A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

10 Open Heaven II

10 Open Heaven II

Call to Worship:

Psalm 118:16-21:
"16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.

17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation."
Hymn 1:

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face;

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Thro' death into life everlasting

He pass'd, and we follow him there

Over us sin hath no more dominion

For more than conquer'rs we are!

His word shall not fail you--He promised;

Believe him and all will be well:

Then go to a world that is dying,

His perfect salvation to tell."

by Helen Howarth Lemmel, © 1922

Hymn 2:
"Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see."

Last week's sermon was the first in another two-parter inspired by, not the concept of, but the expression of  "Open Heaven". We at the Basin Bible Church have long found ourselves in agreement about the reality of Heaven on Earth, and have contemplated the entry through those sublime gates many times. We have agreed that entry into the Kingdom of God is a choice we make once and for all, and again and again in every moment of our mundane lives. We have chosen well. We have SEEN the light. Last week we looked at the negative side for awhile--the ways we may miss the Gates of Heaven; this week we will cherish stories of those who have turned to the light and been saved.

The first excerpt is the most famous "blind but now I see" story, which appears in the Gospel of John: 

John 9:1-25:

"1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,

7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

8 The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?

9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.

10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?

11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.

12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.

13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.

14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.

15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.

16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.

19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:

21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.

22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.

24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.

25He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."

Now, the topic of today's topic of the sermon is "Open Heaven", which is not quite the same thing as "was blind but now I see"; but, clearly, in order to enter through the gates of heaven we must first see the gates of heaven. Therefore, blindness transformed into sight is a first step in the process of entering in.

Our second story of  blindness is the story of Saul's conversion to Paul on the road to Damascus. It is interesting that the story appears twice in the book of Acts; it is told, first, in the second person, and then it is told, again, in the first person, by Paul himself to King Agippa. I will read the two versions because subtle differences appear that give nuance to the story, although the issue of blindness is central to both.

It will be understood that we are giving symbolic significance to the expression "was blind but now I see". The blind man, whose eyes were opened by Jesus, is both:

1. a  living example of spiritual reality touching mundane reality, and
2. a metaphor for exactly the same thing--achieving spiritual sight.

On the one hand, the blind man is blind to the material world, and Jesus grants him material sight. On the other hand, Paul is blind to the spiritual world, so Jesus grants him spiritual sight. In comparing the two stories, it is interesting to note that Paul's true inner "vision" comes to him through material blindness; indeed, Jesus transforms Paul's sight such that, instead of seeing his own, personal, inherent evil projected onto the new cult of Christians, (a material UNreality), his newly discovered inner vision, (unobstructed by his material sight), reveals to him what is really real. The idea, that Paul's blindness miraculously brings him to the threshold of the world of spiritual vision, must certainly be considered one of the more significant aspects of the story of Paul's conversion. Again, it is both symbolic AND actual.

Acts 9: 3-18:

"3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."

Acts  26: 9-19:

"9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.

11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.

14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,

18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:"

A most significant statement is this:

"I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision."

Today's sermon is all about VISION, vision in its vernacular sense and also in its spiritual sense. We can see how both are linked.

The next section is an online meditation on Psalm 119:17-24

"17Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.
20 My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments.
22 Take away reproach and contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
24 Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.

Three Things to Learn from Psalm 119:18:
This year the two messages that sandwich Prayer Week grow out of Psalm 119:18. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." This verse combines prayer and the Word, and we need to see how, so that we can combine them this way in our lives and in our church. There are three things that we learn from this verse.
    •    One is that there are wonderful things in the Word of God. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." The word "law" is "Torah" and means "instruction" or "teaching" in this psalm. There are wonderful things in God's teaching to us. In fact, they are so wonderful that when you really see them, they change you profoundly and empower holiness and love and missions (2 Corinthians 3:18). Which is why reading and knowing and meditating on and memorizing the Word of God is so crucial.
    •    The second thing we learn from this verse is that no one can see these wonderful things for what they really are without God's supernatural help. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." If God does not open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the Word. We are not naturally able to see spiritual beauty. When we read the Bible without the help of God, the glory of God in the teachings and events of the Bible is like the sun shining in the face of a blind man. Not that you can't construe its surface meaning, but you can't see the wonder, the beauty, the glory of it such that it wins your heart.
    •    Which leads to the third thing we learn from this verse, namely, that we must pray to God for supernatural illumination when we read the Bible. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." Since we are helpless in ourselves to see spiritual beauty and the wonder of God in the teachings and events of the Bible without God's gracious illumination, we should ask him for it. "Open my eyes."

Another famous vision is the one Jacob had at the place he named Bethel.
Genesis 28:12:
"And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven: and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."

This is such a significant moment because it presents for our contemplation an archetypal image of what we are able to see at any moment with our spiritual eyes if we but open them to the flow of Heaven into the Earthly plane and back.

Here, we return to our old pal William Blake. This is Blake's beautiful rendering of Jacob's vision:

There certainly was no one more committed to the idea of Heaven on Earth than William Blake. As Wikipedia says:
"But as well as writing poetry that revealed and exposed the harsh realities of life. William Blake never lost touch with his heavenly visions. Like a true Seer he could see beyond the ordinary world and glimpsed the light of the beyond."
"To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour."

Blake was a Londoner and it was London, not some romantic place near a river in the countryside, that was the site of his visions. In his visions, he saw a different London than all those other people that ran through its streets. Blake saw London as a heavenly city; he saw angels, souls, prophets. Hence, to him,London was a “Heavenly London”, a “Jerusalem”, one of his best known poems.

JERUSALEM (from 'Milton')
by: William Blake (1757-1827)
"And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!
O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land."

''"What," it will be questioned,
"When the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?"
O no, no, I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty."''

''Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed & governed their passions or have no passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings. The treasures of Heaven are not negations of passion, but realities of intellect, from which all the passions emanate uncurbed in their eternal glory. The fool shall not enter into Heaven let him be ever so holy.''

Clearly, Blake saw Heaven on Earth even in the slums of London.

Also, notice the refinement that Blake makes concerning his theory of the passions: in this paragraph, he clearly states that the intellect comes first, and that the passions are an outgrowth of the intellect. He also clearly states that fools will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is therefore necessary for us to continue to struggle with expressions of infinitude which cannot be contained by the words in which we express them.

Rudolf Steiner has this to say about the fusion of Heaven and Earth:
"Every moral deed and every physical action in human life is connected in the human heart. Only when we truly learn to understand the configuration of he human heart will we find the true fusion of these two parallel and independent phenomena: moral events and physical events."

Another vision that has become a part of our collective heritage is the testimony of Hank Williams in his famous song I Saw the Light:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"I Saw the Light" is a 1948 country gospel song written and first performed by Hank Williams. Williams typically used the song to close his shows and it became one of his most well known songs.

