(The photos included in this post are some of things I get to see while traveling for work in Newfoundland.)
Each time Christmas vacation came around during my (first) Bachelor degree I had the habit of taking a break from the “great books” I read endlessly for school and delving into a novel or two (or three). See, I was enrolled in a Great Books program modeled after St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in which we read volumes upon volumes of primary sources: Plato, Dante, Bacon, Spencer, Shelley, and so much more. Letting my mind read just “for fun” instead of with a critical eye to themes and philosophies, once essays and exams were finished, was a real treat.
Summertime in Newfoundland
The last few years – thanks to my brother’s intriguing Christmas presents – I have revived this habit of reading a novel during Christmas vacation. Thus, I found myself driving back to my office from one of the many coves on the Avalon Peninsula (my work takes me to some interesting places) reflecting on the novel I had been reading. I was at a place in the book where the band of thieves – a band of friends, each member contributing to the strength of the whole by their individual talents and personalities – were beginning to put their plans into action. The goal? To overthrow the evil ruler of their land.
As I drove past trees and lakes, mountains and ocean views, two things stood out to me: First, just how exciting the story was, how I wanted to pull my car over to finish it, how real the friendships were. And second, as I watched cars drive past me – cars full of regular people likely coming from shopping or heading to work – I thought about the monotony of modern life: seemingly no battles to be fought, no need to forge strong bonds of friendship in order to fight to the death for something you believe in, no weapons to train with or evil rulers to overthrow. That’s why, I said to myself, so many read books like these, watch movies, tv shows, play video games. Because in those contexts we get to live vicariously through characters whose lives are far more intriguing than our own. It satisfies, to a limited extent, something each person has within them: the desire to have something to fight for, to have meaningful friendships in which, together, we seek higher ideals, better versions of ourselves, for the good of the many and for the benefit of our own selves.
But, I thought with a sigh, as I looked at the small icon of Christ hanging from my rear view mirror, there is a battle to be fought, an evil ruler to overthrow, and a kingdom to be conquered. It’s just most people don’t know about it, or refuse to join the fight. The battle is for salvation; the evil ruler is our ‘old man’ (Col 3:9); the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom we fight to conquer and capture. Christ teaches, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Why from the days of John the Baptist? Because he was a warrior, a spiritual warrior. And we all have the choice to join his army, to fight with violence to take the Kingdom by force, through asceticism (fasting, prayer, good works, church attendance, etc.).
I have friends, worthy friends, who have invited me to join the fight with them. With whom I attempt to lead a spiritual life, to pray, to fast, to fight for God’s grace, to overthrow sinful inclinations and habitual passions, destructive forces (both outside of myself and within myself) in order to engage the enemy in a fight. I do this, through God’s grace and the prayers and fellowship of my friends, in the hope I will conquer and be saved.
Since I’m already attempting to take a modern medium (the novel) and extrapolate some lessons about the hidden spiritual reality in our own world, I will take it one step further and ask the question posed to each listener in Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: “Did you (Will you) exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in cage?”
The time to fight is now. The time to put on the armour of Christ – the prayer robe, our sword – is now (Eph 6:10-18). The time to forge meaningful bonds of friendship, to fight alongside fellow spiritual warriors, is now. Alternatively, we can exchange our part in the war for a lead role in cage. The decision is ours, but the war wages despite our indifference. We choose a side whether we do something or nothing.
My friends, will you join me in the fight?
For those interested, a fantastic portrayal of spiritual warfare is flawlessly depicted in Fr. Matthew Penney’s short story, The Light Guardian (click on the title to read an excerpt), published by Lumination Press: fusing light into the fiction genre.
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