The Struggle To Be Real

My priest has written some delightfully wonderful stuff here. Give this a read and make sure to check out his blog “Glory to God for All Things” too! 

The Struggle To Be Real

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Very few modern Christians who read English are unfamiliar with the writings of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis’ expositions of Christian thought as well as his popular fiction (The Screwtape LettersThe Chronicles of NarniaOut of the Silent Planet, etc.) have become modern classics. Tolkien’s The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings has become something of an industry unto itself and has spawned an entire genre of literature. Many people know that the two writers were friends and colleagues, and some are aware that they belonged to a group of friends known as the Inklings. Few, however, are aware of the conversations and ideas that bound the Inklings together. They were not only Christians (for the most part), but committed Realists who struggled to put into words something of the world as they believed it truly exists. This is the deeper side (the Deep Magic) of their writings – a side I think that speaks to the heart of many in the modern world – though they don’t know why. I’m going to tell you why.

lewisThe Inklings were not a group of men who invented something. They were a group of men who had a shared affinity, something which brought them close to one another despite their differences (It is said that Lewis always had something of his native Northern Irish prejudice towards Roman Catholicism, a troublesome point for Catholic Tolkien). What they shared was a Realist view of the world – a belief that the material world is more than material, and that the symbols, meanings, values, etc. that coinhere within matter are more than ideas – they are real.

Beyond this theological/philosophical commonality, they also shared a belief about the nature of myth. And here I must be careful to define what is meant by myth. In popular usage, myth means a story that is not true, much like the popular usage that says that a symbol stands for something that is not present. For these men, myth was a form of story – but of a primal story, a shaping story. Myth was a story that is profoundly and deeply true, even if its various manifestations have deficiencies and discrepancies.

In the process of his Christian conversion, Lewis relates the account of an evening with a visiting atheist.

Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — “safe,” where could I turn? Was there then no escape?

Eventually this would become a core belief for Lewis. “It all happened once.” And so, he would eventually not only not be surprised that there should be other stories of dying and rising gods – he expected it. And he expected it, because the the death and resurrection of Christ are not just historical but also mythic. It is a primal story, even the primal story, one that shapes all stories.

Lewis again said that the ancient pagan myths were “good dreams sent to us by God to prepare for the coming of Christ.”

Tolkien said less about such things than Lewis, but they were equally part of his thought. His creation of Middle Earth, complete with languages, grammar and a back-story (The Silmarillion) that would rival the ancient epics of most civilizations, was not the hobby of an eccentric Oxford don. It was the life-work of a man whose instinct for the mythic required such an effort. On some level, certainly as an expression of myth in the way it is being used here (and as the Inklings themselves used it), the stories of Middle Earth are true. They are certainly far more true than any story found in the pages of a modern Newspaper.

Another member of the Inklings, Owen Barfield, was a lawyer by profession. However, Barfield was a former Anthroposophist and a profound Realist. His theoretical writings, such as Saving the Appearances, are much harder to read than the relatively popular works of Lewis and Tolkien. But both men thought of Barfield as the true theorist within their number.

Tolkien, reflecting on Barfields’s work, said, “If God is mythopoetic, then we must become mythopathic.” This is to say that if God’s primary mode of revelation is through the instrument of mythic stories and events, then we ourselves must be open to understanding such mythic expressions of realities. Strangely, myth (in their use of the term) is far better suited to expressing Realism than any possible materialist account.

And this brings us to my original point: Why do the imaginative works of Lewis and Tolkien speak to the modern heart as much as they do?

They do so because they are true! But the truth that they relate is a truth known primarily by the heart and it is this dynamic that gives myth both its nature and its effectiveness.

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis introduces us to Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace has been raised by “modern” parents and has a thoroughly materialist view of the universe. This renders his character deeply problematic in the mythic world of Narnia. It is his inward change that forms the primary narrative of the novel. Becoming mythopathic in Narnia is more than a philosophical change for Eustace – it is salvation.

The same can be said for the rest of us. The assumptions and narratives of materialism (both in its atheist and Christian forms) are not only incorrect, they can be productive of bad character, leading us away from God. The mythic nature of the world (reflected in the Inklings’ version of Realism) is a reflection of the child-like innocence that Christ enjoins on his followers. Adults who are too “wise” to be fooled are always dangerous characters in Lewis’ novels.

In the life of the Church, there is a primary “mythic” experience: the Liturgy. Liturgical action is more than an antiquated manner for having a Church meeting. It is the ritual, sacramental and symbolic enactment of a Reality that might otherwise not be seen, understood, or experienced. That same reality, presented in a non-mythic manner, would be less accessible and probably misunderstood. Tolkien was right: we must become mythopathic.

The attraction of Lewis’ and Tokien’s writings are witness to the fact that there is a deep mythopathic part even in the modern heart. This is not a modern phenomenon – it is a human phenomenon. It is the anti-mythic character of modern culture that sets it apart from all human cultures that have come before. The reduction of the world to a narrow, materialist understanding of fact, is simply a world unable to communicate God.

