Thursday, January 13, 2005

The three great temptations

From a journal entry dated December 26, 2003

I am reflecting on the story of the temptation of Christ in the Gospel of Luke. Realizing that the three temptations represent three major openings of the psyche, whose roots go down deep into us.

The first temptation is that of self-preservation or self-interest, and ends with Christ saying, "One does not live by bread alone." Yet how many of our relationships are compromised or even determined precisely by bread, by manipulative attempts to ensure our own survival and well-being? If we were to imagine all our relationships as stones making up a wall, at the very base of this wall would be one great stone engraved with the words quid pro quo. Even our relationship to God is shaped by our conception of God as being Αρτοδότης, the "bread giver." The book of Job is essentially asking the question whether anyone really loves or serve God gratis.

The second temptation, the will to power, also goes deeper than we know. Society is a hierarchy, and every meeting, every relationship contains this subtle and not-so-subtle jostling for power. In the Church, this is often quite overt: kiss my hand, acknowledge my dominance. Interesting that Satan says that this authority belongs to him, and not by usurpation. Satan is the author of dominance, while God relates to the world and to Godself only through kenosis or self-emptying. The will to power is the subtlest form of Satanism, and the one most practiced by apparently religious people.

The third temptation: messianic destiny. Throw yourself down, and prove how special you really are; throw yourself down, and everyone will see that yours is not an ordinary life. We are quite terrified of living an ordinary life. Our superheroes are projections of this deep need to feel and be extraordinary, special, different. How much of our motivation lies in this secretly cherished desire to someday be revealed as the hero, the protagonist of the story?


Anonymous said...

"The book of Job is essentially asking the question whether anyone really loves or serves God gratis."

I'm assuming you're raising the issue of having unconditioned love for God. Something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

In the Robert Altman film GOSFORD PARK, Dorothy the 'tween maid makes a declaration of an important dedication: (loosely) "I think it's important to love, giving love, not getting it, whether somebody loves you back or not."

Pretty large thought. Pretty open-ended direction.

And as there are many things I aspire to, or think I want in my life, & often ask for God's help with, I wonder, would I love God as much, or indeed, even at all, if no perceived help was forthcoming, or if my situation remained as ordinary as it is with no change in those aforementioned directions? If I just had to keep on dealing with it the way it is anyway...

Daily prayer is a bit along these lines. It's a bit like being a radio dj with no incoming phone line for feedback. Is anyone out there? Can they hear me at all? Is what I'm just saying over & over again just inarticulate & pathetic drivel? Why waste my time...if I'm not going to see the fruit.

And then, in confession one evening with my priest, it occurred to me that prayer can be as simple as extending that unconditional gesture, towards others, towards God, towards do it because one loves, not because I will see the fruit, or get to watch that seed sprout & grow, or even know where the seed lands. To do it because I love, even though it is imperfect, even though I don't know so much about so much.

Anonymous said...

good thoughts for the most part, but I think the example you use for the second temptation goes a bit astray. Although I'm sure there are priests who carry a "kiss my hand, acknowledge my dominance" attitude, this isn't the intended meaning behind the gesture. Every level of ordination in the church actually puts the ordained in a greater degree of servitude, when properly understood and lived out. You seem to be suggesting that this standard rubric of kissing the priest's hand is intrinsically a selfish power grab. That strikes me as tantamount to suggesting that our rubrics are inherently infected with Satanism.

If I'm reading too much into your post, then I hope you'll forgive me, poor sinner that I am.