Lent Reflection Day 8
The eighth chapter of Unseen Warfare addresses the way in which all of us instantly like or dislike something. So often I have people say to me in confession, and I myself say in confession to my spiritual father, that they judge others based solely on appearance. As adults, we normally don’t say anything that betrays our prejudice, but we think it nonetheless. For me the tendency has nothing to do with race or nationality, because I’ve known so many people from different races and nationalities. But if a person seems like he jokes too much, or laughs too much, or asks pointless questions, or doesn’t think, I mentally put that person into a bad category. And once someone is there, nothing they can do will get them removed from it.
Unseen Warfare does not address this judging of people, but of things and of actions. To quote from the book: The reason why we have wrong judgment of the things we mentioned earlier is that we do not look deeply into them to see what they are, but conceive a liking for them or a dislike of them from the very first glance, judging by appearance. These likes and dislikes prejudice our mind and darken it; and so it cannot form a right judgment of things as they really are. So, my beloved, if you wish to be free of this prelest in your mind, keep strict attention over yourself; and when you see a thing with your eyes, or visualize it in your mind, keep a firm grip on your desires and do not allow yourself at the first glance either to conceive a liking for the thing or a dislike for it, but examine it in a detached way with the mind alone. Unobscured by passion, the mind then remains in a state natural to it, which is free and pure, and has the possibility to know the truth and to penetrate into the depths of a thing, where evil is often concealed under a deceptively attractive exterior and where good is sometimes hidden under a bad appearance.
The authors speak here of a detachment from the world which is difficult to find and maintain, but which is critical to our spiritual lives. Each of us has those things that come to mind when we hear advice like this – I think of coffee. For many years I drank coffee constantly. I even had a coffee maker in my office at church. The smell, the promise, the caffeine all made me so happy that I couldn’t imagine coffee to be anything but wonderful. Then I began to notice something, that I really missed it on Sunday mornings when I would fast before celebrating the Divine Liturgy. After the Liturgy my nerves would be on edge, and I would ignore people who tried to talk with me as I hurried to the table where the ladies had the cups of coffee lined up. I could feel a headache starting, and I was rushing to feed my addiction.
Now I’ve stopped drinking coffee. Nothing is wrong with coffee itself, I’m not saying that those who drink it are sinning, nothing like that. It’s just that for me, Unseen Warfare made me want to look at all the things in my life, all my habits, with detachment. Previously it was coffee, but what are the other things that bind me to this world, that I have in the past thought of as good? Or conversely, what are the things that carry me into union with God, that in the past I have thought of as extreme, or annoying, or too difficult to maintain?
I need to, as Unseen Warfare says, learn to keep strict attention over myself, so that I don’t fall into those habits that keep me from God.
Today we begin the second week of our Lenten journey, brothers and sisters, and we are challenged by the Lenten fast to uncover those parts of our lives that make us slaves to the things of this world. Let us all pray for one another that we have the strength to persevere.