Meeting Evil with Mercy
An Anglican Priest’s Bold Answer to Atrocity – Reflections Upon the Ministry of Martin Israel
On this page you will find a selection of excerpts from Philip’s forthcoming book, ‘Meeting Evil with Mercy’.
As God Requires
To declare one’s allegiance for God does not simply entitle one to dwell in the habitations of the blessed; it places on one the responsibility to get out on God’s business into the world of sordid disfigurement, to spread the gospel of peace in places where war alone is known, to be prepared to give up one’s life for even the least of our fellow creatures. This life is the soul identity which is to grow in love and wisdom until time itself ends in the coming of glory of Christ in the universe.
Truly to reconcile is wholeheartedly to forgive. We need never forget what has been causing pain and conflict but – consoled by forgiveness graciously offered and received – at least all those concerned can begin anew to find some sort of peace.
In an increasingly troubled world, polarized by deep and intractable conflict, never has there been a greater need for the spirit of reconciliation. Clear recognition of the plain facts concerning this evident truth is invaluable, but it is hardly enough to make much of a difference is it? What is required above all is something more practical. Nothing else but decisive action will do, but we should not consider this for a single moment as a duty remote, a task always to be left to others more qualified than ourselves – those expert negotiators trained in handling disputes of the most tricky and delicate kind. No this particular need is much more pressing, altogether more immediate than that.
It is simpler than we imagine. Actually genuine reconciliation begins with ourselves, exactly where we stand. Only when we have begun to heal our own inner wounds will those in our vicinity begin to benefit from a more beneficent attitude on our part, which no longer seeks confrontation. Only then can a beneficial influence of non violence spread further afield from our example to bring peace and harmony to the world at large.
Still there is a catch. Our goodwill need not go far before it encounters ready opposition, some sort of abrupt hostility to remind us of the abrasive nature of the task before us. Sometimes we do have to contend with problematic outer situations, but more often we just seem to be grappling with unfinished business, the messy details of existing circumstances. It is harder than we expected and definitely seems unfair. Is this what conflict resolution is really about?
Perhaps it is in the first instance, but more difficult tests lie ahead – Martin is sure about that and utterly realistic about what real reconciliation entails.
The way of reconciliation soon has to confront the presence of darkness, the force of evil, in the world, and this is where it may appear to be inadequate. To assimilate it unconsciously is as dangerous as ingesting a poisonous substance in one’s food. Our goodwill can no more detoxify a poison than neutralize evil, destructive forces in the world – forces which, if given free rein, would lead to a dissolution of all civilized values and bring impenetrable darkness upon the world.
On the other hand, the evil of the world, which finds its reflection in the shadow side of our own personality, cannot be summarily excluded from our gaze, let alone outlawed from our inner life. Reconciliation may tend to underestimate the destructive element in life… but on the other hand, the way of the heart is finally the only direction we know that can lead to universal healing. The wise man fears the spirit of evil, but is not overwhelmed by its threat.
We are always on uncharted territory with any kind of healing work and there are no definite rules or fixed certainties, but our own integrity affords us the best protection and ultimately we have nothing to fear despite the ominous warning Martin gives.
Certain words carry powerful negative associations and nobody feels entirely comfortable hearing about evil, but in the final analysis all created things are under the benevolent domain of God – neither light nor darkness are excluded. Once we have clearly understood this, we will never again become so sorely perplexed by the continual turmoil in the world…
First and Last Refuge
See how sometimes your fevered thinking just falls away and all you are left with is a deep silence in which nothing at all is truly known. Sometimes indeed simplicity speaks louder than words and any speculation then seems futile. That without doubt is the best place to begin; it is a place where thought is burnt away in stillness – and stillness in turn draws you deeply into the realm of being.
The source of being is the primary reality where Truth abides in fullness; it is the first and last refuge of security where for all intents and purposes evil does not yet exist. There we are truly at home, for as the mind merges softly in the depths of being, so the inescapable sense of duality that belongs to the outer world subsides for a while. At last there is peace.
But peace is not a static state; it endures, but only in a dynamic flow that can never be grasped by the mind. As soon as the focus of our attention returns to outer things, the abrasive nature of external impressions is bound to interrupt our reverie. We seem to live in two distinct spaces then as we strive to straddle a divide that not only defies our best intentions, but also defines the world of opposites.
Here is the root of the stubborn, existential problem that has always baffled mankind; this is the ominous gap of misapprehension that the primal energy of evil ever seeks to exploit. For inner and outer perception may seem to be two separate aspects of reality, but actually they form one total movement within the endless cycles of growth and disintegration.
Life is undivided – naturally existing in oneness; the conviction that we are separate from everything else is the primary delusion responsible for much unnecessary strife and suffering. Original sin is nothing else but a divided consciousness – the false belief that we are separate from God when in truth we are not.