"I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin
I wouldn't let my dear Saviour in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise The Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

Just like the blind man, I wandered along.
Worries and fears, I claimed for my own.
Then like the blind man,
that God gave back his sight,
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I was a fool to wander and stray,
For straight is the gate and narrow the way.
Now I have traded, the wrong for the right.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light."

With poetic lyrics, such as:

"I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin/I wouldn't let my dear Savior in,"

the song was written about Williams' Christian religious convictions and hope for redemption despite his alcoholic vices. Scripture references and allusions to the Bible in the song, include:

Matthew 7:13-14:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,"

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4:
"for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,"

Revelation 22:5:
"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."

and Jesus' healing the blind at birth,
John 9:1-9:
"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the [blind] man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing."

There is another worthwhile song that gives the Heavenly Vision a name and a personality:

The Heavenly Vision by Helen Howarth Lemmel, © 1922:

"O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Thro' death into life everlasting
He pass'd, and we follow him there
Over us sin hath no more dominion
For more than conquer'rs we are!
His word shall not fail you--He promised;
Believe him and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell."

Rabindranath Tagore can always be counted on to combine Heavenly visions with silence; he always recommends satisfying the cravings of human nature with the emptiness of Heavenly bliss; still, there is still a lot of joyful noise in this poem:

Beggarly Heart

"When the heart is hard and parched up,
come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life,
come with a burst of song.

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond,
come to me, my lord of silence,
with thy peace and rest.

When my beggarly heart sits crouched,
shut up in a corner,
break open the door, my king,
and come with the ceremony of a king.

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust,
O thou holy one, thou wakeful,
come with thy light and thy thunder."

This Tagore poem puts a slightly different slant on what we have been saying so far. We have been talking about the gates of heaven through which we may enter, but Tagore is clearly implying a slightly different scenario--he is saying that: by asking, the door to heaven comes to us. This is significant.

In conclusion, there are several summary points to be emphasized coming out of this message:

1. first, we see, from the blind man's story, that we must admit that we that we are blind, and then create the situation in which we may achieve spiritual vision;
2. from the story of Paul's conversion, we discover that the appearance of the heavenly gates in our sight begins with an inner vision and that extends outward;
3. from Blake we can learn that, by using this inner vision, we can we can translate the mundane reality seen by our physical eyes into a heavenly reality seen by spiritual eyes;
4. and finally, with the Tagore poem, we realize that we are all helpless, and that it is the amazing grace which, through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus, which brings us to the heavenly gates. We do not pass through the gates of heaven, rather the gates of heaven enfold us, and we are saved through grace. Thank you, Jesus.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your sacrifice on the cross, which gave us free access to heavenly realms which exist in all dimensions, in all times, in all spaces, and which are, in all cases, dominated by your loving face. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

9 Open Heaven I

9 Open Heaven I

Call to Worship:
Proverbs 20:12:
"The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them."
Matthew 13:15-17:
"For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

Today's sermon is the first in another two-parter inspired by, not the concept of, but the expression  "Open Heaven". The term "Open Heaven" is packed with implications which deserve a thorough discussion if we are to be perfectly clear in our statements about Heaven on Earth. We at the Basin Bible Church have long found ourselves in agreement about the reality of Heaven on Earth, and have contemplated the entry through those sublime gates many times. We have agreed that entry into the Kingdom of God is a choice we make once and for all, and yet again and again in every moment of our mundane lives. We have chosen well. We have SEEN the light.

Today we will look at the negative side for awhile--(the "Closed Heaven, so to speak) and we will examine the various kinds of blindness that hide the light from the uncommitted seeker; again, for clarity's sake, this is a necessary evil. Next week (whew) we will cherish stories of those who have turned to the light and been saved.

The following is taken from the The M+G+R Foundation website, and has some interesting reflections on the ability to SEE spirtual realities:

Eyes to See and Ears to Hear--Who Are Those Who Possess Them?

"If you don't see all yet, do not be terribly concerned. "Seeing" is process that develops at a rate determined by God, a rate quite unique for each soul already marked from all Eternity to be counted amongst those who will Have Eyes to See and Ears to Hear

Our Lord Jesus Christ clearly used the "Eyes to See and Ears to Hear" terminology frequently and we will quote such Gospel passages in the DETAILS section of this document. First, however, we wish to give additional dimension to such terminology so that Our Lord's Words may be better assimilated.

When Divine Illumination is granted to mankind it will be received as follows:

(a) Clearly seen by those who truly belong to God (even though they may not be aware of it yet) and who God deems ready to understand it and spiritually profit from it.

(b) Not clearly seen by those whom God does not deem quite ready yet to assimilate such Illumination. In time, these individuals, which belong to two categories, will see the Light.
(i) Category No. 1 will see the Light eventually under the normal process of conversion;
(ii) Category No. 2 will see the Light only when God allows (1) Enough pain to be brought upon them so that they finally "snap into attention", so to speak.

(c) Not seen - now or ever - by those who do not belong to God - and never will.

Following is what Our Lord Jesus Christ stated, through the Holy Gospels, about this subject matter:

Matthew 13:11-13:
"He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."

Luke 8:9-10:
"And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand."

Mark 4:11-12:
"And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all
these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."

John 16:12-14:
"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. How be it when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you."

Therefore - who does See and/or Hear and its timing is not for miguel de Portugal - or no one! - to determine. That is the sole provenance of God and we must be most careful in revealing such information "lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them." and we would then be answerable to God for such transgression."

The scriptures and commentaries above reprise one of our main points of some months ago, that the Word of God is not for every one AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT; back then we saw how Jesus Himself spoke in parables, so that the Word would be allowed to percolate SLOWLY through the being of the seeker, allowing him to grasp the Truth in fullness over time, thereby denying Satan a foothold in consciousness for the purpose of misdirection. From this, it follows that entry into the Kingdom of God may not be for everyone AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT. There is a strong implication here that predestination plays a part in the soul's salvation; there is an even stronger implication that salvation will come to all IN TIME. The ultimate outcome of this question is CHOICE. The choice is always there, but not everyone can see it JUST YET.

There are many stories in literature and myth about people who did not, or could not, choose to enter into the Kingdom; these are sad sad stories, but they do, like the Aristotelian tragedy, offer us catharsis and enlightenment, as do all symbolic realities, whether they represent positive or negative truths.

If Heaven on Earth is freely available, why would anyone choose NOT to enter in? There are as many answers to this question as there individuals in the universe. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that all may see the gates of Heaven if they will but open their eyes; but to many Jesus stands as much in the way of this vision as He reveals it, because the verbal language of religion obscures the super-verbal language of spirit. BELIEF can be the fatal flaw that comes between our THINKING about spiritual reality and EXPERIENCING spiritual reality. We say we must believe, but belief and faith are subtly different conceptual orientations: faith means surrender to the undefined borders of the Cloud of Unknowing, whereas belief tends to have a verbal component that can become entangled with our perceptions and cause us to hallucinate our thoughts rather than FEEL, clairvoyantly, what is beyond thought.

