The Imaginary Foe

Catechumens: My godchildren and my hope, without whose prayers I cannot hope to be saved. Rather routinely, and following as best I can the holy fathers, I share with you pitfalls I’ve experienced. I am not like a staretz or even an abbot or one of the fathers, except that Christ has pleased to make me your father in leading you into the faith as much as I can, with dread and trembling, sharing with you the unique filial bond that makes A*** and I your parents in the Lord, and you our most beloved children, who remain brothers and sisters and friends. It is to you I write, while A*** sends love.

I know several kinds of psychosis that can afflict those who have powerful imaginations. Two close friends have spoken to me of some of them, so that I know I am not alone in occasionally struggling with the effects of death on so powerful an organ. One such problem begins with seeing another person in the mind’s eye – though it is not so much seeing him as seeing what I think he is. The person argues with me, and won’t listen, and attacks. And we wrestle together in my imagination. And when I have finished daydreaming, I have confirmed the justice of my own attitude and the injustice of his, and now have a sense that I know his failings.

In truth, the events of the daydream have never actually happened; they are not real. But my passions and the enemy’s power over me have given them a kind of false reality in my perceptions. Now, then, when I see this person next, I respond as though I know his thoughts, motivations, attitudes, responses, and what he will do in a given situation. I know the daydream is not actually true, but I act as though its conclusions are real ones. I treat him with the expectation of his imagined failures. This is great delusion infested with all manner of passions – the blindness of pride and of judgment – costing the Spirit of grace and humility.

In truth, this one is not now my enemy, but rather I have become both his enemy and mine. Lord have mercy. I then fight with myself inside and with my brother outside, conflating two foes, though I am to blame for it all. What then can I do? If I cannot find humility in my heart, and the grace to prefer this person to myself, and if I am caught up in the presumption that judges him, then I must adopt the attitude that his prayers are my only hope.

Especially when struggling with this, and indeed at all times, I must guard my tongue, my conscience, my thoughts, and perceptions. I must work to see how this person is more righteous than me. I must strive to see this person as one of the sheep while I am one of the goats, this person as likely to be saved and I to be condemned, and I must ask the Lord to have mercy on me for my sins, to deliver me from harmful fantasies, and to save me by this person’s prayers. Then I can develop the tender spirit toward him that sees only my wrongs to him, and not any wrongs of his. And if I love, forgive, and prefer my brother whom I can see, then perhaps God whom I cannot see will save me along with him. – Catechetical Letter 1/18/2005

The Holy Apostle Paul to the Hebrews Chapter 12, 1-15:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

I am one of the goats, but as for the sheep, God alone knows who they are. Sayings of the Desert Fathers


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top