The notion of evil may seem to belong to a vanished age of primitive superstition, and as such may appear altogether irrelevant or out of place in our brash and confident contemporary world. Yet the eternal principles supporting the harmonious functioning of the universe are immutable and cannot be evaded. Evil is implacable and tenacious, but at root it is simply another word for sheer ignorance of natural law. Nevertheless the results of disregarding this law or attempting to selfishly interfere in the harmonious order of the universe are devastating in the extreme – and the day of reckoning will always come in due season.
Many people nowadays find themselves living in high-tech modern societies, which on the surface at any rate appear to have attained a considerable degree of sophistication. Deeper down, however, nothing much has changed and human beings remain as vulnerable to adverse influences as they ever were – prone to deception and all too easily corrupted by false promises.
It is still possible for people ‘sell their soul to the devil’. When this happens, they effectively become agents of evil and an unconscious channel for abomination. They are capable then of acts of unspeakable barbarity, far beyond their normal capacity for selfish action; ordinary individuals in this way become transformed into monsters, able and willing to perpetrate hideous deeds of cruelty.
In his own life, which had spanned the greater part of the tumultuous twentieth century, Martin Israel had witnessed this terrible sequence of events, as Europe laboured under the savage onslaught of Nazi oppression, seen most graphically of all in the dire scenes of the holocaust. His profound insights regarding the terrible menace of evil remain just as relevant these days as innocent people suffer anew – this time under the scourge of fundamentalist religious ideology, by which all who do not share the narrow interpretation of its adherents’ bigoted doctrine are subjected to harsh persecution.
It certainly remained true, Martin wrote, that on one level of reality the soul is immortal, inasmuch as it is God’s creation and God loves every created thing. But the power of evil, he added can so dominate a person that his soul consciousness is totally obliterated; he discards his human identity and behaves irrationally like a coarse animal in a large herd, entirely under the direction of the evil one.
The mob violence, which then occurs is terrifying to envisage and must be even more shocking to behold.
The precious power of discrimination, the fruit of our individual integrity and the very spark of our identity, is blurred and occluded. Devoid of this light of responsibility, the individual is tumultuously overridden by the emotional surge of the crowd and is rendered capable of committing the grossest acts of destructive cruelty, acts that the same person in a state of calm and prayerful awareness would reject in abhorrence.
As an experienced exorcist, Martin Israel had no illusions about the cunning wiles of the devil, whose nature is that of the Antichrist when he gains ascendency over his deluded victims. Giving a chilling account of the evil one’s preferred mode of action, Martin described how first of all the awareness of a person is dulled and duped into a torpid complacency as his confidence is gained by acts of apparent generosity; the freedom of the will is then unobtrusively abdicated so that the victim leans ever more in dependence and trust on the source that has come to his assistance; the evil one battens on the soul consciousness of his victim whence issues the free will with its capacity to choose and make decisions. In this way the unguarded awareness lets in malevolent destructive powers that rob the person of his freedom.
The powers of darkness, concluded Martin, have the capacity to assume a bright glitter that can deceive the unwary if not the very elect. How then, he asks can we distinguish between the powers of light and darkness in our present climactic world situation? It is climacteric on account of the enormous scientific and technical advancements escalating year by year combined with a general lack of reverence on the part of the majority for the unseen dimension of reality.
We can easily distinguish a power of darkness by the hatred it exudes as it works towards the destruction that stands in its path to dominion. By contrast love emanates from a power of light. Love acts by giving up itself – even to death if need be – for the sake of its friend, who in the final analysis is everyone around us.
This in turn necessitates a love of oneself so complete, wrote Martin, that one no longer feels threatened by anyone else – let alone has any desire to abuse, denigrate or destroy him.
In the mighty conflict of spiritual values, he added soberly, our real adversaries dwell in the intermediary psychic realm. Martin always remained convinced that it was there in the dark and subtle dimensions beyond this world of mortality that the origin of evil is actually to be located – even if it mainly enters the world through the agency of human beings; it is evident that the element we call evil finds an easy entry in the hearts (or souls) of all those who are unwary, sluggish in the life of prayer and whose private lives are thoughtless and selfish.
Even a life devoted to social service and praiseworthy political action, Martin insisted, would soon become infiltrated with the forces of evil, if it was not guarded by constant awareness and a primary dedication to God.
Glad to Be Grateful
In my experience, the way to silence is by a gradual dropping-off of thought by immersing oneself in a transparent sea of gratitude for the privilege of being alive at the present moment, and registering that moment as an event in its own right. In this silence the dross of worldly life is gradually cast off, and a vibrant freshness cleanses the soul of all clinging emotional desire. At last one can see clearly and discern the truth which liberates one from the usual bondage to material concerns.
Martin provides in this passage a clear answer to a vital question he has just asked on behalf of his readers: How does one attain the silence which is the very heart of prayer?
He indicates in his reply how a natural sense of gratitude is all it takes to open the hidden door to freedom – a secret door to the inner life, through which the spirit of prayer can easily enter. It is this simple but profound practice of thanksgiving – being grateful for small mercies so the heart can rejoice and be glad – that makes deep prayer possible. At long last then we can recognise God as belonging to our own awareness of reality and finally we can properly offer praise to the supreme energy that guides the destiny of the universe – however we may conceive it.
