Some people have criticized the classic Disney movie Beauty and The Beast due to its romantic display of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a phenomenon in which someone held captive develops an emotional attachment and loyalty to his or her captor. While the Disney film makes the beast reform his ways and repent, what if the story took a different direction? What if he remained a ravaging beast and she still fell in love with him?
What if we all have Stockholm Syndrome? What if our culture and our flesh are our beastly captors, and being raised by them and in them has caused us to sympathize with our captors?
What would freedom look like, perhaps a body that is in submission to the soul?
How can one born and raised by its captors ever know there is freedom unless another comes from beyond? What if Christ is that one from beyond who was quietly born as one of us in order to subvert the wicked powers that hold us prisoner?
What if Christ then established His Body here with us on earth as a perpetual counter-cultural operation to free the captives not only from their captors, but from the slavery of their own depraved reasoning? What if this way is difficult, requiring sacrifice of ego and asceticism of the flesh to weaken the flesh’s captive hold on us? Could such efforts, when met with divine grace, result in the illuminating of the inner eye of the soul? Would not that illumination be a lifting up of the whole person above the futility of this world?
What if our inner spiritual-self knows of this freedom and is quietly rebelling against the world around us? Perhaps our fits of anger, depression, loneliness, frustration, sleepless nights, and hopelessness are indicators from our inner-self that we can never be fully satisfied with the pleasures, fun, and fake happiness we desire to find in this life.
What if we begin to awaken only to find a great deal of sickness within our hearts? Could that result in each one of us finding that we are not the person we have told ourselves we are? Will we have the courage to continue, or will we fall back into captivity, because at least in “Egypt” we were well fed?
What if millions of others before us have awakened to the grim reality surrounding us and battled the culture through love and truth and conquered the flesh through asceticism? What if these forerunners surround us like a great cloud of witnesses, cheering for us, greatly desiring our release and victory? Could we then elevate our inner spiritual mind to see and commune with these heroes, to learn not only from books, but also through intimate fellowship?
Can such an elevated state be attained by a soul that has been enslaved to earth and dust, to cares and worries, to pleasures and comforts? Must not one learning to fly look upward and flap his wings? Should he not keep flapping and trying, even when his attempts repeatedly fail and he accomplishes little more than flopping about on the earth? Cannot dirt be dusted off, broken wings mended, and new feathers grown?
It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that we are captives of fleshly desires, pride, and culture. We have been captives so long that even slight disobedience to these harsh masters results in our flesh or ego screaming, “You’re torturing me!” I am reminded of this in every fasting season in which I tell myself “no” to a handful of simple things and my flesh and self-will throw a fit.
That the ascetical life (prayer, fasting, vigils) is difficult for me is proof that I am still in some form of bondage to a cruel overlord. But there is hope in Christ. As long as I continue to struggle then I am “working out [my] salvation with fear and trembling.”
Perfection is that upward struggle to soar above the attachments of the world and into union with God. Salvation is the therapeutic process that heals us and brings us into communion with the compassionate and kindhearted Physician who is actively working within each one of us who says “yes” to the healing balms of repentance and humility.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all that He hath done for thee,
Who is gracious unto all thine iniquities,
Who healeth all thine infirmities,
Who redeemeth thy life from corruption,
Who crowneth thee with mercy and compassion,
Who fulfilleth thy desire with good things;
Thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s.
-Psalm 102 (LXX)
Art credit: Beauty and the Beast by Austh