Monday, February 23, 2015

The satisfaction of the devil

From The Temptation of St. AnthonyHieronymus Bosch

The Lord's prayer reads, thy will be done, yet if I admit it to myself, what I pray for in life is my own will — what will satisfy me. 

This situation is quite ordinary; as I pointed out in my last post, it is the devil in me that gives me the satisfactions I demand. It encourages me to yield to my own selfishness; and it does have that power, to advise me that it is all right to say "yes" to my own impulses.

My angels would deny me; when I say that they have a ruthless and unerring love for me, I mean that they love me enough to tell me the truth: real love is never for oneself, but for someone else. One must love the other; and that, in its essence, means a sacrifice of what I am and the yes I perpetually want to give to myself. Herein lies the central point on which the struggle between my non-desires and my desires turns.

 Devils, in traditional imagery in literature, embody a pure, literal, and obviously repellent evil; yet this makes the question far too simple. My devil is a far more prosaic character. 

He is my own selfishness, he looks far more like me than the pictures; and he acts not as a medieval torturer equipped with bitter, steely tools, but pretty much as I do in my ordinary day-to-day activity. That is to say, the exaggerated features I paste on the creature obscure the fact that he is me. The devil puts his pants on one leg at a time, tucks his T-shirt in, and drives to work; he is the one who gets the coffee and calls his wife to let her know when he is coming home. He provides, in fact, much of the impulse in life — which centers around me and my own needs.

 This question of selfish, as opposed to unselfish, action is where the devil lives and breathes; and it turns out I am good friends with him. We drink our tea together at breakfast; I slap him on the back in camaraderie when he encourages me to take care of myself in the manner to which I have become accustomed.

This deep familiarity underscores the value of my self-doubt and my capacity to say no to what I am. No matter what I am, good or bad, it's useful to say no first, because when I say I am bad, the devil makes me do it—and when I say I am good, he makes me do that as well. 

So this impulse to satisfy myself first has a great power; and it hides itself in the dailyness of my routine. It becomes, over time, quite interesting to watch it in operation, and see how it penetrates everything.


1 comment:

  1. If it weren't for the following, "It becomes, over time, quite interesting to watch it in operation"

    I would worry that you are becoming a self-flagellating torturer/candidate for saint.
    I once had to tell a young couple that the "Devil" is holier than either of them, or any of us.

    Holy Affirming,Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling: Transubstantiate in me for Mankind, my Neighbor and Myself


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