At the beginning of our spiritual quest for truth, God is just a word to us and it remains entirely up to us to describe in our own terms the creative power that brought us into being and sustains us still. But the freedom to explore the inner life and practise spirituality in the manner that suits us best is something that can never be taken for granted.
The liberating fact that Martin Israel was able to speak so freely about truth, preaching spontaneously in church and other public places whenever invited, testifies to the immense privileges people enjoy in an open and democratic society. How precious this freedom to be oneself in a place of real safety is – but how easily lost within the shadows of fear, oppression and conflict. There is no such thing as absolute security and one can become a victim of violence at any time – even when gathered with others of like mind in the sanctified space of a place of worship. Perhaps there in particular nowadays one is no longer safe. As a Jew, whose distant relatives were harshly persecuted and killed by the Nazis in a synagogue, Martin knew this all too well.
In good times and bad, as the habit of thanksgiving becomes established in the soul, so our own inner strength grows. It is the tentative dawning of a new life of faith, but it will have to be accompanied by a conscious consecration of the will made possible by a new attitude of openness. We will begin to see for ourselves how this mysterious process of inward transformation has a momentum all of its own as it unfolds and acts unbidden in the most unexpected of ways. Our life is no longer entirely our own, but we are glad to be grateful for we know not what. This is a joy too precious to name and a gift we dare not seize for fear of loss.
What beckons now is a new phase of firm allegiance to the universal values expressed by Jesus during his ministry. The decision to heed this summons to deeper commitment in the service of truth may be slow and silent in coming, but when it does so it is categorical and in the affirmative; it hardly seems our own doing in fact – that is the marvel.
As the living Christ establishes himself more completely in the soul, so does a measure of self-confidence show itself that is of another order to the self-inflation that worldly powers confer. While our self-awareness is limited to money, social position (or the lack of it), intellectual brilliance or artistic gifts, it will continue to be in a state of flux. It will balance uneasily in the world of changing values, of vogue attachments that disappear as suddenly as they first arose…
The confirmation of the self, which is the essence of self-confidence, that Christ bestows inculcates a scale of values and indicates a way of life that leads the disciple beyond concern for his prestige to a commitment in love to the whole world. He is no longer interested in his own safety, for he knows dimly yet incontestably that his authentic nature is eternal…
At this point the realisation may have dawned that we have in some measure finally stumbled upon the spiritual freedom that is our birthright; it is likely that one way or another we will have been given a radiant mark or intangible sign that somehow the divine is now acting within us in grace unseen. It may make no rational sense and yet we feel different, more open and less resistant to the impacts of life. That much is evident to us.
It is the kind of freedom which with fragrance brings, in Martin’s own words, trust with it so that we can rest with assurance in God’s love. The Lord is recognised at last as not fickle, vengeful or punitive as viewed so often in the Old Testament, but all-merciful – and this loving mercy infuses our very being changing us into new people.
In this spiritual freedom, wrote Martin, we need no longer fear psychic contamination nor, on the other hand, do we any longer seek after esoteric knowledge to substantiate our frail self-regard. We are no longer subject to the claims of opposing systems of thought either, for they cannot blur our inner vision of the one God, who transcends all intellectual barriers and racial divisions.
And there is one further indication of a growing detachment from the allures and illusions of the world. We begin to see for ourselves how neither wealth nor its absence will bring us to the vision of God. In the light of this insight – rich or poor as we may happen to be ourselves – we determine with renewed goodwill to act as best we can in future as a faithful steward of the world’s resources while dedicating ourselves to God and His creation in prayer, social action and love; we understand much better too the meaning of those beautiful words from the collect for peace from The Book of Common Prayer – ‘in whose service is perfect freedom.’
Gone rather thankfully is the questionable liberty to pursue our own ends at all costs; instead we are newly prepared to meet the sorrow of the world in unflinching honesty and with as much compassion as we can muster. It no longer seems altogether too much to ask.
Indeed once we know definitively Christ in the soul as both a principle and personal presence that directs us to an encounter with God, our allegiance to him cannot fail to be total. Martin assures us of this. Now we have been summoned categorically to fulfil the responsibilities that our humanity imposes upon us – as evidenced in the life of Jesus – we may be tempted by the prince of this world as he was, but we will never again be seduced from our high calling; in our own imperfect fashion we will stand firm.
The point is that something within us has changed fundamentally and a deep knot of tension has eased; maybe this has to do with the clarification of a nagging doubt regarding our own true worth. We have found at last forgiveness in our own heart for our own shortcomings. By letting go of this chafing resentment towards ourself on account of our perceived failures, a natural sense of our innate dignity has been restored to us through grace; our hesitation has thus been dispelled, bringing the ability to act decisively and with wisdom. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit – and for this perhaps should be reserved the deepest gratitude of all.
