January 11, 2020

2059 words 10 mins read

Making the Exodus II

Making the Exodus II

Satan’s grip on the world is tightening, but this video shows a group of boys rescuing their dog from a boa constrictor.

Though the video ends well, its lasting effect is less than pleasant. Our minds supply the dialog, the sub-plots, and the clichés.

First, there’s a bit of confusion: “What am I seeing here?” Next comes a sense of horror as our brains recognize violence. But mostly the violent behavior of the boys who seem to be terrifying the dog.

Quickly, the flash-thoughts resolve into a story: we realize the boys' violence is directed toward the snake that has wrapped itself around their pet. The pet, confused, isn’t sure whom to fear the most: the snake or the boys swinging logs in its direction.

Next, we choose a side. Sane, stable people side with the boys and the dog and against the snake. We suddenly become proponents of violence, so long as the violence is directed at the snake. We want the dog the to live. The boys become heroes and we pray for success of their mission.

If we think further, we see remarkable teamwork in action. Without direction, the boys assume roles. The platoon leader uses a weapon of opportunity to distract and subdue the snake, finally dropping the weapon and using his hands to control the snake’s head.

The other boys, who have been poking and kicking the snake, now dive in, each grabbing a different part of the snake and begin unwinding it.

The (approximately) eight-foot boa is strong, much stronger than any of the boys alone. But, likely without any training, the boys use their innate wit and braun to free their beloved dog from the beast’s grip.

The dog, free from a predator’s death-grip, runs free. The boys humiliate their defeated foe by posing with the vanquished snake.

It’s only after watching the movie that we ponder the larger issues.

Why would young boys risk their lives for a dog? After all, that boa might not be able ingest the boys, it could certainly kill one of them. All but one was significantly smaller than the snake.

How did they know what to do? Is snake-on-dog attack so common there that, by seven years of age most kids are experts?

What as the dog thinking and feeling while in the boa’s grip?

And, of course, Why doesn’t the fourth person drop the damn camera and help?

Finally, though, we come to the fragility and brevity of life. That dog was playing with boys in a field. Happy, fed, loved. In a moment that occurred before the film opens, something happens. A predator entraps the dog and life-or-death struggle begins. An alert is sounded. An alert familiar to man since he began walking the earth. Danger. Crisis.

Though this movie ended well, it might not have. In most snake vs. dog battles,the snake wins and no one is there to film it. Every day, people leave their homes as part of their daily routine and never return. Any moment, death may come calling on any of us. There are more dangers than safeguards, no matter how careful we try to be. And the real mortality rate is always 100 percent.

Go back and watch video again. Watch the dog. At first, it seems to be sitting patiently and calmly, reacting, not to the snake that’s about to kill it, but to the violence of the boys. Once the boys stop throwing things, the dog, again, relaxes. It seems resigned to whatever fate is about befall it. Even while the boys pull desperately at the snake, the dog looks calm. It’s not panting or struggling, just sitting and rolling with the punches. Only when the dog recognizes its freedom does it spring into action and get the hell away from mayhem.

A lot of us are like that dog. Death has a grip on us. Not physical death; spiritual death. Satan’s scaly seductions are coiled around our souls.

While some say sex is the ultimate tool of Satan, I say three demonic tools are even more powerful than sex, at least in 21st century America: distraction, amusement, and comfort.

Just so you don’t forget:

  • Distraction
  • Amusement
  • Comfort

Distraction

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis tells of the power of distraction to lead men away from God.

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you Harper Collins imagewill find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Lewis died long before the smart phone was invented. Before Facebook and Twitter, where most Americans (myself more than most) spend countless hours “in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him.”

Distraction is far more powerful, and easier to obtain, than sex. It separates children from their families even before they start school. Thus, it separates children from God who comes to them through their moms and dads.

Distractions are the devil’s work.

Amusement

What Lewis called “pleasure,” I call “amusement.” The Romans called it “bread and circuses.”

