Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
A spiritual director ought to have some idea of how to ‘discern the spirits.’ His resource for this is his own experience and a grasp of the main causes of spiritual struggle and confusion. A spiritual director who does not believe in the active work of the Devil is not a spiritual director in any traditional sense. This is a bold statement, but I believe mainstream orthodox spiritual teaching and practice would back me up.
It is, of course, possible to explain specific emotional and psychic experiences by means other than the interference of an evil spirit, and it is certainly possible to overemphasize this aspect of spiritual experience (indeed, one of the dangers of darkness is its fascination). Nevertheless, those who are doubtful about this way of reading prayer and life experience would be wise not to be so swift to dismiss it as foolish nonsense.
Scripture and Holy Tradition’s teaching on the Devil can be distilled into the following. The spiritual enemy is not equal or opposite to the Holy Spirit. The enemy is a significant spiritual being who has rebelled against God. This enemy uses death and fear of death as its chief weapon. It works by manipulating the good to something less than good. Thus it can appear as an angel of light. It is the Devil and his power which Jesus proclaimed he had come to destroy. The death and resurrection of the Lord has broken this power, although the enemy still has the capacity to corrupt and divide. The Christian by faith, expressed in baptism, is delivered from the power of evil and brought into the dominion of light in fellowship with Christ.
The ministry of Jesus and the witness of the New Testament make little sense if the conflict with evil is removed. It follows from this that the spiritual experience of the Christian only makes sense when placed in this context. Like every other aspect of Christian life it only begins to make sense in the light of experience. That is why sharing experiences of prayer and other areas of emotional struggle with a spiritual director is so vital to a healthy and balanced approach to life. I know from my own experience as a directee that talking through an ‘inner event’ with my director, and seeing with him where the enemy has been at work, has been a source of liberation and healing.
In his temptations, our Lord wrestles with the enemy. His resources for dealing with it are simple. First, he exercises self-discipline in the form of a fast. Secondly, he draws on the wisdom of Scripture. Thirdly, he confronts the enemy – refusing to give ground, or deny the struggle. We also read that ‘angels came and ministered to him.’
Follow this pattern and the enemy will run away. First, come to know your self and your weaknesses by exercising control over your appetites. Secondly, strengthen the inner man with the medicine of Scripture. Thirdly, to echo the advice given to me by an RC sister, ‘Spit in his eye!’ Finally, remember that you are not alone; you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses on every side – the whole company of heaven. We are called to live in the victory of the Lord. If Lent prepares us for anything, it is for the Feast of Victory we call Easter.