"Like St Christopher, we have to fight our way against the floods, however quiet our lives may seem. Some little peevishness or petulance about a trifle, some slight resentment against a friend, some entanglement in our circumstances,––and it is as though, like the cuttlefish, we had darkened all the waters about us. Suddenly, without an instant's warning, we are in a flood of rage, resentment, crooked contrivings, perhaps unclean imaginings...We do not intend, will, or foresee these sudden falls; we become as persons possessed, and have no power in ourselves to struggle out of the flood of malice, pride, uncleanness, greed, envy, or whatever else of evil has overwhelmed us. The fact that we have not foreseen these falls, points to a cause outside ourselves––to those powers and principalities in high places, whose struggle for dominion over us the Bible reveals; and the revelation is confirmed by our own sad and familiar experience." (Ourselves, Book II, pp. 115-116)Last weekend we were driving through a nearby town that was built on a flood-prone river. "The houses up on the hill are the ones to own," someone commented. "The ones down by the river...well, you take your chances." So does building our spiritual house on a hill keep us immune from floods and temptations? It probably can't hurt! But nothing is immune to attack, and in Chapter XVIII, "Temptation," Charlotte Mason acknowledges that there are forces outside of ourselves that search out our weak spots, and try to prevent us from keeping what she calls a "trusty spirit."
If you want a silly illustration of opening ourselves up to wrong ideas in the first place, there's a Real Ghostbusters T.V. cartoon about a man being pushed into insanity by his terrible apartment over a 24-hour fried-chicken restaurant. All he can smell is chicken, all he hears is "regular or crispy skin?" Rather than getting soundproofing or moving to a better apartment, he borrows a book of spells, summons up a demon, and makes a wish that all the chickens in the world would disappear. This is actually a funny episode because the deal-with-a-demon cliché gets turned on its head. The demon is now the laughingstock of his friends (we can imagine Screwtape among them), and he hires the Ghostbusters to make the man take back his wish.
But watch closely to see how Charlotte Mason foretold Saturday morning cartoons and other sad stories:
Being unhappy about chickens is one thing. Turning thought into action is another. As part of our self-defense kit, Mason offers her version of the Beatitudes:"All our Lord's sayings come out of profound knowledge of the ways of the minds of men. He knew that an idea, an imagination, of envy or resentment, for example, once entertained, dallied with, takes possession of the mind; we cannot get rid of it, and we are hurried into action or speech upon that notion before ever we are aware. Here we have the line between temptation, and sin." (pp. 117-118)
"Blessed are the souls that endure temptation from without; who endure grinding poverty without hardness or greed, uncongenial tempers without bitterness, contrary circumstances without petulance; who possess their souls in patience when all things are against them: these are temptations from which we cannot escape, and which are part of the education of a trusty spirit." (p. 118)The word "trusty" is interesting, because it has become associated mainly with animals devoted to their masters: a trusty steed, his trusty hound, and so on. But allowing it the original meaning of trust-ing and trustworthy: that gives us a sense both of the One we trust and of our role in becoming, being trusty.
Perhaps what we need is what that library book calls "Secret Cities": fortresses on a hill, places of refuge and rest where we can "possess our souls in patience." And when we find those safe places, we know we are not alone.
"Let this amazing picture of the dealings of our God be with us always to light up the dark places in our own lives." (p. 120)