Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Force in Star Wars and the discernment of spirits in Spiritual Exercises

The force in Star Wars and the discernment of spirits in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Picture credit: A spacecraft model of Star Wars in Changi Airport, Singapore by Skirtick (CC: BY-SA 4.0)

What is the Force is Star Wars?
In the original Star Wars film, the Force is first described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together.[4] Throughout the series, characters exhibit various powers that rely on the Force, such as telekinesis and shooting lightning from their fingers. The Force has a "Dark side", which feeds off emotions such as anger, jealousy, fear, lust, and hate, but the Jedi are only supposed to use the Force for peaceful purposes.[5] The series' villains, the Sith, embrace the dark side in order to seize power.[6] The Jedi's compassionate and selfless use of the Force has come to be known by inference as "the light side" `.... Two versions of the Force exist: The Living Force that resides in all life forms and the Cosmic Force which feeds on the Living Force and binds everything together through the midi-chlorians. (Wikipedia: Force (Star Wars))
From this description, the Force may be likened to the the good and evil spirits (angels) that battle in the person's soul.  The Jesuits or the members of the religious Society of Jesus formed by the former Spanish knight Ignatius of Loyola were trained to recognize the movements of these spirits in their souls through the Spiritual Exercises.

First Rule. Definition of Consolation and Desolation
The first: It is proper to God and to His Angels in their movements to give true spiritual gladness and joy, taking away all sadness and disturbance which the enemy brings on. Of this latter it is proper to fight against the spiritual gladness and consolation, bringing apparent reasons, subtleties and continual fallacies. (Spiritual Exercises)
We may think of is rule as the definition of consolation and desolation. Consolation is spiritual gladness and joy, while desolation is sadness and disturbance.In Star Wars, consolation is the light side of the Force, while desolation is the dark side of the Force.

Second RuleConsolation of God
The second: It belongs to God our Lord to give consolation to the soul without preceding cause, for it is the property of the Creator to enter, go out and cause movements in the soul, bringing it all into love of His Divine Majesty. I say without cause: without any previous sense or knowledge of any object through which such consolation would come, through one's acts of understanding and will. (Spiritual Exercises)
The consolation due to God has no equivalent in Star Wars, because the Star Wars world does not explicitly mention God, unlike in Lord of the Rings where God is Eru Iluvatar who is "The One" and "Father of All".

Third Rule. Consolation of the Soul for Contrary Ends
The third: With cause, as well the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends: the good Angel for the profit of the soul, that it may grow and rise from good to better, and the evil Angel, for the contrary, and later on to draw it to his damnable intention and wickedness.
To understand this, we need to state the Principle and Foundation in the Spiritual Exercises:
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.  For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Spiritual Exercises)
The primary end of the soul is to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord. The good angel leads the soul to this end; the evil angel leads the soul away from this end. This point will be important later.

Fourth Rule. Angel of Light and Darkness
The fourth: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.  (Spiritual Exercises)
The evil angel proposes something good to the soul, in the same way that Palpatine proposes to Anakin that Padme must be saved from death. But salvation from bodily death is not the end for which man was created, which is to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord. Since the soul is naturally attracted to what is good, the evil angel then uses this as a bait to lure the soul towards a path away from God using evil means. To save Padme from death may be good, but for Anakin to achieve this by going to the Dark Side of the Force is bad, for this leads to all sins, such as the slaying of other Jedi priests:
  • Anakin: Just help me save Padmé's life. I can't live without her.
  • Sidious: To cheat death is the power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.
  • Anakin: I pledge your teachings.
  • Sidious: Good. Good...The Force is strong with you. A powerful Sith, you will become. Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth...Vader.
  • Darth Vader: Thank you, my master.
  • ....
  • Sidious: We must move quickly. The Jedi are relentless. If they are not all destroyed, it will be civil war without end. First, I want you to go to the Jedi Temple. We will catch them off balance. Do what must be done, Lord Vader. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Only then will you be strong enough with the Dark Side to save Padmé. (Episode III, Revenge of the Sith)

Fifth Rule.  Noting the Course of our Thoughts

The fifth: We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquility and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation. (Spiritual Exercises)
 To determine whether our thoughts are from the good or evil angel, St. Ignatius proposes the fifth rule: beginning, middle and end of the course of our thoughts must all be good in order for them to come from the good angel. If one of them is missing, or our soul becomes disturbed from an initial state of consolation, then the thought sequence comes from the evil angel.For example, the good intention of saving his loved one from dying has led to Anakin's fear and desperation, and these led him to embrace the dark side and learn to hate the Jedi order, which led to his downfall. In this sense, we may interpret the words of Yoda:
“Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” (The Phantom Menace)
St. Paul also said:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 Jn 4:18)
Sixth Rule. Defense against the dark side

The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent's tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits. (Spiritual Exercises)
Perhaps, one reason why Jedi's tend to retreat from the world as in the case of Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens is to train his mind to control his thought processes and determine at what points does his good thoughts shift to bad thoughts, which leads to spiritual desolation. By determining these thought markers, the Jedi retreatant can immediately stop his thought processes and trace himself back to the last known good thought.