Genuine commitment not only renders us more decisive, but brings with it tolerance and moderation in our relationships plus a stable ecumenism of quite a different order to the passive acceptance which borrows ideas indiscriminately to form a somewhat spineless and mixed-up religion with no real roots.
Jesus speaks about the kind of person who hears his words and acts upon them, as someone who can resist all the threats and hazards of the world, because the foundation of his spiritual edifice is composed of rock – indeed the rock of ages who is God himself.
Such a person is so secure in his identity, adds Martin that he can listen with courtesy to all he hears from alien sources; the free person can inspect all assertions and philosophies with a warmth of regard that will tend to bring their numerous protagonists into his loving presence where they may experience the living Christ. This is a place of peace and reconciliation where age-old grievances and enmity on both an individual and global level can begin to find resolution. Once commitment has been fertilised by the spirit of love, our fear fades as we are able to contain conflicting ideologies no less than rebellious people in our hearts.
The most inveterate conflicts, wrote Martin, arise from the contents of our own unconscious mind, which in turn are magnified by the dark forces that are so often to be in control of the universe. But once the darkness within us is accepted – even welcomed – the way to reconciliation and healing becomes established. Christ then reigns in the soul, transfiguring all that we may encounter in our daily work. In this way the divine presence in the soul leads us patiently onwards towards the future advent of Christ in the world.
The highest point in religious vocation is this work of reconciliation, concluded Martin. Reconciliation is even more holy that ecumenism as love is sown instead of hatred, pardon instead of injury. Just so we too can become instrumental in conveying the peace of God.
People often wonder what the deceased do in the world beyond death. The question is reasonable enough since our concept of intelligence and independence shows itself in action that has an end in view. All action starts in the mind, and in the afterlife, which is a mind world, the action of the blessed departed is to pray for the souls of their less fortunate brethren in the lower purgatorial realms and in hell – and also for the distracted mortals on this side of the grave.
Prayer is a two-way communication: we help our living fellows and those who are in a bad state after death, whereas the saints work in the opposite direction. The earthbound souls are thus helped from two directions…
It is clear to me from some remarkably lucid dreams I have had in my own life that Martin knew just what he was talking about when he spoke without fear or favour about the subtle, astral realms beyond the veil of death. He firmly believed that the traditional pictures of heaven err too much in their static representation. Somehow the chosen have arrived and are in a state of peaceful inanimation. He did not share this view – and furthermore it was evidently not at all what he had in mind regarding the possibility of his continuing ministry by the grace of God in the hereafter when it was his turn to pass on.
Little more than two years before he suffered the catastrophic breakdown in health, which brought his career as a priest in the Church of England to an abrupt end, he had a vivid dream, which further deepened his already considerable understanding of the afterlife.
He seemed to have been involved in a road accident, and he found himself clambering out of a rather shadowy car. The road ahead was rough and he had to crawl forward to escape from some people in his way, but at last he reached the end of the road and found himself in a vast expanse of clear space. There were no road markings, but the space was taken up by diaphanous beings, whose shape resembled the human form, but without recognizable features. They seemed to cluster together in joyous groups, animated by a spirit of love that poured out into the atmosphere. They received Martin as one of their own – and he seemed to play along with them in their harmonious movement.
Then he began to wonder where he actually was. One of the company immediately seemed to sense his question and asked him in turn: ‘Don’t you know that you are dead?’ Then it seemed he was being ushered to a great building for appraisal and instruction, but by this time he had become so excited that he was on the point of awakening in order to make immediately available this direct knowledge concerning the survival of personality after death.
Seldom had he woken up with such exhilaration and joy, and he could hardly wait to consider ideas for yet another book – about angels this time – until he realised he had barely enough definite material to fill even a single page of foolscap. That is how hard it is to write convincingly about things ethereal. Even so, before long, that book entitled, Angels – Messengers of Grace, did in 1995 eventually appear under his authorship, and comprehensive in scope – if somewhat daunting in readability – it certainly turned out to be.
Martin’s enthralling dream and the book about angels that followed his vivid encounter with them demonstrated how the true self or soul of a person can receive clear intimations of a real life that far exceeds the limitations of the rational mind without in any way failing to concede its place in dealing with the things of this world. The true mystic, wrote Martin, is a very practical person, bringing the energies of God down to the world – but in this esoteric work one is not alone. Between the Godhead and creation there exists an order of beings that is spiritual in nature and also able to convey the divine energies to all that lives.
These mysterious beings are the angels – messengers bringing the light of God to men and forming part of a vast hierarchy. Martin would now apply himself in characteristically erudite and methodical fashion into researching this wondrous but somewhat archaic aspect of religion in all its minute detail as depicted throughout both the Old and New Testaments, while ensuring not to omit evidence of contemporary visitations either.
He, for his part, was convinced that the diaphanous ones whom he had seen were certainly angels. Who exactly it was he might have met in the great hall of learning to which he was being ushered was a matter of conjecture. Had he been rather less impetuous, he might conceivably have found out, but probably in his earthly state of spiritual understanding he was not yet eligible for a heavenly meeting. Perhaps, however, by the time he made the great transition that we call death, he would be better prepared for what was to come.
