#36 of a Series on Psalm 50
“Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; [Re]build the walls of Jerusalem.”
In the previous reflection, we looked at the walls of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself, as being reinterpreted by St. Augustine as representing the restoration of the Human Person, in the Church, through the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ in His Body.
The person incorporated into Christ through his death through immersion in the Baptismal waters of repentance is a New Creation. (2Cor 4:17) He manifests this new life in ways that we can see in the restored walls of Jerusalem, the ‘walls’ of the human person – in its defensive capability, integrity, portals, strength, watchtowers, defenses, moral righteousness, greatness, purity, strength and moral righteousness mentioned in an earlier reflection.
Let’s take a look at each of these characteristics, very briefly.
The obvious purpose of a fence or wall is defense. It serves no offensive purpose, rather it keeps other forces out. The wall that is broken down is easily penetrated. If the enemy is within, the destruction can be extensive or even total. As this is written, there is an effort to build a wall at the southern border of the United States. Its purpose, ostensibly, is to keep people who wish to cross into the country illegally at bay. The threat of the people is not in their personhood per se, but moreso in the notion that unimpeded illegal entry promotes lawlessness – because there is no respect for established, undefended border. After countless years of illegal entries, a wall was deemed to be necessary. In human terms, the Devil has no respect for our ‘boundaries’ – a wall is absolutely necessary.
So, the human person must have moral defenses. We all know that if we are physically attacked we will be wounded, so we attempt to defend ourselves physically by walling ourselves off from the threat. We should realize that, for the human being, the worst of the attacks on people are through demonic falsehoods, ideologies and threats that wound the person within through sin. These forces must be walled off from ourselves, lest we fall to their power to wound us.
The soul’s defenses are outlined by St. Paul in the notable chapter (using the anatomy of a soldier) in Eph. 6:12-17)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Every wall has its entryways, otherwise the inhabitants inside it would be unable to escape. But entryways are the weak link in the wall system. In patristic literature, the ‘portals’ of the human person were likened to the senses. Why? Well, if the wall of our defenses against the Evil are intact, he goes for the weak spot, the senses. Hence the eyes, the mouth, the touch, etc. become ways in which we lower our defenses spiritually to allow Evil to access our inner being, our heart. This is why our portals must be ‘manned’ to do battle against intruders – spiritually of course – we must intentionally fight temptations of sight and hearing and the like. Asceticism is training in this defensive strategy – for example fasting is cutting off the pleasurableness of taste, so that we can defeat the sins of gluttony and other abuses of food. The eyes are particularly vulnerable – as the imagery of the world today so easily entraps the mind through instantaneous image accessibility sparking fantasies and the triggering attacks on our souls.
I mentioned how the watchtowers on walls provided the ancient city a special protection because, seeing the enemy coming from a distance, those outside the walls could flee to safety within, and the portals could be strengthened – IF you saw the enemy coming in time. This, in the Bible and patristic literature, is for the human person called watchfulness – or vigilance[i]. We are to be on the lookout for temptations and identify them as such early on so that we can fortify our defenses and not fall victim to the attacks. The Psalms speak frequently of ‘keeping watch’ especially at night, because the enemy would be concealed at night hence the need for special vigilance then. Here is a sample from Psalm 141:3, which we recite daily at Vespers, says, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lip[ii]s.” Here the watch is kept over oneself, to prevent sinful thoughts from leading to sinful actions.
Before His betrayal and death, Christ invited his disciples to keep watch in the Garden of Gethsemane with him. They failed, and we know the rest of their plight, and His. (Mt. 26:36ff) The Church, after the Resurrection, is called upon to keep watch, not only for the attacks of the Enemy, but also for the Second Coming of Christ. Among the Lord’s strongest words are found in the Synoptic Gospels, especially at the end of His earthly ministry, ‘Keep watch!’ (Mt. 24:32, Mk 13:35, Lk 12:37).
Sometimes when people have been a long day doing a difficult, dirty or fully engaged outdoor work project, they will proclaim after they’ve rested a bit and taken a shower they’ll say, “I’m human again!” Somehow performing the big effort, while carryout out the task, some things of life were amiss or out of balance – and you can feel it! We can see that sin knocks us completely off-balance and through repentance (and its cleansing force) we ‘become human again.’