Lewis used the term Tao to describe one aspect of this mythic Reality in his book, The Abolition of Man. He meant no particular version of Taoism – only that there is a deep Way (Tao) of things that anybody with any sense at all (to say it in a Lewisian fashion) should know. That so many no longer perceive the Tao of things is a testament to a world increasingly populated by versions of Eustace Scrubbs.

But even Eustace came to know the Tao of things. We may pray for the same.

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The Mark of the Beast Demystified—Or, I’ve Got 666 Problems but the Rapture Ain’t One of Them

“Like other apocalyptic texts, the Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine is not a prediction of events expected to take place two millennia after the author’s death. Rather, it is a message aimed at a contemporary audience, one that relies on a knowledge of people and events from the author’s own time.”

Is That in the Bible?

Growing up with dispensationalist parents and acquaintances, the end times, Antichrist, and mark of the beast were topics that came up not infrequently. Add in Pentecostalism, Satanic Panic, and an unhealthy preoccupation with flavour-of-the-month charismatic prophets, and you have the makings for some bizarre biblical hermeneutics.

The fact of the matter is that end times prophecy, the mysterious number 666, and the identity of the Antichrist have all been subjects pursued with pseudo-scholarly gusto by Christian writers and evangelists (particularly in the Anglosphere) over the past few decades. For the lay Christian with a casual interest in eschatology, deliberation over who the Antichrist is (present tense intended) and the meaning of 666 offers a fascinating opportunity to involve oneself in things that seem both spiritual and important. In fact, the discussion has become productized, with each self-styled end-times teacher and prophet hocking his or her own theories as truth.

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An Avalanche

Last summer I read Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence”. I greatly enjoyed his journey with the spiritual elder, Father Maximos. At one point, they are discussing what Christ came to do while He was here and what His real mission was. Father Maximos says:

What the Ecclesia primarily teaches is the means through which a human soul may attain Christification, its saintliness, its union with God. The ultimate goal is to become perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to become one with God. Christ didn’t come into the world to teach us how to become good fellows, how to behave properly, or how to live a righteous life in this world. Nor did He come to offer us a book, even if this book is called the Bible or New Testament…He came to the world to give us Himself. To show us the Way toward our salvation.”

Kyriacos remarks having heard this before and mentions that it is Satan who seeks to prohibit us from communion with God and seeks to prevent us from reaching our destination of union with the Holy One. Kyriacos is curious as to how Satan does this, what are his means and ways to prohibit us from reaching union with God. Father tells Kyriacos that the most used tool of Satan is preventing us from union with God is what the holy elders have called “logismoi” (sounds like ‘logos me’). A simple reading and understanding of this Greek word would render it “thoughts”. However, Father Maximos has this to say:

Logismoi are much more intense than simple thoughts. They penetrate into the very depths of a human being. They have enormous power. Let us say…that a simple thought is a weak logismos. We need to realize, however, that certain thoughts, or logismoi, once inside a human being, can undermine every trace of a spiritual life in its very foundation. People who live in the world don’t know about the nature and power of logismoi. That is, they don’t have experience of that reality. But as they proceed on their spiritual struggle, particularly through systematic prayer, then are they able to understand the true meaning and power of this reality” (page 118).

I for one have found the language I need to describe my crazy thoughts within the Orthodox spiritual life. Have you ever laid in bed at night seeking to fall asleep, perhaps praying while trying to fall asleep, and just get bombarded by thought-after-thought? Sometimes these thoughts are intentional thoughts: what to do the next day, reflection upon events from the past day, agendas, etc. Sometimes these thoughts are not thoughts we think. Evil thoughts even! If you have experienced the bombardment of crazy thoughts at any time then you have experienced what the holy elders call the logismoi.

The Holy Fathers speak of the Fall of man creating a divide, a chasm, between man’s mind and man’s heart. This divide is what brings about the logismoi. Our mind is a crazy house while living disconnected from the heart, what the Fathers call the Nous. The Nous is the source of our being, our personhood as I wrote in my previous blog. The logismoi constantly bombard our hearts and minds to prevent us from experiencing union with God. Father Maximos is sure to point out that not all logismoi are bad. He speaks of how it is wise to speak with a experienced spiritual elder who can guide one in the discernment of one’s logismoi.

Kyriacos ask Father how it is that the logismoi can prevent us from reaching God. Father says:

Let us say that a logismos is a thought of a special quality and power intensity…There is something mysterious about a logismoi. Its impact is similar to the sting of a needle when you go to the doctor to receive a shot. When negative logismoi manage to enter into your spiritual bloodstream they can affect you in the same way that a needle, full of poison, penetrates you and spread the deadly substance throughout your body. Your spiritual world becomes contaminated and you are affected on a very deep, fundamental level. Your entire spiritual edifice can be shaken from its very foundation” (page 119)

We can see from this wise Father’s words that these thoughts can be very destructive, very detrimental to our spiritual well-being. A logismoi can be so powerful that it can leave us feeling helpless against its power. These thoughts are faced by all! Even the Saints throughout the ages. They have become masters over their logismoi through Theosis and spiritual regimens prescribed to them by their spiritual leaders.

