25 February 2018

On the Collect for Lent 2

By a happy coincidence, I was reading again yesterday in The Noonday Devil. Evagrius warns of the dangers of the logosmoi, the demonic thoughts which assault us. And here today we prayed:

O God, who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, our Lord... (TLH)

This is something that we post-moderns have a hard time with, believing that thoughts themselves can assault and damage our inner life. We rather like the observation of Aristotle that the mark of an educated person is to be able to consider a thought without accepting it. But are there thoughts that are too hot to handle? Whose consideration cannot take place without damage being inflicted on us? We know in fact that there are.

Proverbs 6:27: Can a man take fire into his bosom and his clothes not be burned?

Yes, no matter how much we may not like it, we have to admit that there is such a thing as playing with fire. Allowing certain thoughts to take up residence within us can, in point of fact, damage us in our hidden, inner life, for these thoughts by their very nature war against divine love.

And so the prayer. It is a cry for help and in many ways an expansion of the prayer that the early Christians had on their lips constantly from Psalm 70:1. There’s a reason that the daily offices seem to include this all over the place as they begin.

Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O Lord!

This is the prayer raised in the face of the assaulting thought that seeks to gain entrance and do its damage. God knows WE have no strength to fight this. But the strength He provides us is in His Word. When His Word inhabits us and we inhabit it, then the evil thoughts from the demons cannot gain their entrance. Oh, as we learned last week, Satan knows how to twist even the divine words to his own purposes, but we learned as well that answering him back with the divine words was the method of spiritual warfare in which our Lord triumphed. Against a Satanic twisting of Scripture, He simply cited Scripture. We are weak, but He is mighty. His words are strong.

When St. Paul urged us what to think about in Philippians 4, that’s above all an invitation to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. It’s not much different from what he was getting at in Colossians 3. And so the most deadly of the thoughts that assault us: acedia. This nasty bugger that wants to close our hearts and ears to the divine Word. This sloth and indolence in hearing the Word. This attack upon the very foundation of all godliness in our lives. This itch to do or move or think or check your phone or do anything but actually listen and pray. It is a thought. It assaults. It seeks to harm. We are weak. We are helpless. He is strong and His Word is mightier than their words.

To continue in the Word is the only thing that can expose the assault that we’re not even aware of; to continue in the Word will disclose the damage already done; to continue in the Word where we are exposed in all our fears and ugliness and yet where He graciously reveals Himself as more kind and loving than we ever dared to dream, and kind and loving to US, to ME. This is the battle against acedia, and only in the Son of God is it overcome. “Abide in me and I in you.” Then the evil thought cannot win the day.

“Give us help, O Lord, for vain is the help of man.” Psalm 108:12

1 comment:

Jerome Gernander said...

Yes! One of my favorite collects for the reasons you stated, and its thoughts are expounded upon in O What Precious Balm and Healing. "... pains of body and of mind ... should some evil thought rush in ..." etc.

Evagrius is helpful, as is Kathleen Norris' book Acedia and Me, for diagnosing the problem of acedia. You do not really reach the solution in those sources though. Hal Senkbeil's article in the Kleinig Festschrift is excellent on this subject.

Enjoying your latest book immensely, Bill.

Jerry G.