This can be a difficult process. But holy Jesuit priests (our modern Jedi knights) who have undergone 30-day retreats have already mastered this thought control technique. And if they have a particular fault or weakness which leads them to the dark side, they monitor the number of times they fell for such evil thought or temptation each day. In this way, they can scientifically monitor their spiritual progress in eradicating a particular sin or defect each day, each week, each month, until they banished it forever. And then they turn to another sin to fight against. St. Ignatius describes this in more detail in his Spiritual Exercises regarding the Daily Examen:
The first time is in the morning, immediately on rising, when one ought to propose to guard himself with diligence against that particular sin or defect which he wants to correct and amend.

The second time is after dinner, when one is to ask of God our Lord what one wants, namely, grace to remember how many times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect, and to amend himself in the future. Then let him make the first Examen, asking account of his soul of that particular thing proposed, which he wants to correct and amend. Let him go over hour by hour, or period by period, commencing at the hour he rose, and continuing up to the hour and instant of the present examen, and let him make in the first line of the G------- as many dots as were the times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect. Then let him resolve anew to amend himself up to the second Examen which he will make.

The third time: After supper, the second Examen will be made, in the same way, hour by hour, commencing at the first Examen and continuing up to the present (second) one, and let him make in the second line of the same G------- as many dots as were the times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect.
As the management guru Peter Drucker once said, "What gets measured gets managed."

Seventh Rule. Dispositions of angels with regards to our thought processes
The seventh: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door. (Spiritual Exercises)
 This is an elaboration of the Third Rule, which defines how consolation and desolation of the good and evil angels appear to our souls, depending on whether they are aligned with out thought processes or not, just like in music, i.e. if two notes sound well together, they are consonant notes; otherwise, they are dissonant:
Intervals are traditionally considered either consonant or dissonant. Consonant intervals are usually described as pleasant and agreeable. Dissonant intervals are those that cause tension and desire to be resolved to consonant intervals. These descriptions relate to harmonious intervals. In music theory, consonances are traditionally divided into two groups: perfect and imperfect. Perfect intervals (1, 4, 5, 8) are perfect consonances, as seen in the polyphonic music of the Middle Ages. Imperfect consonances (3 and 6) are either major or minor. (Siba: Music Theory 1)
In Star Wars, the practioners of the light and dark side of the force can mutually sense each other as disturbances in the force, possibly due to dissonance:
When the planet Alderaan is destroyed in A New Hope, Obi-Wan senses "a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced". Also, in A New Hope, Darth Vader remarks to Grand Moff Tarkin that he felt a "tremor in the Force" that he had not felt since in the presence of his old master. In The Empire Strikes Back, Palpatine tells Darth Vader that he has felt a great disturbance in the Force upon realizing that Luke Skywalker poses a threat to him. Vader tells Palpatine that he also has felt the disturbance. In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan and his master Qui-Gon Jinn both agree that they feel a disturbance in the Force upon their arrival on Tatooine, possibly caused by the presence of the young, yet incredibly Force-sensitive Anakin Skywalker on the planet. In Attack of the Clones, Yoda feels a disturbance in the Force when Anakin, enraged by his mother's death, slaughters a tribe of Tusken Raiders." (Wikipedia: The Force (Star Wars))
Eighth Rule. Consolation without cause.

The eighth: When the consolation is without cause, although there be no deceit in it, as being of God our Lord alone, as was said; still the spiritual person to whom God gives such consolation, ought, with much vigilance and attention, to look at and distinguish the time itself of such actual consolation from the following, in which the soul remains warm and favored with the favor and remnants of the consolation past; for often in this second time, through one's own course of habits and the consequences of the concepts and judgments, or through the good spirit or through the bad, he forms various resolutions and opinions which are not given immediately by God our Lord, and therefore they have need to be very well examined before entire credit is given them, or they are put into effect. (Spiritual Exercises)
This is an elaboration of the Second Rule. Again, since Star Wars does not explicitly mention God, this might not have direct parallel in such universe. Nevertheless, the Eighth rule warns us about attributing all consolations that appear without cause to God, since it is possible that there is a lag time between the cause and the consolation, and the cause may not be God directly but by the effects of good and bad angels or by our other things, such us our thought habits.

Final Note: Spiritual Exercises, just like the Force, is for everyone

The Spiritual Exercises were commonly associated with the training of the Jesuits, in the same way that the use of the Force is for the training of the Jedi Knights, such as Anakin and Luke Skywalker. But St. Ignatius made a radical proposal: the Spiritual Exercises is also meant for all men and women who wishes to learn how God and the angels can speak to the soul, i.e. knowing God personally and communicating with him is not only the domain of theologians and the religious, but also of the laity. That is why, many Jesuits serve as retreat masters and confessors even of lay persons who wish to undergo 3-day, 7-day, or 30-day retreats, in the same way as Luke Skywalker can train a non-Jedi like Rey in the Force Awakens. As Maz Kanata said to Rey:
The Force, it's calling to you. Just let it in.
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