|William Hogarth - 'Satan, Sin and Death' c.1735|
Someone said something out loud yesterday on a matter that normally I suffix with an inner-monologue comment that is normally in the vein of "Flippin' Whacko". They spoke of spiritual warfare, which is to say, on the matter of the battle that exists between the forces of good and the forces of evil courtesy of one Mr Satan D'Evil. Others have spoken about spiritual warfare in the past, and I have cast it aside unkindly as I have just suggested.
Please don't think me uncharitable, but I am not given to this stuff. It feels a little voodoo-esque to me and it might simply be that I have discarded that with which I cannot contend. I am a man who preaches a God of love, err towards a Universalistic theology of heaven, have little concept of Hell as a fiery pit or that my God of love would allow me to smoke for eternity in some timeless incinerator. The Prince of Wishful Thinking I might be, but that is how it is.
However, my irrational and often unconditional rejection of such things does not mean that I don't then ponder on them. And this I did, after the luminary theological educator before me yesterday was next in line for the label 'Whacko". I remember the process by which I came to ordination. For those not in the know, it is a process of meetings and deep-and-meaningfuls that that tend to end up in myriad forms and written statements. This body of gathered knowledge then forms an application to selection before a panel who white-ball or black-ball us. The bishop of the diocese in which we are testing your vocation takes that recommendation and generally acts on it, and we are either sent off for training, or not! Trained, ordained, ministry (hopefully long and fruitful) and then a gentle death to the soundtrack of an angelic Magnificat. Badaboom. That's how it happens, or at least should.
Only as I pondered the process by which I came to Orders did I remember something that struck me those years ago. There times when silly little events conspired either to stop me getting to meetings, posting forms, thinking stuff through. Normally, I overcame those things (one being finding not a single shop in the centre of Oxford that had stocks of stamps so that I could post my forms, and then when I did, ne'er a postbox could be found; or another being a car failing me a day after a servicing when I needed to get to a meeting with someone crucial to the process). There were times when I was convinced that something was at play designed to prevent me becoming a priest. I almost became paranoid about it. At one point, I clearly articulated that someone somewhere really didn't want me to be a priest.
In recent times, I can offer accounts of times when my normally well-oiled extrovert thinking brain would fail to finds words for prayer. I never 'dry up' in prayer normally, but for a couple of occasions. Every once in a while, I have sensed an ill-wind - although I have immediately cast it aside as silly. You may also be familiar with that tendency at times when things go so wonderfully well, only then for something to go really rather badly. The good times are never un-fettered it seems, and that good actions seem to be haunted with the very occasional and easily-missed bad counter-action.
I am not given to the spiritual warfare being about red demons. I regard satanism to be a strange whimsy (why would anyone adulate evil and death?). I am not given to taking this stuff with a bucket-load of emotion or a paranoid sense that there are spiritual trip-wires and bounding mines set by Satan and his imps - but I do acknowledge that there is more that I do not understand than I do. This will include forces that can or should be labelled 'evil'.