“To take every thought captive means being the master of one’s thoughts and passions instead of being mastered by them. It made sense to me; that was what I needed to do. Ineeded spiritual help, because I was locked, however unwillingly, in aspiritual battle. The solution, Paul advised, is to “[put] on the armor of God” (Eph 6)” –Dawn Eden, The Thrill of the Chaste
I am listening to JK Rowling’s The Order of the Phoenix while I’m in the car this week. While I’ve read the Harry Potter series and listened to it in audio form countless times, it must have been quite a while since I’ve listened to this 5th book in the series. While I still remember the major plot points and moments of character growth, so much of the journey is new and fresh lately.
I had forgotten that a Dearborn gave his life fighting Voldemort. While this story is fiction, I’m still proud to have my maiden name among those who gave their lives for good. I had forgotten that Mr. Weasely nearly died for the same cause.
Right now, where I am in the book, Harry is studying occlumency. This is the magical act of closing one’s mind against legilimency, or someone trying to access your thoughts and feelings for either information or the attempt to influence.
Voldemort in the Potter books represents true evil, a fantastical Hitler or Satan figure. Voldemort’s mind and Harry’s have an accidental link dating back to when Harry was a baby. Teenage Harry has used this link to inform those who fight for good as to what Voldemort is feeling or planning. Voldemort now has figured out that he can use this link as well. While using it to spy on Dumbledore once or twice, Voldemort realizes that he can mobilize Harry by feeding him misinformation. This is much like the junk handed to us by the Father of Lies in our real world.
While studying occlumancy, Harry needs to learn to recognize the source of his thoughts. Is it Voldemort feeding him lies and playing on his emotions? Or is the source his own negative self-talk? Either way, Harry must learn both discernment and self-control. We as children of God must learn this ourselves. Self-mastery is simply growing into adulthood. If our drives master us, then we are not fully mature. If we can master ourselves, then we achieve adulthood.
The Potter books teach good citizenship and Judeo-Christian values. The connection I am making here is the concept of “taking every thought captive.” Today, it has led me to Holy Scripture:
2 Corinthians 10: 3-7
3For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh,*4for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy argumentsb5and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ,6 and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 7 Look at what confronts you. Whoever is confident of belonging to Christ should consider that as he belongs to Christ, so do we.
While the Potter books are fantasy, Harry and the allies of good are battling against evil that includes prejudice, harming others, and following self-serving leaders. We, in the real world, are also in a battle. We need to discern the origin of harmful thoughts. Is Satan feeding us lies about the worth of ourselves or others?
I am battling lies that tell me I can’t control my own tongue. In an attempt to rein myself in, I have given up cussing for Lent. While I mastered this in my 20’s, I have gotten bad in recent years. I am ashamed to say that my children know some awful words because they heard them from me. It’s time to stop this for good. First, I recognize the triggers: stress, hunger, and the kiddos’ misbehavior. Next, I need to recognize the lies I have been believing. Among those is the lie that I don’t have control over my tongue when pushed too far.
I have been fed lies from Sebastian’s former preschool teacher (that we are inconsistent parents, that his lack of impulse control is due to poor parenting) and from the Father of Lies himself. More than a year of negative feedback from this woman who knows nothing of ADHD, who misread my son because he’s intelligent and “knows better.” I trusted her “expertise” in preschool aged kids, and swallowed all of her negative feedback. It’s my natural bent to blame myself when things go wrong, so her feedback stuck. My mind and emotions became a stew of self-condemnation with her voice in my head. The Father of Lies enjoyed incapacitating a child of God.
Now that I know the source, I can practice occlumency by shutting out the negative sources. I can focus on Truth, on Scripture, on the love of God and the fact that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s going to take breaking habits. I think this self-condemnation (that I’m not the talented parent I thought I would be) is at least three years old. That’s a long habit to break.
Step 1 was recognizing the source and the lies.
Step 2 is reprogramming the thoughts to be positive, affirming, and in line with God.
Step 3 is changing my actions, reining myself in.
I can do this.
God has given me tools. I have a strong mind. I have a supportive husband, and the support of a loving tribe of friends. And I have this nifty Lenten practice that I like to call Sweet Thankfulness:
Once a day, I find a spot to be alone. I put two pieces of chocolate (white chocolate for me) in my mouth. In the time it takes for the chocolate to melt, I turn my thoughts to things I’m thankful for, all the while letting Jesus love me.
If I can do this in my mind for the duration of chocolate melting, then I can infuse my day with it. Before I know it, I will have reprogrammed my mind with God’s help.
The fantasy genre of literature is a great tool for helping our minds understand the spiritual realm that intersects our concrete world. Today, I see that occlumency is the scriptural concept of “taking every thought captive.” I need to learn it as much as Harry does. I trust that I will.