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).
I simply have to share a bit of inside humor. There’s a new form of spam that creates a “blog,” picks up lines from your article and makes itself look like a “pingback.” But it’s all done by some sort of a program. You go to the site, and it’s full of advertising.
After having written the above piece, which I hope you’ve already read, I get a piece of spam that had created a pingback to this article on a “blog” about “30 minute meal plans.” Some one has at last come up with a way to sin faster. What next?
This may be of only limited interest, but one of the terms used to refer to Satan in Syriac is akel qarsa–literally, “piece eater,” or idiomatically, “accuser.”
We pray before communion that we might not “become the prey of the wolf of souls.” A good and sober thought, this post of yours.
Reminds me of “The Screwtape Letters”, Where Lewis has the demons enjoying us as food. Another Very Good Post, especially at this time of Great Lent.
Yes, “Screwtape Letters” was my first thought, too. But I wanted to thank you for posting that utterly charming prayer of your son’s, which you had posted a year or two ago. I still think of it every once in so often, and wish I had known of it when my kids were little. The thing I find most intriguing about it is that your son repeated, “Kill it with your sword” twice! It’s so “Four,” as if he was trying to make sure that St. Michael got the point.
As any reader should have discerned by now, I’m crazy about my children. They are all adult and married and moved out with one lone teenager left at home (my consolation). They have provided years of spiritual insight (and continue) and much delight. My son’s prayer was indeed “so four.” He had difficult saying the word “sword” so it was even more “four.” And it was said with great earnest, in the manner that adults rarely pray. I also thought of the screwtape letters in this and my wife and I talked about it. But it’s also, obviously, so Biblical.
The pre-communion prayers may be one of the single-most collection of treasures that I know of. They are among my deep favorites. Very revealing, and very real.
I eat and I read poems, but also vegetable fly…
Father bless! Your post also brings home with fresh clarity the meaning and importance of partaking of the Eucharist. Truly only Christ Himself can satisfy our hunger.
I love that prayer of your son’s! Sweet and profound.
My oldest little boy is just turning 3 this month. He opens a little white Gideon Bible, which he calls his prayer book and he says, “God loves me. God loves everything.” My wife and I were just talking about the “abstract” nature of God… But it’s not true. God is so very more real than we have become with our appetities for things that do not last or that are not real to begin with.
I’ll share this prayer with my little guy; he is somehow afraid of elk and emu. (so three- year-old!) These animals for him have somehow captured his imagination and inhabit the dark hallway in our home until we turn the lights on. St Michael can handle this problem, I think, with his sword.
Thanks for this post, it was needed today.
Our children pray the St. Michael the Archangel prayer before school (a scarey place). If you don’t know it, here it is:
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And, do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell, Satan and all evil spirits who roam the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
St. Michael the Archangel, pray to God for us.
my husband says this brings back memories of his mother who asked him occassionally, “What’s eatin’ on you, boy?! Git on outta here.”
Excellent and much-needed posting, Fr. Stephen, thank you!