“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)
Thomas Keating, Cistercian Abbot and co founder of the Centering Prayer movement, articulates a rich understanding of the psychological experience of contemplative prayer and transformation. Drawing on developmental psychology and the rich contemplative tradition, (particularly in the stream of Evagrius of Ponticus, St John of the Cross, and the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing,) he draws our attention to three “energy centres” that are also parallel to the first triad of the enneagram. These energy centres are developed from early childhood and are a normal and natural part of our biological growth and the development of a healthy ego. Specifically, they are organized into three predominant needs: the need for power and control, the need for affection and esteem, and the need for security.
Keating suggests that through frustrations of not having these needs met at a precognitive or self reflective age, these needs become the formative narrative, or hidden motivations in our search for happiness. Bubbling away behind our actions and conscious desires are these energy centres which are directing us. Allowed to grow unchecked and edified, they come to dominate our operating awareness. They are at the root of sin: they are what keep us from living into the deeper truth of who we are, the true “I am.” According to Keating, this is the human condition, the fruits of which are cultural and institutional violence, and all suffering.
Lent, as said so beautifully by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry in his 2016 Lenten address, is a time of preparation for Easter: a time to reclaim our Baptismal identity. Our Baptism draws us into the deepest identity of personhood which we find only and forever in communion with God, according to God’s intention for us. The Lenten Journey is a path that leads to the deepest parts of ourselves—it addresses us at our most naked places, our deepest motivations and desires, for this is where true healing takes place. We see this in the readings from Ash Wednesday, for example, where even our outward religious expressions of fasting and almsgiving are held under a deeper light, asking us to consider our “why.”
And so it is for the first Sunday of Lent, where after his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness, where he is tempted by the devil. Notice the three temptations to Jesus directly speak to the three energy centres articulated by Keating. Turning a stone into a loaf of bread speaks to our lust for power and control. The temptation of personal glory over all the nations is a temptation of profound affection and esteem, and finally the protection offered from falling from the pinnacle is an offer of rich security. In each case, Jesus, mentoring for us what real spiritual combat is, responds with scripture that makes the boldest claims that we make as Christians—we can only find all of these things in God alone.
Lent: this metanoia, this return to the font, reclaiming an identity claimed at Baptism, plunges us deeply within to where God, the Holy Trinity, dwells and is restoring us all. It is from there that we can truly find who we are, and become his hands in this broken world as we pray: “For thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever, Amen.”