Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spiritual Struggle


There is a great story in the book, Report to Greco, by Nikos Kazantzakis. When Nikos was young, his mother was very religious; she went to mass everyday. His father was anti-religious; sort of bitter toward religion, and Nikos was torn. When he was 19 years old he decided to spend the summer at a monastery located on one of the mountains in Greece. At this monastery there was a famous old monk called Father Makarios. 

One day, Nikos asked Father Makarios, “Father Makarios, do you still wrestle with the Devil?” Father Makarios said, “No. I use to wrestle with the Devil all the time. But now I have grown old and tired, and the Devil has grown old and tired with me. So I leave him alone and he leaves me alone.” Nikos asked, “Then life is easy now?” Father Makarios responded, “Oh no. Life is much harder now. For now I wrestle with God.” Nikos exclaimed, “You wrestle with God and hope to win?” “No,” said Father Makarios, “I wrestle with God and hope to loose.” 

These two images—wrestling with the Devil and wrestling with God—represent two different aspects of spiritual struggle; perhaps even two different stages of spiritual development. 

For most of his ministry Jesus wrestles with the Devil. Many of the struggles come from his provocation of the religious establishment. But on one occasion, his mother and brothers come to “take charge of him” because they think “he is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).  And on another occasion, just after Jesus tells his disciples that he must be rejected, suffer, and die, the disciples sought to persuade him differently. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but human concerns” (Mark 8:33). Jesus faced many temptations to divert him from the way of the cross. 

But when Jesus arrives at Gethsemane, he is now struggling with God. He tells his intimate circle of disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” and he cries out to God that the hour of the cross might pass from him. Then, on the cross, Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I do not believe that God abandoned Jesus, but Jesus, as the Son of Man, the Human One, felt forsaken. Jesus was wrestling with God. 

Our struggle with the Devil is largely a struggle with the ego. The ego pulls us toward extremes: thinking too much of ourselves or thinking too little of ourselves. It’s a struggle with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). It’s a struggle with the desire for power, possessions, and prestige. It is largely a struggle about how we will channel the great passions and energies of life. 

Our struggle with God is largely about control and surrender to a greater purpose and cause. It’s the struggle of surrender to the Great Mystery that sustains and transforms all reality. In some ways, our struggle with the Devil (I’m using this term metaphorically) is our resistance to the plowing of the field; while our struggle with God is our resistance to becoming the seed that grows in the field. 

When we lose our struggle with God, then we are finally able to say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” We come to know God at a more profound level of spiritual consciousness. When we lose our struggle with God, we know in our core being that we are intrinsically related to God and rooted in God, and that will be all that we need to know. That will be enough. 

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