Whatever their origin, Martin was certain that angels form an essential link between human beings and God – and more universally between the whole created world and its creator. It would be an important day in his view when theologians decided to give the matter more attention, for then they would come closer to the divine source.
The fate of the world in no small measure depends on how responsibly humanity responds to the stark challenges it presently faces. If we stubbornly persist in attempting to proceed without reference to God – however he may be named – the more likely is our eventual self-destruction.
On the other hand, the sooner we are brave enough as a race to extend the range of our knowledge beyond the limits of the reasoning mind, and open up to the larger possibilities suggested by the reality of angels and all that pertains to them in the subtle, intermediate realms of existence, the more rapidly might we be able to move towards the conscious acknowledgement of the sacred dimension, from which all blessings flow.
Venture of Faith
We live in a world of darkness which is illuminated by our own courageous movements towards a light, which though within us, is concealed from the eye of reason. Yet in giving of ourselves in hope beyond reason – and this is a venture of faith – we glimpse a depth of reality in ourselves which is the true self, also called the soul. What we would aspire to if we only had the wisdom to do so, would be to live under the direction of the soul, for its dominion is free and joyous.
Anchored deep within us is an undeniable knowledge of our own existence and this immediate awareness is a direct intimation of our own immortal being in the midst of physical impermanence – even as it points to a profound truth inherent in every living moment that is always seeking to find expression.
All of Nature – all created things in fact – speak eloquently like this of eternity ever present in the midst of change to reveal innumerable, sparkling facets of the one ultimate reality.
In this absolute reality is to be found ineffable goodness, as well as tender mercy and above all great love – all essential qualities by which God is known. These divine qualities may be obscured by conflict and suffering, but they are never entirely lost.
As the conviction deepens within us that the supreme creative power, which brought us into being means no harm – and can actually be trusted – our attitude to the challenges we meet on the often stony path of life changes accordingly. And as it does so, we cannot help but proceed further in the fervent wish to give tangible form to this poignant vision of wholeness that will never leave us bereft once we have glimpsed it.
It is a venture of faith as the text introducing this first chapter suggests, but it will also prove to be a stern test of our fidelity regarding that most precious insight we have glimpsed in our heart of hearts. We are not separate from the Absolute – and never have been. This is what mystical unity with God signifies.
The quotation at the beginning comes from the prolific writings of a highly gifted but unpretentious figure, who is the subject of this biographical study. A remarkable Christian priest by the name of Martin Israel, who originally trained and practised as a medical doctor, he indicated in incisive fashion forty years ago how we live in a world of darkness.
Of course that world was already by then an unpredictable and dangerous place in all sorts of respects and on every level – how could it have been otherwise? But now in addition it has become marked out by the violent upsurge of religious fundamentalism, as well as by overt nationalism; to great consternation indeed our own era is turning out to be one of distinct menace as the blind, irrational forces of the universal unconscious mind – so long denied and ignored in fear – are surging up to overwhelm the ordered rationality by which any civilised person still aims to manage affairs with justice, compassion and basic respect for human rights.
Little has really changed nowaday except that the stark issues confronting mankind have become more pressing. Even so it has clearly become essential to investigate yet again – as Martin did in a uniquely articulate way – how we may not only summon all the resources at our disposal, but also invoke the spirit of compassion anew. And to attempt this urgent task while still bound to a tired vocabulary that has lost the power to truly inspire.
In the weary eyes of the world, to meet evil with mercy seems surely a futile act of utter foolishness. In actual fact it is nothing of the kind. It is really an act of the highest wisdom, but it does take the greatest courage of all – for when once you detirmine to take a firm stand on the bedrock of reality, all that does not belong to Truth rises up in fury to dissuade you from the most noble of intentions.
To meet evil with fortitude nevertheless is to dare greet evil and go further still. It is actually to bid evil welcome and in so doing to disarm its threat at the most fundamental level. And this of course is to follow the supreme teaching of Jesus Christ – to offer the other cheek to your adversary or to travel the extra mile to help your neighbour in the midst of trouble.
Naturally the path of loving kindness and non-violence outlined here is anything but easy to follow. It has many adherents, but little credibility in terms of effective action. Yet ultimately it is the only enduring answer to atrocity – and it was the bold reply Martin Israel unstintingly provided to all who cared to listen during the course of his remarkable healing ministry.
Undue piety holds little appeal for the modern mind, and extreme religious fundamentalism is the scourge of our time and is wisely shunned by all normal people. Simple goodness and great bravery on the other hand speak directly to the heart and will never go out of fashion. Such fine qualities are rightly celebrated whenever they are seen to gleam in the shadows, and no effort to translate high ideals into practice amidst the abrasive demands of daily life is ever wasted.