Many people suffer personal misfortunes which seriously, nay fatally, cripple their ability to turn toward the light. The dwarves in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle are an example of this which I have referred to before. The following article by Martin LaBar comments on the Dwarf scene, and then goes on to mention a scene in George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin:

The Dwarves of The Last Battle and Unbelief in The Princess and the Goblin
Posted by Martin LaBar

"In The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis, some dwarves have an interesting role. They refuse to believe in a false Aslan, and also refuse to believe in a real one. When the Calormenes throw them into a dark stable, they refuse to see anything but what you would expect to find in such a building, even though other characters in the book can see that the stable, in reality, is not dark, and has no walls -- just a door.

Lucy Pevensie, who has a soft heart, tries to get the Lion, Aslan, to make things better for the dwarves, Aslan produces a banquet for them. They eat, but they think they are eating old cattle food, or drinking from a trough for animals. When a dwarf is picked up and carried toward the outside, he experiences being slammed into the wall, even though there is no wall. Aslan says that they have chosen not to believe, and there is nothing he can do for them.

I have found, not surprisingly, since Lewis is known to have been influenced a great deal by the writing of George MacDonald, that there are similar ideas in MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. That book was originally published in 1872. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter Eleven; Irene is an eight-year-old princess. The other speaker is her father's mother's father's mother, who lives in a nice suite of rooms on the top floor of the house where Irene lives, and has some marvelous powers. Irene is the only person who knows that she is there. Lootie is Irene's nurse.

"But you would have found me sooner if you hadn't come to think I was a dream. I will give you one reason though why you couldn't find me. I didn't want you to find me.'

'Why, please?'

'Because I did not want Lootie to know I was here.'

'But you told me to tell Lootie.'

'Yes. But I knew Lootie would not believe you. If she were to see me sitting spinning here, she wouldn't believe me, either.'


'Because she couldn't. She would rub her eyes, and go away and say she felt queer, and forget half of it and more, and then say it had been all a dream.'

'Just like me,' said Irene, feeling very much ashamed of herself.

'Yes, a good deal like you, but not just like you; for you've come again; and Lootie wouldn't have come again. She would have said, No, no - she had had enough of such nonsense.'

'Is it naughty of Lootie, then?'

'It would be naughty of you. I've never done anything for Lootie.'

' . . . Besides, again - I will tell you a secret - if that light were to go out you would fancy yourself lying in a bare garret, on a heap of old straw, and would not see one of the pleasant things round about you all the time.'

How much that God sees is real do I not see, or do I see as trash, because I don't believe in Him?"

Notice that the inability of Lootie, and the dwarves, to see the lovely reality spread out before them, comes from a cognitive predisposition toward fixity; their verbal frame of reference does not include the possibility of higher reality, so they refuse to see one. Thus, as mentioned above, a fixed thought form can not only cause us to hallucinate something that is NOT there, it can also cause us to NOT see something that IS there.

As we have mentioned many times, one of the secrets to spiritual sensitivity is the ability to modulate from one vibrational frequency to another, to transition fluidly from one dimension of reality to another along a continuum of infinite dimensions. This fluidity is a function of freedom of the will, made possible by the abandonment of strict verbal definitions. In the beginning was the Word, but the Word was not a typewritten telegram on cardboard, it was a firy, dynamic expression of being, absolute in its infinity and in no other sense. The true Word defies definition because if defies limitation. The Word is an invitation to infinite freedom. If the dwarves could have put that in their pipes and smoked it, they would be playing with us, right now, on clouds of infinite bliss. Instead, they are stuck clinging to their cold, fixed ego resolutions, stale bread and stone.

I am reminded of the myth of Psyche. For those who might not know the details of the story, here is a brief summary found online:

"The story of Cupid and Psyche first occurs in one of the few surviving Latin novels, the Metamorphoses (sometimes called The Golden Ass) of Lucius
Apuleius Platonicus, who was born about 125 A.D. The relevant parts are as follows: 
A king and queen had three daughters of whom the youngest was so beautiful that men worshipped her as a goddess and neglected the worship of Venus for her sake. One result was that Psyche (as the youngest was called) had no suitors; men reverenced her supposed deity too much to aspire to her hand. When her father consulted the oracle of Apollo about her marriage he received the answer: "Hope for no human son-in-law. You must expose Psyche on a mountain to be the prey of a dragon." This he obediently did.

But Venus, jealous of Psyche's beauty, had already devised a different punishment for her; she had ordered her son Cupid to afflict the girl with an irresistible passion for the basest of men. Cupid set off to do so but, on seeing Psyche, fell in love with
her himself. As soon as she was left on the mountain he therefore had her carried off by the West-Wind (Zephyrus) to a secret place where he had prepared a stately palace. Here he visited her by night and enjoyed her love; but he forbade her to see
his face. Presently she begged that she might receive a visit from her two sisters. The god reluctantly consented and wafted them to her palace. Here they were royally feasted and expressed great delight at all the splendours they saw. But inwardly they were devoured with envy, for their husbands were not gods and their houses not so fine as hers.

They therefore plotted to destroy her happiness. At their next visit they persuaded her that her mysterious husband must really be a monstrous serpent. "You must take into your bedroom to-night," they said, "a lamp covered with a cloak and a sharp knife. When he sleeps uncover the lamp - see the horror that is lying in your bed -and stab it to death."

All this the gullible Psyche promised to do.

When she uncovered the lamp and saw the sleeping god she gazed on him with insatiable love, till a drop of hot oil from her lamp fell on his shoulder and woke him. Starting up, he spread his shining wings, rebuked her, and vanished from her sight."

The myth goes on: Psyche eventually regains her lost Paradise after performing a series of tasks. With divine aid, she completes her rite of passage and rejoins her beloved Cupid as a goddess.

My favorite C. S. Lewis book is Till We Have Faces, which is a retelling of the Trials of Psyche myth. It is a beautiful book, and I would love to dwell on it some more at a later date; but for our present purposes we must focus on merely two aspects of the tale, one from the original and one from C. S. Lewis' retelling:
1.) In both the original and the Lewis version, Cupid is invisible to Psyche; and in both versions it is the sister(s) whose doubt compromises Psyche's belief in her unseen lover and forces her to betray a sacred trust. In both versions Psyche begins as a devoted unquestioning lover, and then, through the twisted words of the Accuser, comes to doubt, repeats the disobedient act of Eve, and brings original sin down upon her own head. The operative concept here is that Cupid is INVISIBLE to Psyche, but was at first believed in through faith, and then doubted through reason.

