There is a battle that rages within people, both those in prison and those on the outside. It is described well by St. Paul in Romans 7: the battle between good and evil inside of us. Here’s a wonderful old story for us to think about today:
An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This story is now being backed up by the latest scientific evidence. I read a story in the newspaper called “God, Your Brain” by Michael Gerson. In it, he quotes the leading expert on the neurological basis for religion, Andrew Newberg. In his work on brain imaging, he has found that people who practice prayer and meditation actually alter the neural connections of the brain. This leads to “long-lasting states of unity, peacefulness and love.” He found that this happens fast—a matter of weeks, not years. A strong religious belief amplifies this effect on the brain, “enhancing social awareness and empathy while subduing destructive feelings and emotions.”
“Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain – particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate – where empathy and reason reside. On the other hand, contemplating a wrathful god empowers the limbic system, which is filled with aggression and fear. It is a sobering concept:
The God (or god) we love changes us into his image!”
Interestingly, he uses the same imagery as the above story: “two packs of neurological wolves are found in every brain. One pack is oriented toward anger and the other toward compassion. So all human beings are left with a question: Which pack of wolves do we feed?”
Orthodoxy teaches us that what we feed our minds, hearts, and spirits has a direct impact on who we are...just as what we feed our physical bodies either promotes health or sickness. What we watch on television; what we read in the way of books or magazines; whether or not we go to church; what we listen to on the radio... it all adds up to impacting us and shaping our lives (spiritually, mentally, and physically)!
If, as that article suggested, we can be changed in a matter of weeks, not years, then perhaps we could engage this battle briefly and see if a change is made in us. As a Chaplain, I encouraged men to begin praying the Jesus Prayer one 100–knot prayer rope in the morning and one in the evening (no more, no less). Those who did this saw amazing results in the battle within their own minds. I, too, could see the difference in them. One man, who was the “vendor” of pornography on the prison yard, saw the change in another man through the Jesus Prayer. He longed for that kind of peace and asked the man to teach him this prayer. After a few weeks of praying the Jesus Prayer this man got rid of all his pornographic materials (a truly amazing act within a prison setting).
With the blessing of your own spiritual father, I would encourage you to try this over the next month: Pray the Jesus Prayer one 100-knot prayer rope in the morning and one in the evening (no more, no less): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” Some fathers use a shorter version: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!” Do your best to stay focused for those few minutes each day and see what happens with the battle inside you!
May God help all of us to “feed” the right “wolf” each and every day!! God’s blessings to each of you!!
Fr. Powley is OCPM's executive director.