Anything we may ever need to know – all the sustenance we will ever need – resides within these hidden depths of our own being, and yet almost certainly we will still need to avail ourselves of sound outer guidance in order to realise that this is so. Such is an unavoidable paradox of the quest for Truth and why it is always valuable to pay tribute to men and women of outstanding wisdom and courage, who are the genuine teachers of humanity. It is they who embody the age-old perennial philosophy expressing the essential truth underlying all the great world religions. By their unselfish example, these noble exemplars of deep wisdom remind us of our innate nobility – and never has this been more urgent than in our own era of rapid change and unremitting turbulence.
The Pain That Heals
In the silence of dark foreboding punctuated by flashes of terror, a remarkable opening of the personality is apt to occur; the soul is laid bare and God is enabled to speak through the spirit… At this point we make the amazing though obvious discovery that the only quality we possess is our own being, and we learn that to let it shine with integrity is the great work of our life.
In this strangely insecure world, as beautiful as ever but rendered fraught by anxiety and vulnerable to savage assault from unknown quarters, agonising moments of dire emergency can erupt without warning into the existence of ordinary, good people going about their normal lives. The devastating result is often untold suffering on a massive scale – pain impossible to articulate and incredibly hard to heal.
Every time news comes through of yet another terrorist outrage or frenzied attack by an isolated loner intent on revenge for some imagined slight, we witness a further example of hell on earth – and may be pushed a step closer to despairing cynicism.
But believe it or not, in the midst of all this anguish, heaven is never far away, and that is what Martin Israel is indicating when he writes of the hidden, creative opportunity afforded by catastrophe as the soul is laid bare by indescribable pain.
Heaven can paradoxically as easily show itself in situations of extreme suffering and danger as in times of prosperity and comfort. And the reason for this, Martin asserted, is plain enough. When such suffering is communally borne, and the hazards encompassing everyone make the duration of any individual life an open question, the personal barriers tend to drop and people at last become open with one another. They have little more to lose except their lives, and these are best preserved in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
This was clearly evident after the unprecedented attack on the New York Trade Center in 2001 and following the London suicide bombings less than four years later – both terrible occasions when great heroism was shown by both victims and rescuers amidst scenes of utter carnage. It remains just as true nowadays as open, democratic societies have again become soft targets in a cruel war, marked out by savage episodes of indiscriminate rampage, spilling horror upon the undefended streets of large cities like Madrid, Mumbai, Nairobi and more recently in the squares and along the boulevards of Paris.
With its sheer brutality and tense aftermath, that particular outrage in November, 2015 was immediately regarded with utmost concern as holding enormous implications for a darker future, signalling a steeply rising global threat from terrorism.
Following all such inconceivably shocking events, the utter devastation and despair consequent upon savage, multiple attacks like these – unprovoked, brazen and merciless as they all were – must have been incredibly distressing to witness.
A grim pattern of violence has thus become established, almost as familiar as it is awful. Brutal assaults without warning on innocent civilians by suicide bombers or heavily armed, militant gunmen, have become a nightmarish reality – a shocking risk of everyday urban living.
Despite the unmitigated pain inflicted on ordinary people by cowardly assaults upon their basic civil right to freedom, a person’s intrinsic worth and natural quality of kindness can never be dismissed or obliterated.
When great suffering is courageously borne, the innate nobility of human beings shines forth, and if a community under threat can band together in solidarity, its quietly shared dignity is beautiful to behold.
Integrity is paramount. Evil seeks to divide, conquer and rule, but recent history has shown that no amount of evil intent can prevail in the face of simple goodness as those vibrant, cosmopolitan cities – rich in ethnic diversity and broadly welcoming to visitors – have stood firm and entire under undeserved attack; fully to realise this same affirmative truth as an individual is the great work of our life.
No book comes out of the blue; it is the creative outcome of numerous influences and forged in the sometimes scalding crucible of the author’s subjective experience as he fashions his narrative and struggles to find adequate words to convey his intention. Artistic expression is both a reflection of outer events and the inner world made tangible.
So it is that this endeavour too finds its particular but disturbing backdrop against a society grappling with the forbidding challenge posed by an altogether more sinister story than any of the main themes of this book which is concerned above all with deep understanding, mercy and love.
This very different and devious narrative, fashioned by turbulent events in the wider world, relates to the hearts and minds of impressionable, young people being subverted by the perverse reasoning of fundamentalist religious ideology – and urged to commit atrocities in God’s name; it is a struggle against what has been termed ‘altruistic evil’ and is set perhaps to last a generation.
It is a clear indication of Martin Israel’s own integrity that, even as the devoted mother, who felt obliged to resign her post as an Anglican priest due to loss of faith following the cruel murder of her beloved daughter in the London tube bombings of 2005,he too steadfastly rejected the easy language of conventional religion that totally fails to measure up to the stark demands of life when times get tough.
With his innate sensitivity bolstered by considerable experience as doctor and clergyman, Martin was never glib in the wise advice he offered and this was what made his own contribution as counsellor and priest so telling and reliable.
As you continue to study his abundant writings in depth, his unflinching honesty in the face of the most challenging questions becomes increasingly apparent. He never sought to turn aside from a person’s encounter with anguish but endeavoured to meet and absorb the impact of their suffering with the empathy and compassion that his own pain had already awakened within him.
