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'How can a person keep away from the plots of the demons?'

In the early Christian collection of desert sayings, “Concerning Thoughts,” a novice monk asks an elder, “How can a person keep away from the plots of the demons?” The elder replies, “A fish cannot stop a fisherman from casting his hook into the sea, but if the fish is aware of the hook’s evil he can avoid it and be saved, leaving the fisherman empty-handed. It’s the same for a person.”

The term “demon” has some baggage. I suspect that for most of us it conjures up images of horror movies, nightmares, and Tom Hanks running through the streets of Rome in pursuit of the Illuminati. When it comes to the spiritual life, the word can seem a bit arcane. We don’t hear many sermons on spiritual warfare these days, yet the traditional Biblical moniker for personified evil might still be of some benefit to us. Humans find meaning through metaphor and analogy. Sometimes a complicated concept needs a face in order to better understand it.

The early Christian solitaries considered the desert to be the demons’ natural abode. Surrounded by nothing but wind and rock, the desert fathers and mothers were left exposed to the trials of the demons. Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) served as an example for them. During each of the three trials, Jesus instantly recognizes the devil in its various forms (gluttony, pride, and avarice) and turns to Scripture and prayer for strength. Jesus’s ability to know his troubling desires for what they were helped him to remain centered during mental and physical difficulty.

Although we may not physically live in the desert, we continually encounter desert-like moments: “A fish cannot stop a fisherman from casting his hook into the sea.” Periods of transition, loss, or uncertainly in our lives can leave us exposed. When we’re convinced that fleeing a job or a relationship because we feel we could be happier somewhere else or with someone else (acedia), or we think our pain will vanish once we buy everything on our Amazon wish list (avarice), or we pine for the “glory days” of our past (sadness), we can know these thoughts for the demons they are–mere distractions from the very real presence of God in our midst today. And, echoing the words of Jesus, we say “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

This post is part of the Desert Prayers Project. Learn more at desertprayers.com.

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