Preparing for the Battle

Weekly message by Fr David Hostetler to the soldiers stationed on Okinawa.

During planning meetings I have often heard that “amateurs talk about tactics, professionals talk about logistics.” The truth of this simple aphorism is reflected by what Napoleon said, that “an army marches on its stomach.” What is meant by both is that even the most brilliant tactician cannot fight when his army is weakened from hunger, short of ammunition and supplies, and too far removed from reserves and reinforcements. I was reminded of this basic principle during training this week recounting the history of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.

While preparing for the coming enemy assault, General Oliver P. Smith of the 1st Marine Division didn’t just see to the placement of his forces, but also planned for the provision of his men. He saw to the construction of two airfields which provided a logistical lifeline that allowed for the survival and eventual breakout of his surrounded Marines. Because of his preparations and care, and his ability to keep the division together, General Smith saved it from total destruction.

The art of logistics isn’t just having plenty of stuff, it’s about having what you need where and when you need it. It does no good to ship a helicopter to a submarine, or artillery shells to an infantry battalion. We should be learning similar lessons during our Lenten journey. Are we preparing ourselves for spiritual battle by equipping ourselves with the necessary spiritual supplies?

One of those things we need in abundance is something that we learn about this week: stillness. This coming Sunday we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, champion of the Hesychast movement. Hesychasm, from the Greek word esychía, meaning “stillness, rest, quiet, or silence,” is the practice of attempting to quiet the mind through the repetition of short prayers, most commonly the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. As through fasting we discipline our bodies,so through prayer we discipline our minds and souls. St. John Climcus speaks of this in Step 27 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent. “Stillness of the body is the knowledge and reduction to order of the habits and feelings. And stillness of the soul is the knowledge of one’s thoughts and an inviolable mind.” Stillness is important, says St. John, because “The celestial powers unite in worship with him whose soul is quiet, and dwell lovingly with him.”
And this is the goal of such stillness, to achieve the quiet peace that allows us to encounter God. St. Gregory Palamas taught that it was possible for the hesychast to experience the Uncreated Energies of God through stillness. Without such contact with God, without encountering Him regularly in prayer and through the sacramental life of the Church, we will be inadequately prepared to face the challenges of daily living. Jesus himself sought such stillness after his baptism, fasting in the desert for 40 days before beginning His preaching. The ascetic struggle through fasting and prayer teaches us that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
I pray this Holy Lent that we all are providing ourselves a robust and reliable logistics train connecting us to God. Without the peace of His abiding love it will be difficult to face the pettiness of coworkers without becoming bitter. Without the knowledge of our dwelling in an eternal kingdom we may find it impossible to be patient with the injustices we suffer here. Without moments of stillness, the chaos of life can be overwhelming. God wants to connect with us. He wants us to connect with Him. Let us make daily time for prayer and for practicing stillness, thus preparing ourselves for spiritual battle. Because the army of God marches on faith, and faith is nourished through stillness.

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