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The Warrior Archetype

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Healing Our Violence

The Warrior Archetype
Thursday, October 22, 2015

The warrior is a timeless, primal archetype at the core of both individuals and groups. Men especially are attracted to warrior energy. All the hunters, defenders, athletes, guards, knights, and samurais are, in fact, telling us there’s something valuable about focus, determination, and courage for the common good. In the developed world, warrior energy is, thank God, often sublimated into activities of business and sports. But even here, a clear goal toward a larger good, beyond self, and for purposes greater than prestige and power is usually absent. The true warrior has largely morphed into the celebrity, which hardly makes it warrior energy any more.

The perennial weakness of warrior energy, according to Robert Moore, is that it lacks breadth and depth. Focus and determination are good, but that’s not everything. The secret of a good warrior is that one must be in tutelage to a good and wise leader. The warrior without a good “king” or “queen” has no wisdom, no temperance, no balance, no final goals beyond tracking, fighting, and killing the enemy.

The warrior archetype is not going away any time soon, nor should it. Our job is to educate and redefine the warrior in the way that Moses, David, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Dorothy Day lived out their passion. Warrior energy is not in its essence wrong. It takes warrior energy to see through and stand against mass illusions of our time, and be willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of “support our troops” which cleverly diverts from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to walk to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of nonviolence, civil resistance, and martyrdom—the way of the cross.

The warrior in all of us is desperately searching for something heroic, transcendent, or self-sacrificing. Mark Kurlansky suggests how nonviolence might help us recover true warrior energy: “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.” [1]

Nonviolence requires courageous love. Thomas Merton writes that “non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence. In the use of force, one simplifies the situation by assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: to eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of the irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure. Failure to eliminate evil is itself a defeat. Anything that even remotely risks such defeat is in itself capitulation to evil. The irreversibility of evil then reaches out to contaminate even the tolerant thought of the hesitant crusader who, momentarily, doubts the total evil of the enemy he is about to eliminate.” [2] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am the enemy and the enemy is me. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as I welcome my own shadow.

My father Francis of Assisi said, “I am the Herald of the Great King.” Francis never stopped being a warrior-knight. He just found a greater king. His image of self and victory changed. His goals grew broader, his heart deeper. He was still ready to spill blood for the cause, but now it led him to a personal visit to the Sultan in Egypt in the very midst of the bloody Christian Crusades. He was prepared to offer his male milk, his blood, not for the violent death of an enemy but for the nonviolent victory of love.

Warrior energy needs to be wholly dedicated and given somewhere or to something. It must be focused and released for the warrior to know that she or he is alive and has character. Our work is to find worthy causes and goals to receive worthy warrior energy.

Gateway to Silence:
Love your enemies.

[1] Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library: 2008), 6.
[2] Gandhi, edited by Thomas Merton, On Nonviolence (New Directions: 2007), 21.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Radical Grace, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1991), 12.

Image credit: St. Francis embracing the leper, by Lawrence Zink, reprinted from Francis: The Journey and the Dream, copyright © 1988, Murray Bodo, St. Anthony Messenger Press, p. 13. Used with permission.
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