One of the challenging topics that Lay Cistercians discussed at the Gathering, on October 11, 2020 was that of voices in our minds that say things. Once a month Lay Cistercian novices, juniors, and professed members, meet to pray together, share the Holy Spirit with each other, and listen to the words of the Trappist monks of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia. We meet so that Christ might increase in us and we decrease. One of the interesting observations I have, as one who struggles to seek God every day, is about the notion of “struggling”. Why is it not easy for me, as I presume it is other Lay Cistercians and monks, to move from self to God each day? The struggles have to do with the voices that I keep hearing and have heard all of my life. Lest you think I am paranoid in the dysfunctional sense, I assure you that there is only one person out to get me or that whispers “No” in my ear each time I want to step outside of myself.
I have the ability to use my reason for a reason and to choose which path will lead me to what is meaningful about being human. The problem is, I keep hearing silence voices somewhere in the recesses of both my consciousness and unconsciousness. This actually happens to me every day as I try to discern God’s will versus my own. I am reminded of a picture I saw with an angel on one side of my shoulder telling me to do good while on the other side is a demon whispering words to lead me astray.
I have been in the struggle with my good and bad voices from far back as I can remember.
THE GENESIS ARCHETYPE
I consider the book of Genesis as the greatest commentary on the human condition in all of written literary history. An archetype is far more mysterious and profound than a mere story. An archetype reaches into the bowels of the collective human condition and provides a peek into why something is. Genesis is the compliation of many years of oral tradition, refined, lost, rediscovered, and finally written down. It is a commentary on why we humans find ourselves in a condition where we must die, there is pain and suffering, and the results of being in a state of alientation from God. In the two Genesis accounts, God is the one who lifts humans up from the soil (adama in Hebrew). Humans would never be able to know God as He is but only as they are in this particular space and time in history. The story of resonance and dissonance in human condition is key.
In my own understanding of this classic myth, The Garden of Eden is the place in the Physical Universe from which Adam and Eve (the archetype for all humans) were literally created from animality to rationality. Just as in the first paradigm, God creates time, matter, energy, and infuses them with his DNA. In the second paradigm, God lifts up the first humans from the platform of animality to begin the process of growing collectively and individually in union with the natural law of the physical universe. Adam and Eve disrupted this resonance by choosing to be something they were not, God the creator. Sin came into the world through one man, says St. Paul, and one man (the Christ) would become sin to restore resonance once again, the relationship with God as it should be. But there was a price to pay for this restoration. Christ had to become human, suffer, and die as an offering (like Abraham and Isaac). I like to use the word Christ because it means messiah, Son of God, and the word Jesus because it means Joshua, God is helping, the anointed one. These words are at the core of our Faith. (Philippians 2:-12) Every knee must bow at this name because God has visited us as one of us to pay the price for the archetypal sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus is our humanity, Christ is the divinity of the Godhead. God revealed to us through, with, and in Christ how to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father but also how to live our lives in our timeframe that we can overcome death, pain, suffering, ambiguity, and the temptations that may lead to the seven deadly sins. Contemplation is a way to move from self to God where we abandon or empty our human self to allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow us each and every day.
GOOD IS NOT THE SAME AS EVIL
One of the mistakes that people who fail to read the writings of the early Fathers of the Church is to equate God with the Devil, as though they are opposing but equal Beings. The pure energy of God has no beginning nor end and does not exist in physical space, nor is bound by what we humans think of as time. God blows away all those assumptions about how all reality is only what we can reason with our minds and scientific yardsticks. This is not to say that we cannot measure and identify what physical reality is. I argue that we not only can measure the world around us but that we should aggressively use science and human reasoning to expand the yardsticks we use to measure that reality. My problem with scientific measurement is that it fails to look at an important part of reality that is spiritual. Even if we could prove and define this or that about God depending on who you ask, how can you describe (not define) a Being that is unknowable who exists at 100% of its Nature and has three functions who are beyond our normal way of thinking? There is but one reality but three separate, yet integral functions, so much so that these functions are alive and we call them persons. None of this makes sense to those with assumptions that say what is real is what we can see, experience with our human intelligence and knowledge. One of my favorite sayings is: I am not you, you are not me; God is not you, and you, most certainly, are not God. What we have termed the Devil, the snake in Genesis, the roaring lion seeking whom it may devour, is not the same nature as God. In fact, Lucifer was created by the Word of God and endowed with reasoning and the ability to choose good or evil but is not a human, but a spirit from the mind of God. Lucifer chose himself and not God’s rule in the playground of Heaven.