2.) In the original, the two sisters plot against Psyche because they are jealous of her magficent castle, and of her beautiful lover; they see, very well, her great halls, and taste her lovely wine, but they wish to steal it from her out of envy. In Till We Have Faces, the one loving sister, Orual, cannot see at all the great castle, the flowing garments, nor the golden goblets--to her it appears that Psyche has gone mad on the mountain, unprotected and been made vulnerable to destruction by an unspeakable monster. Orual uses Psyche's love for her sister as blackmail--she gets Psyche to agree to the betrayal by threatening her own suicide.

Clearly, as we have discussed in our sermons on Satan, Orual is guilty of a love that has become perverted by narcissism. But there is more: Orual is blind to the truth, just as the dwarves are blind to the truth. She performs what she considers to be a virtuous, loving act, but the virtue is a false virtue because it is based on an act that denies the higher reality of the situation. Once again, rigid verbal definition has betrayed higher spiritual sensitivity, and made her blind.

Notice how the term "narcissism" has crept into the discussion. Clearly there must be a link between strict verbal definitions and self-involved love. Perhaps, since the words come from our brains, our consciousness confuses the sense of self promoted by language with the clairvoyant sense of spiritual self, or higher self. If so, this would be yet another warning against developing a too-literal or too-fixed catechism. Just as Narcissus fell in love with an IMAGE of himself, so too can we fall in love with the images generated in the mind by language, mistaking the form for the essence. What a razor's edge it is, because we know that Divine Truth is transmitted to us through the imprinting of pictures on our astral bodies by the angels. Telling apart the mundane from the divinely generated pictures requires the most acute sensitivity, and many of us fail to develop this sensitivity before it is too late.

Another great allegory of spiritual blindness is Lewis' The Great Divorce. The setting for this book is a frontier where a number of passengers have been let out of a bus. They are then free to travel whichever way they will. Again, some have eyes to see the great Heavenly vistas stretching before them, and some see nothing but what their negativity has predisposed them to see:

The Great Divorce
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"The Great Divorce is a work of theological fantasy by C. S. Lewis, in which he reflects on the Christian conception of Heaven and Hell. The working title was Who Goes Home? but the final name was changed at the publisher's insistence. The title refers to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Great Divorce was first printed as a serial in an Anglican newspaper called The Guardian in 1944 and 1945, and soon thereafter in book form.

Plot summary
The narrator inexplicably finds himself in a grim and joyless city, the "grey town", which is either hell or purgatory depending on how long one stays there. He eventually finds a bus for those who desire an excursion to some other place (and which eventually turns out to be the foothills of heaven). He enters the bus and converses with his fellow passengers as they travel. When the bus reaches its destination, the passengers on the bus — including the narrator — are gradually revealed to be ghosts. Although the country is the most beautiful they have ever seen, every feature of the landscape (including streams of water and blades of grass) is unyieldingly solid compared to themselves: it causes them immense pain to walk on the grass, and even a single leaf is far too heavy for any to lift.

Shining figures, men and women whom they have known on earth, come to meet them, and to urge them to repent and enter heaven proper. They promise that as the ghosts travel onward and upward, they will become more solid and thus feel less and less discomfort. These figures, called "spirits" to distinguish them from the ghosts, offer to assist them in the journey toward the mountains and the sunrise.

Almost all of the ghosts choose to return instead to the grey town, giving various reasons and excuses. Much of the interest of the book lies in the recognition it awakens of the plausibility and familiarity, along with the thinness and self-deception, of the excuses that the ghosts refuse to abandon, even though to do so would bring them to "reality" and "joy forevermore."

The narrator is met by the writer George MacDonald, whom he hails as his mentor, just as Dante did when encountering Virgil in the Divine Comedy; and MacDonald becomes the narrator's guide in his journey, just as Virgil became Dante's. MacDonald explains that it is possible for a soul to choose to remain in heaven despite having been in the grey town; for such souls, the goodness of heaven will work backwards into their lives, turning even their worst sorrows into joy, and changing their experience on earth to an extension of heaven. Conversely, the evil of hell works so that if a soul remains in, or returns to, the grey town, even its happiness on earth will lose its meaning, and its experience on earth would have been hell. Few of the ghosts realize that the grey town is, in fact, hell. Indeed it is not that much different from the life they led on earth: joyless, friendless, and uncomfortable. It just goes on forever, and gets worse and worse, with some characters whispering their fear of the "night" that is eventually to come.

According to MacDonald, while it is possible to leave hell and enter heaven, doing so implies turning away (repentance); or as depicted by Lewis, embracing ultimate and unceasing joy itself."

“Son,'he said,' ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory."

[Sidebar: You will recall that I stated above:

"Many people suffer personal misfortunes which seriously, nay fatally, cripple their ability to turn toward the light."

Such misfortunes are a part of life, and some people get over them and some don't. Self-pity is an insidious consequence of suffering. To C. S. Lewis, as well as many, many others, the misfortunes of life are merely the tests which it is our purpose in life to endure and overcome. Self-pity removes the point of all our suffering, reducing it to meaningless noise; self-pity commits the sinner to a permanent state of stasis, thus depriving the soul of the opportunity of self-healing. Again, if the sinner could translate himself from one dimension to another, he would see how transitory and temporary are our human sufferings--but so many weak souls combine fragility with stubbornness, and cling to their suffering, for which they feel so ill-used; it is almost comical that an ever-so-slight change of attitude could relieve them both of the excuse, AND the suffering.

Back to The Great Divorce:]

"And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, "We were always in Hell." And both will speak truly.”

[Sidebar: You can see how predestination plays into this. Some weeks ago we talked about whether original sin came into being in the 1st or the 2nd moment of creation; we questioned whether free will and sin were the same thing. We also talked about Jesus as the judge on the last day, and suggested that, by the time we have arrived at that fatal moment, long before we stand before Jesus, the judgment will have been delivered on us by ourselves.

Back to The Great Divorce:]

“Hell is a state of mind - ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”

[Sidebar: The following section is linked to the idea that Satan's arguments appeal to the mind without ever touching the heart.]

“Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?”

“If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

“Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or their eyes to see.”

“Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”

To return to our thesis sentence, the inspiration for this message was the expression "Open Heaven". I have just given several examples of an "Open Heaven" that is sometimes closed to the sinner because it is invisible to him. The following is a famous section from from The Trial, by Franz Kafka. It draws a connection between the will to enter into joy and the force of evil thought that forbids that entry. It also shows how the sinner may come to understand his plight at the exact moment that it is too late:

"BEFORE THE LAW stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment." Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, 'just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the fleas as well to help him and to change the doorkeeper's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man's disadvantage. "What do you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper; "you are insatiable." "Everyone strives to reach the Law," says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."

