“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” — Jesus
“Everybody, at some time in life, wrestles with an angel that threatens to overpower them.” — Joan Chittister
“Can you find strong medicine within yourself to poison the demons on your back?” — Steven Foster (The Book of the Vision Quest: Personal Transformation in the Wilderness)
When it comes to truly following Christ and not just subscribing to a belief system, we are all led into a personal wilderness and confronted with three major challenges which, when mastered and integrated, shape our full personhood. Consider that “flesh,” “water,” and “spirit” correspond to body, psyche/soul, and the divine spark of Spirit within each of us. (In Freud’s intrapsychic system, these would be the primitive “id,” the self-managing “ego,” and the oversight of the “superego.”)
Of course there is a fourth level running the whole show that is truly transpersonal and “of the kingdom,” guided by grace and not a matter of self-mastery. However as we journey with Jesus, we are called to work out our salvation physically, psychologically, and spiritually, by overcoming temptations on those three levels, temptations reflecting counterfeits of the redeemed self. That’s not to mention how they are mirrored in the powers and principalities of the world. For this we are given the archetypes represented by the trials Jesus went through in the desert.
This is far from an academic exercise! Native spirituality offers it in the form of an ordeal therapy called the Vision Quest. I went on one in 1999 to prepare for my vocation in the healing arts. There’s nothing like being alone in the forest as the sun goes down, without any props, creature comforts, or other consolations; to face primordial fears and discover what “dying to self” means.
After a few days, when the panic subsides and the incessant internal dialogue collapses like a house of cards into the surrounding silence, one is forced to pay attention to “time out of mind” or the kairos dimension of life. As the core of the constructed self unclenches from its many attachments, personality skins are shedded, and a much larger field of vision is revealed. The mythic mission of self-fulfilment or so-called spiritual attainment returns to the dark wilderness womb and we are “born again” of something else, an “I” that encompasses but doesn’t belong to “me,” and is the source of reconciliation of our often divided and competing animal, human, and spiritual natures.
The devil, personifying forces of the world that need to be subordinated, would have us put security/survival needs first, and let Jesus prove himself by enabling the cravings of the body. But “bread alone” would be our animal nature ruling the rest of us. The next temptation to overcome is the ego’s need for power/control and measuring success by what we have and own. Yet Jesus will not sell out our true human nature to inordinate attachments, distorted desires, and unregulated emotions. He puts the soul’s need first, to surrender itself to a unifying coherence.
Finally, significance/belonging at the highest level doesn’t come from appropriating divine favour. Soul work doesn’t separate us out at the elite pinnacle of the temple. It draws us into the fullness of shared humanity, the kingdom.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via firstname.lastname@example.org