War, What is it Good For? Absolutely Everything (7.30.10)
If I had time to come up with a post this morning -- which I may still have, depending how long the boy stays asleep -- I was going to continue exploring the subject of Difficulties On the Path and the Hostile Forces that make it so, whoever or whatever they are.
In fact, yesterday I went through my liberary and plucked down any books that pertain to the subject, so I could brush up on my spiritual mind parasitology. To my surprise, I didn't have a copy of Unseen Warfare, which I thought I had read a few years ago, but I guess I hadn't. I must have just read excerpts in The Heart of Salvation: The Life and Teachings of Saint Theophan the Recluse, so I ordered a copy.
It was originally written by a Catholic priest in the 16th century, but then edited and added to by St. Theophan, the great 19th century Russian Orthodox mystic theologian and staretz. On the back cover it quotes Theophan, who wrote that "the arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place, is our own heart and our own inner man. The time of the battle is our whole life."
I think that is a key idea, for there is simply no way to avoid the battle of a lifetime. Or, to be perfectly accurate, you can opt out of the battle on pain of squandering the purpose of your life. Look at Otis. His problem is not so much that life is a battle, but that he is shrinking from it. He is a conscientious objector in the war for his own soul. He's laid down his weapons, and is hoping that by appeasing the Adversary, he'll go away. Fat chance.
I think the purpose of spiritual combat is to transpose the constant battle of life to a higher key, so to speak. Just as, say, the sex drive is contained and transmuted through marriage, inner conflict is given new meaning by placing it on a higher spiritual plane, on which we polish and perfect our character against the rocks of adversity.
You don't really discover who you are or "what you're made of" until you're up against it. Therefore, to deprive man of adversity is to deprive him of the opportunity to grow and evolve, which is apparently the reason why we are here. Or so we have heard from the wise, the merciful, the obnoxious. As Petey has explained it, angels pretty much know everything, but within a limited domain, and that's it. They cannot evolve, because there is nothing to clash with. Their lives are entirely non-friction, so to speak.
Take, oh, I don't know, me, for example. At this very moment I am doing something I would have thought impossible just 28 months ago, which is to say, hatch a new thought and type a coherent sentence with a baby stirring in the next room. I often lament how little time I have anymore, and long for those times when I could spend an entire leisurely day parked in the hammock office and reading mystical poetry.
But the plain fact of the martyr is that I've somehow been far more productive over the past two years than at any other time of my life. Three years ago I was a sensitive genius who needed absolute silence in order to plumb the depths and share my gifts with an unworthy world, but now I just blather and bleat whatever comes out of my fingertips, and it surpasses what that pretentious windbag came up with before.
Have you ever noticed that for the majority of rock acts, their first album is their best? Once they become successful and have all the slack, their creativity goes in the dumpster. They have nothing more to say, and simply repeat themselves.
My own life was pretty enslackened four or five years ago. But it was also at something of an end. I am quite sure that this went into the decision to have a child, which, in its own way, is as momentous as the earlier decision to have a body. One does so knowing full well that one is jumping feet first into a catastrophe, with no assurance of a happy outcome. It's a total gamble. I mean, I could complain about my parents, but it could have been a whole lot worse. I could have landed a few feet to the left, next door, in which case there would have been dead bodies involved.
I just can't believe what a high-wire act having a child is. I would never give him back -- ask me again tomorrow -- but at the same time, I'm not sure I would have taken this on had I appreciated the stress beforehand. There are no doubt dark times when one could say the same of life itself: all things considered, would I really have chosen this over the timeless bliss of nonbeing?
Apparently so. Petey says that folks on his side are pretty damn bored, and that the competition for bodies is quite fierce. To the extent that they have any stress there, it's over the chance to incarnate and take a stab at evolution, which is to say, spiritual combat.
This morning, Dr. Sanity has a relevant post entitled A Generation Destroyed by the Madness of Postmodernism. You wouldn't think it's related, but it is, because it has to do with the West's shirking from spiritual combat, specifically, my own generation's idiotic and cowardly belief that war has somehow been transcended or become unnecessary. She links to an interview with Victor Davis Hanson, in which he criticizes academia for its neglect of military history.
Hanson cites several reasons for the neglect, including the conflation of war and amorality, "forgetting, for example, that chattel slavery, Nazism, fascism, and Stalinism were ended by arms or military deterrence. Second, multiculturalism -- no culture can be any worse than the West -- has redefined the history of Western arms as exclusively in the service of racism, colonialism, and imperialism that in turn were unique to the West. And lastly, the advent of postmodernism... into the arts and sciences meant a general disdain for, and absence of mastery of, names, dates, personalities, facts themselves -- the stuff of military history -- in favor of seeing all of the past as a morality tale to be deconstructed on the basis of preconceived (and often anti-empirical) gender, class, and racial oppression."
My guess is that this rejection of external combat is simply a mirror of the prior wimpified rejection of spiritual combat. As Hanson says, "there is still this crazy notion that anyone who studies war does so not to understand and thus often mitigate its effects, but rather out of a sort of repressed or even overt desire for bloodletting -- as if an oncologist likes tumors or a virologist is de facto an advocate for AIDs."
Real warriors understand the spiritual nature of combat -- you might say that they have heroically transposed the unseen combat of the spirtual world to the material plane -- which, I might add, is hardly less spiritual: "War by nature involves the ultimate sacrifice of soldiers, usually of a rare segment of the general population willing to die for an idea, an order, a good or bad cause, to inflict havoc or save humanity."
Ironically, a clueless amazon reviewer of Unseen Warfare wrote the following: "As a Christian pacifist, I'm extremely wary of militaristic language, in either common speech ('bullet points' or 'I got bombed last night') or allegedly spiritual discourse ('Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war...'). So I was initially put off by the title Unseen Warfare."
I'll have to read the book and decide for myself, but here is what it says in the book about Saint Theophan:
It was Saint Paul who repeatedly said that the Christian life is an athletic contest, and that we must always train for this contest. He also first likened the Christian life to a battle, and the Christian to a soldier; he described the discipline appropriate to such a warrior; his armour, his offensive and defensive weapons, and the internal and external enemies against whom he has to fight. The Bible is full of this doctrine and its related disciplines.... Most of these combats occur during purification, when man is divided against himself, the old man against the new.
Here's a bullet in: being a spiritual wussifist will not do. Rather, you must choose sides, declare war on yourself, and terminate your mind parasites with extreme prejudice. You can "study war no more," but you'll end up sombody's slave one way or the other.