During the first week of Great Lent, in praying the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, I noticed the recurring phrase one night, that we not be possessed nor become the food of demons. That’s a very reasonable prayer, considering the fact that Scripture warns us that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image stayed with me – perhaps because during this season of Great Lent, so much attention is paid to what we ourselves eat.
There is a companion admonition from St. Paul (at least I think of it as a companion) in which he says: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Of course, in this admonition it is not our concern for being consumed by demonic forces but the Apostles’ concern that we not devour one another.
Human beings are more than physical beings. In our physicality we are finite and frequently experience the physical limits of our existence. However, we are also spiritual beings, created with an infinite capacity – rightly a capacity for God. In our relationship with Him as Person, we constantly transcend limits and have communion in a manner that exceeds every limitation.
On the other hand, we do not always or even often, properly orient ourselves towards God, but, instead, turn our infinite attention towards things that are less than finite. With this turn comes a hunger that finite things cannot satisfy. As trivial as it may seem, when we had but three choices on a television set, the channel remained unchanged frequently for an entire evening. With hundreds of choices now available we cannot sit quietly by, but constantly chase through channels with a search that becomes a substitute for watching television.
I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic. She told me once, “I quit drinking because there simply wasn’t enough alcohol in the world.” The finite cannot satisfy the infinite.
Our infinite capacity for God is also reflected in our capacity for love of the other – for other persons. Rightly lived, these relationships are deeply and properly satisfying and have an infinite character to them that goes beyond our ability to describe. Love is its own definition.
But again, it is possible for us to turn towards other people in something less than a true relationship as person, a relationship in which the other becomes but another object. As such no other human being will bring us a satisfying relationship. When we reduce them to finitude, they cannot feed the hunger of our infinite heart.
My son, when he was four, wrote a bedtime prayer. He had a devotion to St. Michael because someone gave him a small statue of the great angel, with his sword drawn and triumphantly holding the adversary beneath his foot. My son’s prayer was simple:
Dear St. Michael, guard my room. Don’t let anything eat me or kill me. Kill it with your sword. Kill it with your sword. Amen.
The family laughed when we first heard it – particularly his prayer not to be eaten. Now that I am much older, I see the wisdom of his childhood prayer. We should be concerned, as the Scripture teaches us, that we not be consumed by the infinite appetite of our adversary who has rendered us into the objects of his hatred. We should equally be concerned that we not devour one another, nor seek to be fed by that which cannot properly feed a spiritual being.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness (Isaiah 55:2).