Martin’s keen insights concerning the healing power of pain are central to his unique spiritual approach – they comprise the main thrust of his uplifting message, which in his own words asserts the creative potential of suffering and looks for a wider ministry of healing than that designed merely to smooth out life’s difficulties.
He fully realised that his essential message would give cold comfort to those wanting instant relief, but for anyone prepared to proceed with their difficulties with tenacious courage, he hoped it would show the way of tried and proven advance by at least one traveller on the way. This solitary wayfarer was surely none other than himself, for in responding to the suffering of the many to whom he had witnessed, he knew that his own experience had probably been the starkest of all.
It had become obvious to him that the problem of evil in the face of a living God was not to be solved at a purely intellectual level, since the human mind in grappling with this enigma brings God down to its own level thereby degrading Him and obscuring its own sight. On the contrary it was by traversing the valley where death casts its long shadow that the sufferer would learn basic truths about his or her own condition.
If one could only find the courage and faith to proceed along the perilous path of self-discovery, one would emerge a changed person who knows God rather than merely believes in Him. And the blessed state of equanimity was the precious fruit of such suffering – it was a winnowing fire that brings knowledge of the immortal principle that lies at the very root of a person’s being.
Yet as always words fall short – they simply cannot convey the full import of desolation and its aftermath. We experience desolation when the very bottom of our private world is removed from us. Our foundations then have crumbled away from beneath us without warning and in their place is left a terrifying void, which can be filled neither by our own efforts or by the well-meaning concern of friends.
When we lose something irreplaceable, wrote Martin, we enter the well-recorded experience of bereavement. The most harrowing anguish accompanies the death of a loved one, made even more unendurable when you have lost a beloved child or close relative to inexplicable, savage crime or the futile horrors of war. But in the final analysis, the desolation of loss can follow the disappointment of our dearest hopes in any sphere of endeavour. The removal of hope is the heart of desolation.
The personality of man, Martin would go on to explain, intermingles with all the psychic darkness that has accumulated from the misdeeds and vile thoughts of his forebears since the very dawn of his creation. But all is not lost since everyone also has direct access to the ineffable Godhead through the vast communion of loved ones and their emergent energies in the realms beyond human exploration… The little ones of God live courageously a day at a time, knowing intuitively that they are provided for moment by moment even when the future appears hopeless and the present is scarcely bearable.
It was quite true, Martin admitted, that when inner, psychic darkness descended, even this innate confidence in the providence of God may be obliterated and then someone may have the awful experience of drowning in a vast sea of dark, meaningless chaos.
It was probably this experience that induced the victims of severe depression to end their lives – and who could blame them for resorting to this extreme action? Yet if they were able to withstand the temptation to quit this life, and instead persist in the name of God who seems to have hidden Himself completely from them, they would quite literally be saved.
The greatest privilege, Martin wrote, that lies in store for the person who has emerged from the valley of the shadow of death is the ability to guide his brethren through that same valley to the delectable mountains that lie beyond it.
Suffering has an electrifying, concentrating effect on the mind. Uneasily one begins to understand that all we possess on a purely personal level needs to be stripped from us before we can know that deeper inner authority that lives in a world beyond the changes of our mortal life. This is the first great lesson of pain.
Yet all our possessions – including of course sound health of body and mind, as well as cherished relationships – need not be discarded for they are not illusions but gifts that God has bestowed upon us to be transformed by our appreciation and love into objects of eternal beauty. As we change, observed Martin, all that appertains to us is changed also and is brought back to God transfigured and resurrected.
From the starkest perspective, however, it is evident that our lives all founder on the rocks of ruin no matter how noteworthy they may have been in terms of what the world calls success. That ruin encompasses three final facts of life: ageing, disease and death. The most important question is this – have we built an inner spiritual body around the eternal soul centre, or has our edifice been fashioned of worldly things that collapse at the full thrust of misfortune?
Martin was convinced that what appears to be a misfortune in the previously evenly tempered life of a successful person is in all probability the thrust of the soul itself, bringing the person, despite himself, to a fuller realisation of God.
On this journey to Truth, we begin to find a sense of inner peace, but real peace, he reminded his readers, is not a state of perpetual immobility or inertia in which nothing more need ever happen. It is on the contrary a relationship of intimate communion with God, manifesting itself outwardly in harmonious activity in whatever situation a person finds himself or herself.
Peace is the strength that is given to the weak who have accepted their present impotence and are not ashamed to give themselves in their apparent uselessness to God…Then he offered the following prayer:
Help me, O Lord, to cease from comparing my lot with other people, but rather to see each circumstance, however adverse, as my opportunity for growing into authentic spiritual knowledge. May I thereby be a constant source of inspiration to those around me. One true witness of sanctity is worth all the world’s scriptures inasmuch as that person embodies the truth of all written testimonies
Dark Face of Reality
Let it be said at once that the genesis of evil is a result of the primary creative act of God, by whom all things are made. God may not have willed the emergence of evil but he could not avoid it when he bestowed free will on his rational creatures, whether human or angelic.