[Sidebar: This is a chilling heartbreaking story, but it represents a fundamental spiritual truth: the man from the country might have had access to the law at any time if he had only truly stood up the doorkeeper. Indeed, the doorkeeper and himself are one, and it is ultimately HE HIMSELF who forbids his entry. He is convicted by false fears about false futures. He allows himself to crumble before a barrier that might have proven to be no more substantial than a house of cards, if he had only exerted his will power. The appearance of power is one of Satan's chief weapons, and if we fall for his magic show we can lose everything. If we choose to see with spiritual eyes, Satan's might becomes a puny, insubstantial force, his firy dragons become lightning bugs. This is how thin the line is between damnation and salvation.]

Here are some more Kafka quotes taken from various sources. You will note how many of them revolve around protagonists who have, by their own self-denial, become powerless before a cruel arbitrary fate--others find reason behind the madness:

From On Parables:
"Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.
–Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
–The first said: You have won.
–The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
–The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost."

From –The Trial:
“The Court wants nothing from you. It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.”

–December 4, 1913:
"To die would mean nothing else than to surrender a nothing to the nothing, but that would be impossible to conceive, for how could a person, even only as a nothing, consciously surrender himself to the nothing, and not merely to an empty nothing but rather to a roaring nothing whose nothingness consists only in its incomprehensibility."

–October 18, 1921
"It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off."

"The fact that there is nothing but a spiritual world deprives us of hope and gives us certainty."

"The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last."

From – Senses:
"You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

From Reflections on Sin, Pain, Hope and the True Way, 1917-1920:
"Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name; in reality it is a summary court in perpetual session."

In conclusion, let me just underline this message we first encountered in Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, I, The Birth of the Light, Berlin, December 19, 1904:

"Christianity stands as the external mystical fact for the birth of the light. Christ brought to the earth what had existed from the beginning, although it was hidden from mankind throughout the ages we have been speaking of. Now, however, a new climax was reached. Even as the light is born anew at the winter solstice, so . . . the Savior of Mankind, the Christ, was born. He is the new Sun Hero who was not only initiated in the depths of the Mystery temples, but who also appeared before all the world so that it could be said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). When it was recognized that the Divine could descend into a personality, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun Hero, the Christ, came to replace the festival celebrating the birth of the light."
And, finally, this other concept, also taken from Steiner:
"At the end of the lectures on the Bhagavad Gita Steiner proclaims the singlemost important revolutionary contribution Jesus made to the evolution of Humankind: that the Christ Consciousness is available to EVERYONE. Steiner makes the distinction between the Hindu principle that physical reality is maya, illusion, and is therefore to be transcended through renunciation, and the completely new affirmation of spirit IN THE FLESH that was the primary thrust of Jesus’ entire career. Though His incarnation and sacrifice, His blood shed onto the face of Mother Earth, Jesus ushered in a completely new epoch, an epoch of Heaven on Earth."
Indeed, I fail, daily, to remember where I am and who I am; but more and more, when I face adversities of whatever trivial sort, I can look past the dross and into the face of God Who radiates love and serenity behind every veil of maya. I know that Heaven is here, and I am getting better at going there all the time.

Let us pray: Jesus
Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,

Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit divine!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

8 Satan IV -- Demon Exorcism

8 Satan IV -- Demon Exorcism

Last week's sermon was about how Satan invades and corrupts us--with special attention paid to a description of the mechanism of demonic possession. Today we will examine the various mechanisms of spiritual defense against Satan and his minions. As we noted last week:

"Above all, it must be remembered that Satan and his minions are FALLEN ANGELS, and therefore possess super-human powers of intellect and persuasion. However, they are not CORPOREAL, so their only power over us is the power that we, ourselves, give them to invade our minds, thereby gaining control of our bodies."

Hence, the key to defeating the Devil is the ability to block his access to our minds. Understanding the particular style of mental communication that takes place between angels and Man is another key to controlling the mechanism of demon repulsion. As Rudolf Steiner reminded us last week:

"Through the Angels, the Spirits of Form are already now shaping these pictures in our astral body. The Angels form pictures in man's astral body and these pictures are accessible to thinking that has become clairvoyant. If we are able to scrutinize these pictures, it becomes evident that they are woven in accordance with quite definite impulses and principles."

The "if we are able to scrutinize these pictures" is a pretty big "IF", but the implication of the sentence is that we certainly CAN scrutinize angelic communication with the apparatus of spiritual sensitivity that God has bestowed on Man. This is due, in part, to what we may call "the spiritual essence of thought" itself, but also, in part, because Man, more than the Angels, is a multi-dimensional being. We have insisted, many times, that Man's consciousness exists of many levels at once--that it is our ability to travel up and down the continuum, from one consciousness level to another, that allows us to experience the heaven on Earth that is promised to us by Jesus.

Thus, at the very outset, we see that God has equipped Man with powers of perception that enable him to sense the presence of the Devil, and to detect his insidious intrusions. As John says in:

1 John 4:1-3
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already."

This scripture indicates that we have been gifted with powers of discrimination capable of recognizing the difference between thoughts that originate within us, and thoughts that originate OUTSIDE ourselves. The question is whether we hone and sharpen these sensitivities, or allow them to degrade, to the point that Satan's minions are given carte blanche to put any idea into our head that they want.

Last week we mentioned how the cartoon picture of a good little angel and a little red devil floating on either side of our head, was not an unrealistic picture of how things really work in the spiritual realm; we suggested that we do indeed have a good angel and a bad angel at our elbow at every moment doing battle with us, and with themselves, over the thoughts that we choose to validate within ourselves. Furthermore, it is no accident that the cartoon angels are pictured whispering in our ears, as that is exactly how they speak to us--through secret whispers, private messages delivered in subdued tones, just for us and no one else. 

What follows are the tales of two great Christian Saints who did battle with the Devil, and overcame him.

In the portrait offered below, Saint Augustine, is seen, in his garden, doing battle with an evil angel trying to distract his mind away from a Divine Insight. The demon is trying to lure him away from the positive thought by getting him to read a book, but this feint is very cleverly parried by the good angel directing him to the just the right book at just the right time.

This sort of ongoing duel between good and evil is a very common occurrence,  one might almost say a CONSTANT occurrence, in the spiritual realm; people, who have endured spiritual battles, will recognize it as being just the type of thing we have all gone through. We have all felt the intense joy of winning such a battle over temptation; we can also all confess to the sting of failure in such spiritual contests, the realization of which becomes apparent to us right at the PRECISE moment it is too late.

This account of Saint Augustine, is taken from the online article, Saint Augustine and the World, the Flesh, and the Devil:

Finally, in the garden at Milan we find Augustine facing the final temptation, the devil.  He has renounced the world for the sake of the Gospel.  He says,

“Of your eternal life I was certain, though I
saw it ‘in an enigma and as if in a mirror’.  My desire was not to be more certain of you but to be more stable in you.”  