Lucifer is consumed with jealousy and pride and will not admit to what is real in the spiritual universe. He, and his followers sought to reform God by denying who God is but more importantly who they are. This is the archetypal sin of having self as God.
Not everything that comes into our minds is a temptation. As one trying to seek God every day in meditation, reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Lectio Divina, there are good thoughts from God, then thee are thought that come from my just living in the corruption of Original Sin, such as being lazy and not praying with the mind and heart but just to please a habit.
Temptation from Satan is recognized by what it suggests you do. St. Paul gives us the fruits of evil in Galatians 5. Read this, along with the energy of the Spirit. Conversion of self takes place every day because we are challenged every day to live just in the World and not in the Spirit. Without the saving grace and energy of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, our Second Advocate, we may be seduced into thinking that what is against God is actually okay because it fulfills us (leads to temporary gratification). Temptation is only a suggestion by Satan to do evil or replace the peace of Christ with the hatred of others. Sin means I accept the voice of Satan to replace the spirit with evil. Voices in our minds, then, can be a natural result of our evolution from animality to rationality, a suggestion by Satan to do something that will lead us to death of the spirit, even though it seems pleasurable or fulfilling, and then the voice from the Holy Spirit. This voice is God’s own energy, endowing the Church Universal to help us stand firm against the choice of sin versus the love of Christ.
I am bombarded every day with voices from my animal past, which is why I like to think of myself as a spiritual ape. I am grateful to the Benedictine Rule to help me convert my morals from self to Christ and the Cistercian practices and constitutions of the Order that allow me to die to self in order to rise again and again each day to make all things new again in Christ.
From the moment I was born, I have been bombarded with constant voices, some evil, some from God, and some from my background heritage. Herein lies the struggle to become more like Christ and less like me. Just as God overshadowed matter and lifted it up to become a reality that has an ending and an end, just as God the Father overshadowed matter and energy in the physical universe and lifted up humans from all other species and endowed with reason and the freedom to choose what is reasonable, there is significant trending and movement towards a destiny that is Omega. With the Christ principle, God the Son became one of us to show us what it means to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father and to sustain those in the Church Universal with the very power of God to overshadow us as He was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the belief of Mary that God’s will be one to her according to His Word. As I sit here today, I am blessed to recognize that the Holy Spirit works through me to transform myself to become more like Christ. That recognization is a cascading effect of pure energy (as much as I can absorb) that moves to see the Holy Spirit in others as it impacts my moving from self to God. This is the voice that I strive to have in me, that of the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5).
Good is not the same or is equal to evil as two polar sources of power. Evil has no power other than the result of choosing what is not authentic and what God says is the way, the truth that leads to life.
Evil exists only in humans. Dogs are not evil. The Moon and the Earth are not evil. Then Canticle of Daniel is a beautiful prayer to glorify God by presenting the Sun and Moon as praising God because they are acting their nature. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5n3hZK4YI
The opposite of good is not evil, as though they were two poles of one reality. Evil exists in the Devil because of the choice to choose to be in the presence of a false center, one that is based on the individual and not the will of God.
More and more each day, I am at peace with just being content to sit in the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, my two Advocates, and wait. God’s presence is transforming if I have the humility and the patience to seek God daily. I used to think that I did all the work by performing the Cistercian practices of Lectio, Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharist, reading Scripture, and of Eucharistic Adoration. Now, I am just beginning to realize that, all along, nothing depended on me at all, but to sit on a park bench in the middle of Winter and wait for me to be present to Christ.