Integrity or oneness means that something is fully intact, the pieces are together and in an internal unity, so that everything can function fully as it was intended. When integrity is broken not only is functionality compromised but the very essence of the subject is compromised. As an example, if addiction is raiding our lives, it effects everything through a dis-integrating force – relationships, health, finances, work, etc.
Through our Baptism into Christ, the New Man, we become human again. The inner harmony of the original human within us is restored and we can begin to function again as human beings. St. Paul exhorts his followers, ‘Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.’ (Col.3:9) – because nothing destroys the integrity of the human relationships and inner life than falsehoods of every sort.
Sin always ends in destruction. The first fruits of its destructive energy, the rising of the passions, causes disarrangement within the soul, and this results in weakness and emotional frailty (depression). A sinful person has a compromised will and his desires can seem to be overwhelming. This is perhaps best exemplified in the biblical story of Samson (Judges 13-16), who was gifted with extraordinary strength to be able to accomplish God’s purposes for His people. His hair was a symbolic source of His strength and when it was cut, his strength was lost. Of course, this was symbolic of the loss of inner strength (and integrity) due to his sin with Delilah. When we fall into sins, we begin to lose strength. Even entertaining them in our mind begins to disorient the singularity of purpose in our souls, setting us up for a great fall when our strength and integrity are tested.
Repentance means a recentering, and over time inner strength is built within and translates to our ‘walls’ as well. The process of rebuilding strength comes from a renewed practice of faithfulness to God, the disciplines and behaviors themselves are part of the reorientation. This ‘turning around’ means reacquiring a vision of life that is purposeful and directed toward God’s will for our life. In that we find strength through grace.
The walls of the major cities were impressive and formidable to the enemies. It would have been an impressive site to behold a great city like Constantinople – whose walls which could not be breeched until a more modern form of warfare emerged. . A high wall not only cannot be scaled by the enemy, but actually serves as a highpoint from which the sieged city can counterattack with their own weapons in a highly advantageous elevation. The Great Wall of China shows how such walls can last millennia.
Our spiritual greatness is not visible in earthly terms, but the lives of the saints who have lived the life of repentance reveal a spiritual greatness or godliness. They reflect God’s grace and strength in a powerful, but humble way as they walk the earth and live in their communities.
The strength of materials is often directly related to their purity. In my days long ago in studying material sciences, it was clear that impurities, like a piece of slag in a metal beam caused structural weakness if not identified could lead to catastrophic failure. Although it may look normal, the weaknesses is within and under stress the load will lead to collapse.
The spiritual walls keep out impurities. This was very clear in the Old Testament, when the Israelites were warned by the Lord that they were not to mingle with, let alone marry, those from the pagan nations that surrounded them. Invariably, the pollution of their idolatry would destroy their faith in the One True God and the scriptures are replete with examples.
There is no path to righteousness without grace, but walking this path requires a person to be first purified by grace and then sustaining that way of live through righteous moral living. This means that the virtues of the soul arise out of the strength and presence of the Holy Spirit as the fruits of all of the virtues and graces above. Beginning with the purification of repentance, in the spirit of David, and baptism, an ongoing way of life creates a moral radiance in the life of the one on her path to becoming a saint.
Rebuilding The Walls
All of these graces are the fruits of God’s divine love and energy being poured out upon his repentant people. David implores this of God, “In your good pleasure…” This restoration only begins when God’s will as revealed is seen to be better for us in our mind’s eye, and it is for us to embrace His will and begin to seek Him with all our hearts.
Much of the subsequent progress happens in a synergistic way – divine grace working through people as they exercise their human wills in righteous ways according to God’s plan. When this process is at work, then nothing is impossible (Lk 1:37) and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13.
[i] The Greek Fathers frequently spoke and wrote on vigilance or nepsis. The vigils of the Orthodox church are a corporate way of this kind of keeping vigil. This article gives an interesting word origin for the term nepsis, as to not drink fermented drinks – or an awareness or soberness. There is so much wealth of spiritual experience in the Patristic sources on this topic. https://ancientchristianwisdom.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/the-therapeutic-strategy-of-nepsis/
[ii] The ‘door of my lips’ is an example of one of the portals above.