He has also overcome, with the help of grace, his sexual appetite and has made the “leap of faith” into the arms of Lady Continence.
 In all the previous temptations the devil is behind the scenes taking what is good and twisting it.  Here, however, he works within Augustine’s own struggle. It is a struggle that Satan knows all too well and he is not about to go down without a fight.

His first attack on Augustine is a subtle suggestion that he cannot do what he is trying to do and even if he does he will be miserable.  The temptation was whispered into his ear.

“They tugged at the garment of my flesh and whispered: ‘Are you trying to get rid of us?’ And ‘ from this moment we shall never be with you again, not for ever and ever’.  And ‘from this moment this and that are forbidden to you for ever and ever.’  What they were suggesting in what I have called ‘this and that’ – what they were suggesting, my God, may your mercy avert from the soul of your servant!  What filth, what disgraceful things they were suggesting.”

These whisperings have the ring of guilt sounding from their depths reminiscent of the one who said,

“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”  

Augustine is able to shake off these whisperings.  He recognizes that they no longer have the force they once had yet as he says, “force of habit was saying to me:

‘Do you really think you can live without them?’”

[Sidebar: This, by the way, is one of Satan's most powerful ploys: to implant in the sinner's brain the thought that a permanent abstinence from this exquisitely delicious tang of sin would be a terrible, insufferable loss; Satan always wants us to hang on to our sins just a little, so we can return to them, if we really need them; to quit smoking for awhile is a thought we can bear, to quit smoking forever is to say good-bye to a dear old friend, even if the dear old friend is holding a gun to your head.

C.S. Lewis points out a similar ploy that the demons use: they always attempt to convince us that the only way we can get rid of them is to give into them. Thus, the terrible nagging attraction of our unwholesome addictions are perpetuated year after year by the thought that, "This will be the last time." I can't count the number of  "last cigarettes" I have smoked before the final last one dropped from my fingers in a single, determined, positive act. Always, right action dispels the agony of moral doubt. The moral here is suggested in Hamlet's soliloquy when Shakespeare tells us:

"to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them."

Back to Saint Augustine:]

 "After shaking off these “voices” of temptation the devil tries one last trick to distract the saint from the course he is taking.  Augustine hears the voice of a child telling him to “pick up and read, pick up and read.”   This could be seen as a voice from above directing him to his answer but I would argue that it is the last vain attempt from the tempter to lead Augustine back to the world, the flesh and himself.  The devil disguises his temptation with the voice of a child.  Augustine has already “shook off” the “tugging voices” of the temptation to habit and he has recognized and embraced the beautiful voice of Lady Continence.  The devil uses the voice of a child because we think of children as trustworthy and innocent.  However, we must remember that the devil is a liar and often disguises himself as an angel of light.  At the very least the devil wants to distract Augustine, and us, from choosing what will lead to God.  Often this is done by playing on our force of habit, pride, or by simply using the art of distraction.

In C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters we are given a clear picture of how this is done.  The senior devil says to his nephew, who is a devil in training,

“I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum.  One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way.  The Enemy [God], of course, was at his elbow in a moment.  Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter.  If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defense by argument I should have been undone.  But I was not such a fool.  I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch.”

 The distraction appears to have worked because Augustine begins to think back through his life trying to remember if he has ever heard a game with those words being chanted, “pick up and read, pick up and read.”  The beginning of this thought process could have been enough to lead him away from his “agony in the garden.”  He could have easily thought of another game he played when he was young which could have turned his thoughts to how much he enjoyed the games and on to how much he enjoys all of his “habits.”

This distraction could have worked this way but Augustine stays focused and believes he is to read something.  This too is another chance for Satan to lead Augustine away from God.  Since Augustine and his friends were learned men they surely had many different books lying around to “pick up and read” and he could have easily been lead to do so if it weren’t for grace constantly working against this work of the devil. 

In the end Augustine picks up the Letter to the Romans and in this letter Augustine finds his answer.  The interesting thing is that if his eyes would have rested upon any other quote from that sacred book the result would have surely been the same for the entire book from the beginning to the end calls us to set aside the workings of the flesh."

Next is an account of Martin Luther's association with demons and with Satan, specifically, throughout his life. This selection illustrates something I have said from this pulpit many times-that we can be confused by mental structures, but the faith that penetrates to the heart is the omniscient authority in all spiritual issues.

Luther and the Devil--Heiko A. Oberman

"The legacy of Luther’s parental home entailed more than a proper respect for hard work and deep erudition; it included also the at once wondrous and scary world of spirits, Devil and witchcraft, which the modern mind has come to call superstition. It is indeed not immediately clear what one should make of Luther’s account of 1533 in which he so confidently takes for granted the existence of witches and witchcraft. Yet this too is part of the historical record:

Doctor Martinus said a great deal about witchcraft, about asthma and hobgoblins, how once his mother was pestered so terribly by her neighbor, a witch, that she had to be exceedingly friendly and kind to her in order to appease her. The witch had cast a spell over the children so that they screamed as if they were close to death. And when a preacher merely admonished his neighbor in general words [without mentioning her by name], she bewitched him so as to make him die; there was no medicine that could help him. She had taken the soil on which he had walked, thrown it into the water, and bewitched him in this way, for without that soil he could not regain his health."

[Sidebar: The preceding account of witchcraft conforms to the magical techniques we often ascribe to Haitian voodoo. However, I have recently been reading The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, and have learned that such magical practices are far from the exclusive domain of the Caribbean, but, rather, are performed in evil rituals, in many different forms, throughout the entire world.

The witch mentioned above uses the very earth upon which the preacher walked as the physical medium through which she was able to cast her spell; Frazer mentions other witches who use the hair, spittle, scraps of clothing, even the excrement of their chosen victims, to enable their evil influence. Although he makes a huge long list of these different rituals which are used for the possession or control of targeted victims, Frazer always pooh-poohs the rituals as mere superstition with no basis in reality. Clearly, although the common man relishes taking superstitious principles and applying them constantly throughout his life, there may certainly be no basis to many of them; but the fact that they emerged in the human consciousness at all, implies that there must, somewhere, be a point of origin for these superstitions; that there is in fact some truth to the idea that human beings can exert magical influence over their victims.

As we have heard from C.S. Lewis, repeatedly, the devil is pleased by the human's unwholesome interest in the demons; taking such an unwholesome interest in magic, thereby turning demons into the obsession of an ever-present threat, gives Satan many convenient perches, and must, therefore, most certainly be considered a bad thing. However, remember C.S. Lewis's opposite warning that the denial of the existence of the demons gives Satan just as firm a foothold in the mind of the materialist. Further down, we will observe an important contribution Luther made to the medieval attitude toward magic: his idea, like Lewis's was not to renounce the existence of witches, but, simply, to put them in their proper perspective: giving the devil his due, so to speak.]

