The supply of this wardrobe became critical internationally as the life threatening menace of Covid-19 spread rapidly. Medical staff were regarded as ‘Frontline Workers’ who needed immediate, effective protection against possible infection as they courageously ministered to the victims. Masks, social distancing and vaccination were implemented as the necessary protective measures for the general public against the destructive effects of this deadly infection.
Covid-19 is one of a number of life threatening diseases to which we are prone. Our social, mental, moral and spiritual health is also subjected to the onslaught of equally contagious, destructive forces; the effect of which is manifest in individuals, families, communities and nations. A social commentator in Egypt 4,500 years ago bemoaned the adverse effect of what, centuries later, St. Paul identified as ‘the rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ Eph.6:12. These ‘forces’ are still with us, just as destructive and insidious in their effect. To protect ourselves against attack or infection we need effective personal, protective clothing.
However, before we pay attention to Paul’s clothing advice for the Ephesians we ought to recognize that emotionally and psychologically we already protect ourselves against what we may see as ‘enemies or threats’. Psychologists have identified the mechanisms (or clothing) we use to protect our sense of inferiority, or fear, or ignorance, or incompetence. We withdraw, or protest, or masquerade, or hide in our closets to avoid hurt or exposure. We put on a good face, or become aggressive, or domineering. The therapy which the psychologist recommends is designed to correct the untruths we tell ourselves, our misperceptions or emotional imbalances often created by the ego. The Ignatian discipline of self-examination is a method of discerning the measures we can take to protect our True self. Paul himself writes about a ‘thorn in the flesh’, whether this was an emotional, psychological or physical imbalance we don’t know, but we do know God’s grace provided protective clothing ‘sufficient for all his need’s.
Before any protective measures could be taken Covid 19 had to first be identified. It will greatly assist us if we identify what we can regard as the present day equivalents of the ‘powers’ mentioned in Paul’s letter. The social media “Facebook” has recently hit the head-lines as endangering children’s lives. Addiction to tobacco, drugs, alcohol and gambling has necessitated legislation to provide legal protection against their harmful effects on individuals, families and communities. Huge conglomerates and financial corporations have benefitted a few while impoverishing many. Consortiums have organized trafficking in children, women and drugs. Lies, deceit, greed, generated in the board room has silenced whistle blowers, and placed profit above community safety and health. There is a continuous war being waged by these powerful, secular, commercial ‘forces’. Massive, intense, targeted advertising, the Internet and movies can be seen as the super spreaders of these, invisible, ruthless perpetrators of harmful influences. What is our protective, resistant clothing to be?
The Covenant was God’s initial generous provision. The Ten Commandments prescribed protective measures for the moral and social health of community with the virtue of reverence for life and property. The Wisdom writers provided additional counsel: ‘Above all else guard your heart’, ‘keep your mouth clean’, ‘fix your gaze on God’. ‘Put on righteousness as clothing’. ‘Meditate on God’s word’. Jesus used the ‘word of God’ as his protective clothing against subtle temptations for power.
When recommending the items of clothing for the Ephesians Paul described them as the ‘armor of God’. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit and prayer. That is a fully protective outfit that fits any size disciple. Our trouble is we regard all the metaphors Paul used with disdain, outdated and out of sync with modern expression. In The Message, Eugene Peterson, in his attempt to make the Bible as readable as the daily newspaper, drops the metaphors, but he retains the focus – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, prayer. A mindful practice on these spiritual virtues will provide effective preventive armament against today’s ‘forces of darkness’.
We have to put them on. We don’t need a new fashion designer. This spiritual wardrobe will protect us. However, our overall protection is strengthened if we are ‘vaccinated with the Spirit’ – a free gift of God. That is the ‘jab’ (God’s penetration into our mind and heart) that can permanently protect us against the constant menace of all the destructive forces which aim to prevent, or paralyze our life with God.