Tempted by Spiritual Illusions

Below is the introduction and conclusion from last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 4:1-13.

Have you ever played “peek-a-boo” with a baby? Hide your face behind a baby blanket or your hands, wait a beat, and . . . “Peek-a-boo!” The baby’s squeals of delight are enough to make you repeat the move over and over and over and over . . .

Have you ever played “peek-a-boo” with a teenager? Yeah, not nearly the same effect.

Because teenagers have, we hope, developed the concept of “object permanence.” Right? They actually figured this out long before their teenage years. Just because you cover something up, doesn’t mean it’s not there any more. It only seems like it’s not there.

Now we might develop the concept of object permanence pretty early on, but I tend to agree with writer Nora Gallagher who says that “To come to terms with illusion is one of the great jobs of our lives.” It’s not just babies and young children who have to figure out is from seems. We all, Gallagher writes, have “to discern what is fantasy and what is reality, what is dead and what is alive, what is a narcotic and what is food, what are stones and what is bread. It is dangerous, wrenching and unavoidable.”

To come to terms with illusion is, indeed, one of the great jobs of our lives. Hard enough in the material world, and much harder, I think, when it comes to the spiritual world. The people, the cultures, that surround us make really good cases for truths that don’t exist, for life that is actually death, for narcotics as nourishment.

This story of Jesus in the wilderness is completely foreign to our experiences in many ways. Still, at its heart, it is about this central struggle of our spiritual lives: coming to terms with illusion.

Because what the devil tries to do here is to get Jesus to accept comfortable spiritual illusions over more difficult spiritual realities.

– – – – – –

Regardless of what the devil says, these spiritual truths remain:
Comfort is not fulfillment.
Control is not power.
Affection is not love.

But it can sure seem that way.

The tempters of this world have a lot to gain by maintaining these illusions.

I think Nora Gallagher is right in the first part of her statement: “To come to terms with illusion is one of the great jobs of our lives: to discern what is fantasy and what is reality, what is dead and what is alive, what is a narcotic and what is food, what are stones and what is bread.”

I’m not so sure I agree with her concluding words: “It is dangerous, wrenching and unavoidable.”

Discerning spiritual illusion from reality is dangerous. Yes. And wrenching. Yes. But unavoidable? Oh, we have all kinds of ways to avoid facing the truth. All kinds of ways to allow ourselves to continue living in the illusions.

That’s why the Christian tradition has given us Lent. This time when we are encouraged to acknowledge our mortality. To consider the darkness. To enter the wilderness. This time when we are challenged to set aside maybe just one of our conveniences, our crutches, our comforts while we do the hard spiritual work of pushing past illusion into truth.

 

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