And, while Lewis showed that amusement precedes distractibility, I list it amusement second because it has already done its job. Amusement reached its zenith with television in the 1970s and 1980s, when cable and 24-hour programming, including 24-hour news, gave every American a perfect excuse to never think about life or death or God or Satan again.

If not for 24-hour television, society would not have accepted 24-hour inanities on Facebook.

Comfort

And before amusement came comfort. Americans have been obsessed with comfort for years, but it is now a pathology that’s killing us. We have comfort food. We avoid anything that might burn a calorie, much less cause pain. One wonders if American boys would even bother to attempt to rescue their pet dog from a preying boa constrictor. If they would even notice the death struggle beyond their phones.

We wear our pajamas to the grocery store, on airlines, and even to church where our pews are padded. We buy $200 shoes for their perfectly padded soles that insulate our nervous systems from any connection to the ground we walk on.

And we tell ourselves we are entitled to perfect comfort and zero effort. “You owe yourself,” the advertisers day. “You need ‘me’ time.” “No one should have to put up with inconvenience.” “Your pillow isn’t soft enough.” “Your chair isn’t ergonomic enough.” “Your food isn’t rich enough.” “Your body isn’t fat enough.”

Comfort is the enemy.

Exodus 90 Is Self-Imposed Escape from Satan’s Grip

Like that dog, we’ve become comfortably numb in the talons of Satan and his miserable band of demons. Comfort, amusement, and distraction insulate us from God and our impending deaths. We are zombies.

I am, too. But I don’t want to be. I want to be one of those boys in the video, struggling against the serpent, not the dog passively accepting its fate.

For the second year in a row, I’m going to double Lent and make it hard on myself. With the graces God gives to noble efforts, I plan to do Exodus 90 again this year.

Beginning Monday, January 13, and until Easter on April 12, I will give up as much distraction, amusement, and comfort as possible. To fill the time, I will pray an hour a day and read. Or engage in conversation with people I enjoy and topics that interest me.

The specific ascetic practices prescribed for men doing Exodus 90 are:

  • Take short, cold showers.
  • Practice regular, intense exercise three days a week.
  • Get a full night’s sleep (at least seven hours is recommended).
  • Abstain from alcohol.
  • Abstain from desserts and sweets.
  • Abstain from eating between meals.
  • Abstain from soda or sweet drinks (white milk, black coffee, and black tea are permissible).
  • Abstain from television, movies, or televised sports.
  • Abstain from video games.
  • Abstain from non-essential material purchases.
  • Only listen to music that lifts the soul to God.
  • Only use the computer for work, school, or essential tasks (e.g., paying bills).
  • Only use mobile devices for essential communications; cut out non-essential texting, app, and internet use.
  • Take Wednesdays and Fridays as days of fasting. (Abstain from meat and only eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.)

But I can’t do it alone.

It Is God’s Work

Because distraction, amusement, and comfort have such powerful grips on our culture and our souls, I have no ability to break their grip on my own. I tried that years ago with Stoicism. I am not strong enough.

But, as I found last year, God will give me the strength, through grace, to succeed most of the time.

That’s why prayer is so important. Prayer is consciously opening ourselves to God so He can fill us with the graces we need.

Moreover, we must be in a constant state of grace, which requires regular sacramental confession. And frequent hearing of the Mass.

Without prayer, penance, fasting, and the Eucharist, it’s nearly impossible for me to escape the serpent’s grip. I become like the dog resigned to my fate, cursing my luck to have been born into a post-Christian, Neo-pagan century. Without constant connection to the Almighty, I can do nothing on that list. I turn to pleasure-seeking.

Exodus 90 isn’t a test of my resilience and will. It’s an admission of my weakness and cowardice. It’s a cry to heaven for help. It’s choosing submission to God that relies through hope on His promises to rescue us from the serpent’s grip.