly surrounded by images in media. Everywhere there is a screen, and every screen seeks to attract our attention and fire our imagination. As I sit here writing this right now, I can remember scenes from movies I saw as a child which had a great impression on me, for good or bad. And every day it seems, more images are added to our consciousness.
And yet, the advice from Unseen Warfare still applies to us, because the images that we receive, no matter where they come from, always have the possibility of drawing us away from God and clouding our minds with the suggestions of demons.
Unseen Warfare uses several wonderful illustrations to suggest how we might combat this constant barrage of images, so I’ll quote at length from the chapter: …you can achieve this (“this” refers to escaping the tyranny of mental images) only by turning your mind back into itself, imprisoning it in the narrow place of your heart and in your inner self, and teaching it constantly to stay there within, either in hidden prayer, calling inwardly: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” or keeping attention in yourself and examining yourself, but, above all, contemplating God and finding rest in Him. When a snake needs to cast off its old skin, it forces its way with difficulty through some narrow passage, as naturalists tell us; so too the mind, pushing its way through the narrow passage of the heart and of mental prayer of the heart, strips off the clothing of imagination of sensory things and of harmful sensory impressions and becomes pure, bright and apt for union with God, through its likeness to Him, which it thus acquires. Again: the narrower the defile through which water flows, the harder it presses forward and the more swiftly it rises. In the same way, the more the mind is compressed by hidden training in the heart and by attention in itself, the finer and stronger it becomes and, rising on high, is thus more inaccessible to all passions, all suggestions of thoughts and all images of things, not only sensory but also mental, since all these things thus remain outside and cannot enter in. Here is another illustration, still more to the point. When sunrays are dispersed in the air, and unconnected with one another, they are less bright and warm than when they are concentrated on one point by means of certain lenses; then they produce a blinding light and a burning heat; so too when the mind is collected in the center of the heart by attention to itself and hidden training, it becomes light-bearing and scorching; it disperses the darkness of matter and passion and burns up and destroys all material and passionate images and movements.
We must strive to become the snake shedding its skin, the hose nozzle spraying water, or a magnifying glass bending light. This is easy to say and difficult to do, but Unseen Warfare has a suggestion for what to do when we become fatigued by the effort: When you notice that your mind is tiring and can no longer remain in the heart in this prayer of mind and heart, then use the second method, namely, let it go out and enjoy freedom in divine and spiritual reflections and contemplations, both those suggested by the Holy Scriptures and those which God’s creation inspires. This is difficult as well, but it does indeed give the mind a kind of rest from constant inward reflection.
The twenty-sixth day of the fast is upon us, brothers and sisters, and Unseen Warfare has again given us a full plate of spiritual nourishment. May God give us the strength to hear and follow this advice.