"If this story were not virtually forgotten, it would be grist for the mills of both Luther-disparagers and admirers. The witch’s tale fits perfectly into that tenacious tradition which continues to portray Luther’s mother as a backward peasant woman. It is she who is purported to have introduced young Martin to a world full of demons and to have put fear of the Devil into that soul already weighed down by his strong, willful father. The old bathhouse story of mother Margaret enjoying intercourse with the Devil would thus, in a new, psychological form, find its way into Luther’s biography: If Martin was not begotten by the Devil, he was at least raised with him.

There is no way to grasp Luther’s milieu of experience and faith unless one has an acute sense of his view of Christian existence between God and the Devil: without a recognition of Satan’s power, belief in Christ is reduced to an idea about Christ -- and Luther’s faith becomes a confused delusion in keeping with the tenor of his time.

 To Luther Christmas was the central feast: "God for us." But that directly implies "the Devil against us." This new belief in the Devil is such an integral part of the Reformation discovery that if the reality of the powers inimical to God is not grasped, the incarnation of Christ, as well as the justification and temptation of the sinner, are reduced to ideas of the mind rather than experiences of faith. That is what Luther’s battle against the Devil meant to convey. Centuries separate Luther from a modern world which has renounced and long since exorcised the Devil, thus finding it hard to see the difference between this kind of religion and medieval witchcraft. But Luther distinguished sharply between faith and superstition. He understood the hellish fears of his time, then discovered in the Scriptures the true thrust and threat of Satan and experienced himself the Devil’s trials and temptations. Consequently he, unlike any theologian before or after him, was able to disperse the fog of witches’ sabbath and sorcery and show the adversary for what he really was: violent toward God, man and the world. To make light of the Devil is to distort faith. "The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian."’

The following chronicle of his own encounter with the Devil as a poltergeist has a clearly medieval ring:
It is not a unique, unheard-of thing for the Devil to thump about and haunt houses. In our monastery in Wittenberg I heard him distinctly. For when I began to lecture on the Book of Psalms and I was sitting in the refectory after we had sung matins, studying and writing my notes, the Devil came and thudded three times in the storage chamber [the area behind the stove] as if dragging a bushel away. Finally, as it did not want to stop, I collected my books and went to bed. I still regret to this hour that I did not sit him out, to discover what else the Devil wanted to do. I also heard him once over my chamber in the monastery.

The final passage, with its pointed formulation and its underlying expression of contempt for the Devil, was amazing at the time and is overlooked today: "But when I realized that it was Satan, I rolled over and went back to sleep again." It is not as a poltergeist that the Devil discloses his true nature, but as the adversary who thwarts the Word of God; only then is he really to be feared. He seeks to capture the conscience, can quote the Scriptures without fault, and is more pious than God -- that is satanical.

When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins -- not fabricated and invented ones -- for God to forgive for His beloved Son’s sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny [in my response to the Devil], but want to acknowledge and confess."

There is one more Luther story that I always get a kick out of.

"Doctor Luther at the Wartburg:
Doctor Luther sat at the Wartburg translating the Bible.  The Devil did not like this and wanted to disturb the sacred work, but when he tried to tempt him, Luther grabbed the ink pot from which he was writing, and threw it at the Evil One’s head.   Still today they show the room and the chair where Luther was sitting. Today, the tour guides at the Wartburg do not mention the incident and the stain to tourists.  The stain has, I have heard, either faded away or been removed by someone embarrassed by the perceived silliness of the story."

[Sidebar: Note the expression "perceived silliness". In a materialist age, in which the Devil's existence is not acknowledged, it would, indeed, seem silly to throw an ink pot at a corner of the room, making a big mess. However, I have every confidence that this is a true story: I am sure the devil sought to tempt one of the great Saints, in his study, in the just same way he tempted Jesus in the desert; I'm sure that Luther's effort of will, not the ink chased the devil away; and I'm also sure that the person who scrubbed away that ink stain could hear Satan laughing uproariously.]

At last we come to the section on the Armor of God.

Last week, and so far today, we have spoken of devils and how they take charge of us. Now we will examine strategies for dealing with them; for, to move successfully up the spiritual path, we must learn how demonic assaults may be repelled. Easier said than done, to be sure.

As mentioned above:

the Devil cannot withstand the opposition of righteous will power.

But righteous will power is not dispensed, like over-the-counter prescription drugs. Will power is a virtue the formation of which is a long and difficult process, beset by many failures and backslides. Nevertheless, the price we pay for failing to learn will power is higher than any effort that can be expended in its acquisition.

There are several approaches mentioned below, but they all add up to what the apostle calls "The Armor of God."

The armor of God is mentioned specifically in:

Ephesians 6:10-18

"10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—"

[Sidebar: Notice that the armor of God is not just a single item, it is a whole arsenal of weapons:

1.) the breastplate of righteousness,
2.) the shield of faith,
3.) the helmet of salvation, and
4.) the sword of the Spirit

Thus, the WHOLE armor of God is a bundle of figurative defenses, which, if thought of in their in their imaginary forms, become weapons which the moral imagination can use in defense against Satan and his minions.

What follows are various formulae for creating in yourself the weapons of the armor of God. All of the following techniques are mere variations on the principle of using will power to fix your attention on the light, and keeping yourself from being distracted by Satan, looking backward into the dark.]

Matthew 16:23
"But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”"

1 Peter 5:8
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

[Sidebar: Note the expression "sober-minded". The scriptures do not invite us to spend our lives looking over our shoulders, fearing the Devil; but we are expected to pay attention. Nobody crosses the street in New York City using faith alone--we have to look both ways and wait for the light.]

1 John 5:18
"We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him."

James 4:7
"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

As mentioned last week:

"Satan is constantly attempting to implant tendencies, in our will, for wrong action. As long as we resist the wrong actions with opposing angelic pictures from Heavenly entities, all is well; but the wrong actions, motivated by wrong thoughts, are the devil's road into the heart. According to C.S. Lewis, it is not our thoughts that damn us but our deeds.

C. S. Lewis would also insist that right actions, performed habitually, assist in the formation of "virtues". Virtues are part of the armor of God which can lead to the strengthening of the will power necessary for remaining steadfast. Right actions create what you might call "virtuous inertia", or karma; surely it is easy to see how this inertia toward the good could not help but defeat the Devil's efforts to divert us from our sure course. Contrariwise, if the Devil is able to slow down our spiritual progress with any sort of intellectual or moral bottleneck, it is easy to see how he could motivate wrong actions which would eventually allow his corrupting influence to penetrate the heart."