Our logismoi pushes us towards committing a sinful act! The demons haunt us with the logismoi and compel us to commit these sins because God is gracious and loving and will forgive anyways. Then when this sin comes about and we have committed it we feel the wild, crazy thought that says God is a mean kid in the sky waiting to burn up dirty little sinners with His holy wrath. This is the crazy world of crazy thoughts, crazy logismoi!

Things were not always like this! Prior to the Fall we lived in a state of constant prayer, constant union with God. Once the Fall occurred and the rift between man and God came into existence so came with it the logismoi to replace what was continual, constant prayer. This is the existential crisis of our existence today! Our hearts were once innocent and pure, but once the rift came to be the heart became bombarded by these logismoi, which are themselves the barrier between us and union with God.

The best way to combate the logismoi is through ceaseless prayer. The lives of the Saints and holy elders testify to this. They also identified for us the 5 stages in the development of the logismoi that goes contrary to God’s law and goodness. I believe that Father Maximos points out the stages in order for us to be aware of how these crazy logismoi can destroy us. Knowing your enemies tactics is half of the battle, right?

5 Stages of Development for Logismoi

Assault Stage- this is the stage where the logismoi first attacks our mind. We must take care to know that this do not leave us accountable. Everyone in history of mankind since the Fall experiences the logismoi. Father Maximos says, “The quality of our spiritual state is not evaluated on the basis of these assaults.” We will always be attacked by myriads of logismoi. We do not sin in this at all. We have no need to feel guilty for these thoughts plaguing us. Pleading questions like “Why do I have these thoughts?” and “Why me?” are born out of our egoism. This obsession, Father says, is a tool used by Satan to bring us down. These logismoi come to us because we are humans……period! Do not beat yourself or obsess over these logismoi. You are human; you will experience them always.

Interaction Stage- this is what I call the conversation stage. This is where we begin to open up a dialogue with the logismoi. If the logismoi engaged you to lust after someone, which may be a bombarding thought that I and other men can and do face, then in this stage you begin to say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “What will happen if I do?”, “Who will know?”, or “Who is gonna get hurt?”. Father Maximos points out that even in this stage there is no accountability or sin, but that if one is weak to begin with then the actual sin is not far from being committed.

Consenting Stage- this is the stage where you give the logismoi your consent to do what it urged you to do like in our case above, lusting. We make the decision that brings about the beginnings of guilt and accountability. We say, “Okay, I am going to do this!” Father Maximos says, “It is the beginning of sin. Jesus was referring to this stage when he proclaimed that if you covet a woman in your mind you have already committed adultery in your heart. The moment this decision is allowed to take root in your heart, then you are well on the way to actually committing the act in the outer world.” He says that this stage is still consent and desire; no action has yet to be taken. If we pray and ask for God’s help and invoke His name we can defeat this stage without going on to the next.

Captivity Stage- if we aren’t able to be freed from the previous stage then defeat has come and the act has been committed. Father says we become hostage to the logismoi. The power in it is seen in the moment of succumbing to the logismoi. Once that happens the logismoi comes back in greater power the next time and is harder to resist, which just goes on and on getting harder to resist each time. This is called captivity because it takes a hold of us in a way we have a hard time being freed from.

Passion/Obsession Stage- “The logismos has become an entrenched reality within the consciousness of the person, within the nous. The person becomes a captive of obsessive logismoi, leading to ongoing destructive acts to oneself and to others…” says Father Maximos. The holy elders say that this stage is “like giving the key of our heart to Satan so that he can get in and out any time he wishes.” This stage is the stage of self-destruction. We can reason and understand, but we are helpless for our hearts are captive to the evil. The logismoi possesses and controls us.

These are the 5 stages: assault, interaction, consent, captivity, and passion. Father Maximos says that “they unfold and grow within us sometimes gradually, sometimes like an avalanche.” However, there is healing from these that come from the grace of the Holy Spirit and through cooperation with Him via asceticism.

These thoughts are indeed like an avalanche! I have witnessed all 5 of these stages; I have found the language of Orthodox spirituality to describe perfectly how our thoughts bombard us, sometimes for the good, but mostly for the bad. We are not held eternally by these thoughts. The avalanche does not cover us forever. The warmth of the Light of Christ burns brightly and reverently to melt away at this avalanche! It is not an easy battle, but there is a way of overcoming. I have not yet read further in the book, but Father Maximos does lay out a battle plan so to speak. We are not left hopeless in the wake of the avalanche of logismoi.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica once said:

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.

Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed.”

Nothing speaks to the power of the logismoi like Elder Thaddeus’ wise words. We did not cover the spiritual regimen that Father Maximos goes into later in the book, but I feel that knowing that the logismoi is real and how it seeks to consume us is half of the battle. The regimen may not be something we need to cover, but something I urge you to speak about with your spiritual father and how to combat it. I will say that learning to pray and enter into one’s heart is the beginning of fighting the logismoi as Jesus gives you strength and light to climb out of the avalanche. He has given us tools to combat these bombarding logismoi. Take hold of the tools and wisdom of the holy elders given to the Church. The avalanche can be overcome!