Thinking, desiring and Acting


The Three Powers

Christ caution in the sermon on the mount is not against repetition but against vain repetition which may be understood as saying the words of scriptures in our prayers mindlessly, thoughtlessly or saying them without striving for a life that embodies them.  That is vain repetition.  Repeating sacred words over and over is not vain repetition if they flow from the heart.  But saying even a single word heartlessly is.  Not only do we used repeated stories and words to drive into our hearts the truth of faith but we also use repeated motion. Consider Baptism.  In the Orthodox Christian tradition, we immerse 3 times into Baptismal waters.  It is because of the Holy Trinity but there is also another reason.  It involves our understanding how each of us overcome sin and experience healing.

A man thinks about his reputation, desire to be admired by others so he takes some opportunities to boast about some accomplishments.  A woman sees another woman feels jealous of her so she gossips about her to her friend.  A child remembers the ice cream in the freezer, craves it on a hot day and so he sneaks into the kitchen and spoon out a few bite.  Now, they may not know it but each of these common strugglers with their common struggles is revealing what the Saints of the Christian tradition identify as the THREE POWERS or THREE PARTS present in every human soul.

When God made man He created the soul to contain three parts or powers.  There is the INTELLEGENT OR RATIONAL POWER involving thoughts, knowledge and reasoning.  There is the DESIRING POWER involving yearning, longing and craving.  And then there is the INCINIVE OR ENERGTIC POWER involving energy, fervency and action.   So man as he is created to be in the garden would think about God that is his rational power.  He would long about God about whom he was thinking that is his desiring power.  And he would act on that longing by living in obedience to God that is his energetic power.  As long as these three powers of his soul thinking, desiring or acting were working normally life was paradise and man was happy.  It is not that the serpent was a game changer, it is what Adam and Eve allowed to happen inside of them after the serpent appeared.

How did these three powers work themselves out practically after the fall.  Do you ever do things you shouldn’t.  Ever say things you shouldn’t or think thoughts you shouldn’t or desiring some things best left undesired.  Ever feel conflicted like a part of you want one thing while another part wants another.  Ever act on an impulse where you later regretted.  Ever leave something Good undone or unsaid.  Ever feel that you are your own honest enemy.  Ever sin and ever wonder why?  It is because like me there is a breakdown in one or more of the three powers of your soul.  Thinking wrongly, desiring wrongly and/or acting wrongly.  This breakdown, this fragmentation, this inner conflict is our inheritance from the fall in the garden of Eden.  How do we know when our rational power is sick?  When we think wrong thoughts, we obsesses, reason poorly, loose touch with reality or we don’t pray because we are too busy thinking.  How do we know when our desiring power of our soul is sick?  We are controlled by craving and appetite, desires are extreme, we feel a bit animalistic.  We don’t pray because we are too busy craving.  How do we know when our energetic power of the soul is sick?  We are busy, super busy and out of balance or burned out or restless and lazy.  We don’t pray because we are too busy praying or too busy lounging.

Sometimes all three powers are sick together.  That was the Serpent’s plan to tempt Adam think about becoming God like apart from God.  And to desire that power in independence apart from God.  And to reach for that fruit and take a disobedient bite apart from God.  The temptation itself was not a game changer. Engaging the Serpent was.  Now we don’t think ourselves usually in terms of these three powers of the soul.  But there is not any hour of any day when they are not in play.  We think about something there is the RATIONAL, we form an attachment or an aversion to it, there is the Desiring.  And we put into a motion, a plan to acquire it or avoid it, there is the energetic.  When working according to nature, this is how we acquire virtue and grow, thinking on good things which nurtures a desire for good things which leads us to act on good thing. 

When not working according to nature, these three powers of the soul give the world as it is today.  From this tragedy, rises a question.  How then do we heal?  How are we restored to the same natural use of three powers of the soul?  THE SHORT ANSWER IS THE CHURCH.  The Church gives us the best chance for inner healing for salvation for union with God.  So that is why the Church begins with the Sacrament of Baptism.  How many times is a body of an adult or a child immerse into baptismal waters?  Three.  Is it because of the Holy Trinity?  Yes, but there is another reason why we immerse a human being three times in Baptismal water.  And it involves a whole understanding of the healing of the human person.   In Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends into the waters of the font and brings the literal presence of God in what we call GRACE.  That grace is healing grace.  When we immerse three times, we are bringing that healing grace into each of the three powers of the soul.  We immerse once so that grace can heal the rational power and help this person in their thought lives and their reasoning. We immerse twice so that Grace will heal the desiring power and help this person control and rightly channel their appetites.  We immerse a third time so GRACE will heal the energetic power and help this person to act wisely and to lead a well ordered life.

After the Sacrament of Baptism, should we fall in sin, we are given the sacrament of Confession.  In which, our merciful God forgives the misuse of the three powers of thinking, desiring and acting. And restores us to our Baptismal innocence, giving us a fresh start.  Finally, we are given a Sacrament of Holy Communion in which God gives us His very own life.  If Baptism is the beginning of the healing process, what is the end of the healing process?  IT IS CHRIST, OUR ONE AND ONLY EXAMPLE OF PERFECTLY HEALED HUMAN BEING.  The three powers within His human nature were perfectly integrated and in harmony, which is why everything about Him, His feelings, His reaction, His deeds and words were all perfect.  God became a person to show us what a person of God should be. Everything Christ is by nature we can become by GRACE.  His life becomes our life and that is what it means to be human.  A human who is comfortable with repetition.

Source:  Fr. John Oliver, Hearts and Minds podcast of Ancient Faith Radio.

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