What follows are the fragments that stood out to me and my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapter 1: God before Us. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book.
I waxed poetic over Scalia’s introduction. It’s time to dive into the first chapter “God before us.” In order to diagnose the condition, we need a definition:
“To place anything—be it another deity or something more commonplace like romantic love, anger, ambition, or fear—before the Almighty is to give it preeminence in our regard. To become too attached to a thought or feeling or thing is to place it between God and ourselves.”
In order to treat the condition, let us look at the cause, as Scalia describes it.
Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love. The human heart craves attention and love—love is the common longing of our lives…Finding this kind of love can be difficult. Giving love can be more difficult still. Sometimes, discouraged or impatient in our search, we chase illusions and yearn not for the give-and-take of a lifetime of sacrificial love but the fifteen minutes of fame…
Of course, read the book for yourself to see these points fleshed out. Every bad or evil thing is a good thing twisted. Scalia recognizes this.
It’s not a bad thing to want to be loved…ego and pride can push us to achieve excellence…but left unchecked or knocked out of balance, they can enslave us.
With our vision bedazzled by our fears, insecurities, egos…out distractions cease to look like pale imitations of love, but instead, becomes reasonable facsimiles.
Convinced that what has enticed us unto obsession is about love, we gather it all unto ourselves.
This approach to things that are not God, idols, becomes a dangerous cycle because they can never fulfill us. Looking at the Ten Commandments, Scalia explains how the last seven reinforce the first overarching commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” If one follows the first, the others are “moot” because everything will fall into place. Taking the time to articulate the final seven, beginning with “honor thy mother and father” are meant to keep us on the road. If I am willing to kill (or defame), to commit adultery (or lust in my heart), than I see the signs that I have fallen from the first and greatest commandment.
There are those who will object to this conversation all together. Scalia recognizes this.
What does it even mean, to put something “before God,” and why would it matter to God, anyway? He’s God! How insecure and needy and manipulative could God be to even make such a command?
But then we make an idol of God himself, fashioning him in our image, modeling him after our human love, which is so prone to the weaknesses of insecurity, neediness and manipulation.
In the later chapters, Scalia will explore some of the major idols of our lives: ideas, prosperity, technology, coolness and sex, and plans.
To frame this chapter, Scalia shared with us about a police officer who would ask God to be with him on dangerous calls. He would pray, “stand among them and subdue them; stand before them in majesty to that your peace and your truth are unimpeded as we work through this difficulty.”
We need to make a prayer of this in our daily life. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s take a look at the Lorica of St. Patrick as an inspiration to keep us on track in following that first Commandment. This is but one verse of many amazing verses.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me
When you read aloud it in its entirety, the rhythm takes you deeper.
I could see this as a perfect morning prayer for a busy family, and I may propose this to my husband of adding this to our meager repetoire. For our family, the Consecration to the Holy Spirit has been our regular morning prayer/breakfast meal grace.
Consecration to the Holy Spirit
O Holy Spirit, receive the perfect and complete consecration of my whole being. In all my actions grant me the grace of being my light, my guide, my strength and the love of my heart. I surrender myself to you, and I ask of you the grace to be faithful to your inspirations. Transform me, through Mary and with Mary into a true image of Christ Jesus , for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the world. Amen.
What do you do to keep God on your mind or first in your heart?