To use that divine gift of free choice on a personal acquisitive basis is much more attractive than offering it in humble dedication to God and one’s fellow creatures. The vision of world domination is far more compelling than one of service for the good of the created whole. The end of this fateful choice is seen when we survey the course of selfish action as directed by the evil one, traditionally depicted as a fallen angel of immense resource and malice.
Prior to becoming a priest, Martin Israel was a doctor and pathologist well accustomed to dissection; the incisive outline of the anatomy of evil, which he proceeds to give here bears all the hallmarks of a sure and steady hand. In addition, he was psychically aware and exceptionally skilled in the sober craft of exorcism; it was an unusual blend of qualities to be sure, but a combination that rendered him well qualified to consider such an obscure and troubling subject.
His observations are sombre indeed as he takes pains to place the stark menace of evil in the broadest possible perspective as a relative and not as an absolute truth. But he does so while accepting as fact the grim possibility there is a conscious, intelligent force of darkness, an overpowering presence of evil in the universe. And that is a presence of personal identity no less real in essence than the personal presence of God.
Any word is just a word and words in themselves have no actual power until they are charged with the sense of meaning attributed to them. But evil – the most notorious coin in the currency of hatred – has long been allocated a very particular niche of dark significance in human language, indicating as it does the most dire inclination towards the depths of cruelty and heights of moral depravity.
The hard fact of the matter is that evil is not a mistake but the inevitable outcome of ignorance of the true nature of reality; it is the dark face of reality to be faced not with fear but viewed in the clear-eyed light of integrity. That is the courageous way of growth into full humanity – and it is the only way in which the affront of evil may be met and properly neutralized.
Good and evil are of course the two dominant, powers that give shape and substance to the world as we know it. They are the fundamental forces of duality within creation, which find their origin in the absolute reality of God that contains them both to all eternity – and which has given them assent to be in the first place.
Positive and negative in their polarity as they will always remain, these opposing qualities of dark and light are inextricably entwined in their dynamic interplay with us too – we belong to the web of life and are not separate from it in any sense. By mysterious chance nevertheless, we have been granted the capacity to stand apart and behold the play of energies that encircle us. We do so in the conscious immediacy of close and careful attention to the moment in hand; it is a matter of awe and wonder, but never a justification for arrogant certainty to be foisted on others. This is the bottom line of our present contemplation on the disturbing anatomy of evil – and the keynote of Martin Israel’s profound teachings concerning its profound implications.
In the end the darkness has to inform the light no less than the light to illuminate the darkness. Each has valuable teaching to bestow so that a life beyond the dualities may emerge. This is the life of integrity. It is the life of God beyond the dualities of darkness and light, in which the uncreated light embraces and transfigures both earthly light and subterranean darkness.
A discussion of this sort falls well outside the parameters of conventional debate and is not the sort of thing to go down well with hardened sceptics addicted to proven scientific fact. Such a wary response from mainstream opinion is hardly to be surprised at, but it does a profound subject grave injustice.
This is far more than mere metaphysical speculation. Here Martin is touching upon fundamental disharmony in the universe at the deepest causative level – he is speaking boldly and without reserve of matters visible and invisible, material and subtle; it is a contentious interpretation of rather an unwelcome subject, which is bound to evoke a mood of puzzlement if not outright scorn. Discussions of this kind clearly need to be tempered by a note of reassurance and plenty of realism – only then can we hope to lay the foundations of a mature and responsible spirituality, in which even the most challenging aspects of enquiry are definitely not out of bounds.
Martin would stress that in the normal way of things there is absolutely no need to struggle or stand guard against malevolent forces – our very best protection from all unwelcome influences is our native common sense and the natural healthy functioning of a balanced mind. Evil, as he would often point out, is actually an imbalance – an aberration or departure from what is real. Ultimately there is only the Good and all is well. That is the highest truth, but if ever in doubt about this, he would ask his readers to remember the following:
Avoid duplicity at all times and at any cost, since it opens the door to negativity and gives rise to all manner of complications. Be firm with falsehood – sly offspring of the most forbidding family of ill repute – and never be tempted to collude with it for it will run rings around you and soon entangle you in its web of deceit. Instead stand straight, step back and simply witness its subterfuge. It will never vanquish you then.
There is no need to shrink back before the powers of darkness, because they find their true origin in light; if ever you feel adversely affected by baleful influences, above all never seek to cast them out, but instead include them in your love – as that is what they truly long for and therein also lies your greatest safety. This is actually the essence of the ministry of deliverance, in which aberrant elements of unredeemed evil are committed for safe-keeping into the merciful hands of God.
When to the best of your own ability you have done all you can to cope with any sombre concerns you may have, leave well alone and rest in stillness. Deliverance from fear or anxiety may not always come in the shape or manner you quite expect, but once requested in all sincerity it is unfailing in its arrival.