Last week, we also mentioned the healing power of music:

"It is important to remember, in this regard, that the hypnotic power of music may be used as effectively for evil as for good; we recall the section from The Silver Chair in which the Green witch uses the thrumming of a lyre to dull her victims into submission. We have also suggested that TIME is a primary element in the creation of sin--the sequential ordering of events (the iconic fixation of which drags those events out of the realm of eternity and into the prison of material reality) is one of the ways our vision is distracted from the eternal down to the illusions of carnality. As the hypnotic thralldom of sequential repetition puts our minds to sleep, we are the more deluded by infernal implications and innuendoes. However, music can be more than mindless repetitions of carnal impulses: it can be reflections of divine forms, expressed in patterns of evolving, accelerating heavenly shapes. These shapes reside in the collective unconscious and are bursting with implicative symbolism and explicative emanations of positive energy.

Thus, the rhythm of music can represent the physicality of time, and therefore the physicality of sin, OR it can use the physicality of rhythm to open the heart to receive divine intimations of immortality. Music, when its rhythms are used to evoke divine forms, can become a powerful weapon in the Christian's arsenal of defenses against Satanic influence. The purity and perfection of divine forms, when placed side by side with the twisted demonic forms, make a very positive and very obvious comparison. A person would have to be very blind, indeed, to confuse the two."

Thus, the Armor of God will tend to include the immersion of the subject in Divine Emanations. Music is just one vehicle by which Heavenly vibrations are transmitted to the world; any great art will transmit Divine Energies into the material plane. Art is one of the sensitizing agents that helps open the door between the worlds. It is not the art itself that is the divine energy, and it is not the symbology of the art that is the divine energy, it is the subject's investment in, his heightened sensitivity to, and, ultimately his sympathetic vibration with the divine energy that allows it to manifest in our dimension.

Last week, this passage evoked an important point--the point about the Divine Authority which Jesus claims for Himself and all His brothers in God:

Luke 4:33-36

"And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”"

[Sidebar: This distinction between the authority of Satan over his subjects and the authority of Jesus over his subjects is worthy of comment. To review the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

"Satan is only head by outward government and not also, as Christ is, by inward, life-giving influence."

This point is not merely of dogmatic significance, but hints at a strategic tool by which the subterfuges of the Devil are made transparent to the faithful, to whit: no matter how convincing the arguments of the Devil seem to be, they NEVER touch the inner life of Man. The litmus test of spiritual validity is whether the words only touch the mind or whether they penetrate to the heart.]

The sensitivity to higher vibrations made possible by greater and greater investment in the Christian virtues, engendered through right action, causes a protective barrier to be built up between the Christian and Satan's minions. The Armor of God is a true armor, a force field, if you will, that surrounds the Christian and makes daily problems which, for other people, seem overwhelming, and which for the Christian, seem merely inconvenient. The force field, or aura, even extends into physical space. When we become part of a heavenly community, this defensive vibration becomes a part of our daily lives, and we even forget about Satan for awhile, because his ravings, though still audible, are ever so much more faint.

In The Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis gives an account of a house in which the active aggressive life of faith has created a barrier which the devils may not trespass:

"Then, of course, he gets to know this woman's family and whole circle. Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odour. The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a week-end visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. And a house full of the impenetrable mystery. We are certain (it is a matter of first principles) that each member of the family must in some way be making capital out of the others-but we can't find out how. They guard as jealously as the Enemy Himself the secret of what really lies behind this pretence of disinterested love. The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity. It bears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven; "the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence"."

Christians have the advantage over other seekers after Truth, because repeated acts of faith make the whole armor of God stronger and stronger, and engage the protective forces of Heaven ever-more apparently. The Armor of God is an edifice erected by supernatural forces which both radiate Divine Light, and repel the energies of darkness. The so-called aura of the house described by C.S. Lewis, above, is that of such a Christian household, a household that emanates a vibration of wholesomeness, love, and protection.

It is very much like the experience I have whenever I walk into the Anchorage Christian School. To be sure, I am allergic to the Baptist catechisms which are the backbone of that place; its many dogmatic obtusities are somewhat repellent to me, in their simple mindedness, and in their blind-eye rejection of many modern advances in scientific thinking, indeed, in RATIONAL thinking. However, it cannot be denied that it is a blessed place; and, when I walk into that space, I can feel the protection of Jesus blocking out the most obvious invasions of the Devil. Despite our disagreements on points of dogmatic rhetoric, we have  agreed on this one point: Jesus is our Lord and Protector. Notice, I say, "blocking out the most obvious invasions of the Devil", meaning there is a tang of evil discernible there, even as in the most holy of Earthly tabernacles; to be sure, the Anchorage Christian School is not a perfect haven of light and truth--the Armor of God does not come with a 100% money-back guarantee--but the feeling of wholesomeness and higher vibration in the halls of that place is so apparent that I don't think anyone who sets foot in there could fail to recognize it. Thank you, Jesus.

Recognizing the subtle vibration is an important key.  We must first be LOOKING for it, but once we have our attention focussed, there are certain sensitivities that must be cultivated. Remember that, in developing the sensitivity to spiritual truth, we have identified, above and beyond the protection of angelic entities, several clear rational signposts that will give us the confidence to be sure that what we think, and say, and feel is Truth that will actually endure, and not fade to nothing as the transitory ego identity shifts with the tides of time.

You may recall several months ago, in our discussion of the epiphanic experience, I detailed a number of steps in a process by which the epiphanic experience may be generated in the subject. Certainly, the epiphanic experience is not only for the purpose of advancing the subject forward in the his spiritual evolution--it may also be used as a defense against Satanic onslaughts. So, I mention it here, once again, to remind us that every spiritual experience can be detailed into a process just like every scientific experiment can be broken down into steps.

These signposts are:
1. redundancy as a starting point--sure, gimme that old time religion, it was good enuff fer my mother and it's good enuff fer me;
2. acceleration as the experience of the expression begins to gather momentum and mass; and
3. transformation--the expression begins to resonate with unstable but radiant Heavenly light.
An act of faith is necessary to kick this mechanism into gear, but once the process has begun, the Light will be visible to us through grace and nothing else; it will be clear, and bright, and accompanied by music.

Is my life more abundant because I have have executed my duties? Have I done enough good to erect a protective wall of virtue around my soul? Well, I certainly can claim, with full assurance, that the Armor of God has protected me, continually, from the strifes that attend the lives of many people living outside the fold of Jesus the Shepherd's protection. The bad things that happen to everybody have been less bad for me because I am wearing the the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Of course, a little more protection is always a good thing--we don't want to get cocky or self-righteous about our good works when have the peerless example of Jesus constantly before us; nevertheless, I know that the Armor of God has opened my eyes, and especially my ears, to the webwork of lies that Satan attempts to push off on me, I am safe and secure as long as I pay attention, and keep my face turned toward the light.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you again for your protection from the famished legions of fallen angels who seek our ruin. Give us the vision to see what is true, and gives us the grace to protect us from all that is not. Amen.