The Vulnerable and the Powerful
There are lots of ways in which one could describe the cultural metamorphoses of the past year. “The Year of Plague,” for example, or “The Rise of the Archons” (much more accurate than “The Great reset”) would be good choices, though I also find delight in calling it “The Revenge of the Nerd in the Pastel Sweater.” But I think the most accurate description would be to call this “The Time of the Vulnerable and the Powerful.”
That might seem pretty simple and straightforward, but it’s not. Since the beginning of lockdowns and various mandates and restrictions, I have been more concerned about the threats to working people and the working poor than I have been about the threat or spread of illness. Not that I’m not unconcerned about illness. My eighty-four-year-old mother, a vulnerable though scrappy auburn-haired Irishwoman who suffers from dementia, lives with me and I was concerned early on that she might get ill. Thankfully, she hasn’t—not even a cold—but living on a farm, eating organic food, drinking clean water, and being around children with sketchy hand-washing habits all the time seems to have bolstered her immune system. When she was in a nursing home before she moved in with us six years ago, she was ill all the time and in the hospital almost quarterly—the caretakers thought she’d die within months under our “unprofessional care.” It’s more than possible that she would have died, of loneliness if not illness, had she still been in the hands of “the professionals” over the past year. But I have also seen friends and family members profoundly impacted, if not permanently damaged (time will tell), from the psychological ramifications of the past year’s events. This is to say nothing of the countless numbers of people who lost businesses (my favorite music store in a nearby town not the least among them) or livelihoods due to the issue of our times.
I know many people, dedicated people of all faiths among them, who know we have a mandate to protect the vulnerable and the powerless. Psalm 82 is explicit about this mandate, employing the imperative tense:
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness:
all the foundations of the earth are out of course. (3-5)
All the foundations of the earth are out of course.
What bothers me, though, is how this desire to protect the vulnerable has resulted in the surrender of the wills and intellects of so many to the dictates of governments, NGOs, and other professional international bodies and authorities. The result is that many who profess a concern for the vulnerable now look as though their real allegiance is with the powerful. And don’t think the powerful haven’t noticed. We all know about the great transfer of wealth (bottom to top) that occurred over the past year. But people seem to be okay with that in order to have the illusion of safety. They might grouse, of course, do a little social media posturing, but nobody seems to care enough to act against, or at least to resist, the ever-increasing power and insatiable appetites of the archons.
So I guess my problem is that I don’t see how giving the powerful more power protects the vulnerable. Shouldn’t the vulnerable be the ones gaining more agency and power? They’re not. And now even those in the middle—not the most vulnerable (though still vulnerable) but lacking in any kind of power—are likewise under threat from the powerful.
For these and other reasons, I prefer a kind of Christian anarchism, similar, but not identical, to that of my Amish neighbors (I write about this in my book Transfiguration) that while it doesn’t completely destroy the concept of power at least dilutes it by distribution—a very communitarian/distributist ethos. We don’t have that. Still, as I have been arguing for a long time, we can inculcate such a sensibility at the micro-level. That is, not by trying to change “The System,” but by changing ourselves and our relationships to the worlds around us.
Power is a tool of Satan (it was what he used to tempt the Master), though people, as they mobilize and think in groups, tend to like the idea of a strong authority. It gives them a feeling of security (how often that word comes up as of late!) The ancient Israelites, looking around the cultures of the Levant, saw that their neighbors had strong kings, and, in their mimetic desire, the Israelites wanted one, too. After their begging and pleading (or, better, whining) Yahweh gave them enough rope to hang themselves, but not without a warning:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)
They hung themselves, and we are pretty much following suit. This is also why I think those Catholic traddies out there styling themselves “monarchists” (particularly those in the New World) are completely full of you-know-what and cling to their bogus idea of “Christendom” out of an impoverished notion of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus didn’t come as a king. His kingdom is not of this world (and by “this world,” please don’t make the mistake of thinking he meant the created world—he was talking about the realm of Satan and those in league with him to gain control over the vulnerable and everything else. I’m sure you can find fitting examples in your social media feed). People have often asked me over this past strange year what we should do. In fact, I hear from people on this topic almost daily. To quote J.C. Crawford’s legendary introduction to the MC5 on their classic album Kick out the Jams (I am from Detroit, after all), “The time has come for each and every one of you to decide, whether you are gonna be the problem, or whether you are gonna be the solution.” You must choose, brothers and sisters, you must choose.
But I don’t think this is a political problem at all (politics, actually is the problem). As my beloved Simone Weil observed, “It is not religion but revolution that is the opium of the people.” Ours is a spiritual problem, and a pressing one at that. This kind can only be cast out by prayer.
It is in this register that I believe the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel, called by Valentin Tomberg “the Archistrategist,” is more than appropriate at our moment. The Celtic tradition relied upon the intercession of the archangel, as in these lines from the Welsh “Litany of Creation”:
I beseech you by the tenth order on the compact earth. I beseech praiseworthy Michael to help me against demons.
Together with Michael, I beseech you by land and by sea unceasingly; I beseech you respectfully by every quality of God the Father.
I beseech you, O Lord, by the suffering of your body, white with fasting; I beseech you by the contemplative life, I beseech you by the active life.
I beseech the people of heaven, with Michael, for my soul; I beseech the saints of the world to help me on earth.
I beseech the people of heaven with bright-armed Michael; I beseech you by the triad of wind, sun, and moon.
Note the yoking of the contemplative and active lives.
Another useful prayer is the Byzantine Akathist to Michael the Archangel. We prayed this prior to one Michaelmas festival in our barn a couple years ago. It is intense. Here’s a passage:
“Standing before the Throne of God, O Archangel Michael, you are entirely in the heights and yet you are not far from men and women below on the earth. You ever fight against the enemies of mankind’s salvation. It is fitting, for all who wish to reach the long-desired homeland of Heaven, to call on you with one accord:
“Hail, leader of the thrice-holy hymn of the angels.
Hail, ever-ready advocate and guardian of those on earth.
Hail, mighty defender of those who speak truth and live by mercy.
Hail, for in a strange manner, you struck down Pharaoh with his faithless Egyptians in their ponderous pride.
Hail, for you gloriously led the Jews in their wandering through the wilderness.
Hail, for you quenched the flame of the fiery furnace of Babylon for the three youths.
Hail, Michael, Supreme Commander with all the hosts of Heaven.”
There are other prayers, of course. Besides Psalm 82, there are also St. Patrick’s Breastplate and, obviously, the secret weapon of the rosary—and many others. If you want to align yourself with power, this is the place to look, not to archons growing fat and rich on your fear.
Fear, to speak plainly, is a luxury of the faithless and if unchecked it only spreads like a cancer. As you can no doubt see, it has metastasized all over the planet. But this is not a luxury the Christian can afford. We cannot avoid that messengers of Satan will torment us, with fear as much as disease; it is part of the human condition this side of the Parousia. Saint Paul found this out through experience, not theory:
“...I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
We are all vulnerable, praise God. So take up your armor of light.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.