Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Art of Spiritual War

Sun Tzu was a legendary general in China during the middle of the Zhou Dynasty.  He wrote the book, "The Art of War", that contains 13 key strategic points to winning in battle.  Think of it as the 13 Articles of Faith for army generals.

I bring up Sun Tzu because I've had a couple of questions that I felt were blog-worthy recently, and one of the points Tzu brings up links the two questions.
"...to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." - III.2
"...the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field." III.6
From Tzu, we learn that the more proficient general is not one who narrowly wins, but one who makes the battle look easy.  So it is with us battling our individual spiritual wars.  And the following two points are what I consider to be spiritual war tactics that help to make the battle easier and with less casualties.

Tactic 1:  Music

The first question I was asked was concerning music.  Particularly how it affects our spirituality, and what role it plays in the gospel.  Firstly, let's outline some doctrine - D&C 25:12 reads:
12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
Music can secure blessings.

Beyond that, music seems to speak more directly to our emotions.  Most of the information we receive has to be digested mentally before it soaks into the heart.  Music makes the transition easier, if not bypassing the mind completely.  For that reason, it is more powerful than reading or listening to words alone.

This power can be to either benefit or damage.  Consider the following exchange Elder Gene R. Cook had with Mick Jagger on an airplane:
...After we visited back and forth a minute or two about what we were doing and all, I finally said something like, “You know, Mick, I have a question for you that I’d like you to answer for me.”  He said, “Well, I’ll be glad to try.”  Then I said to him, “I have opportunity to be with young people in many different places around the world, and some of them have told me that the kind of music you and others like you sing has no effect on them, that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t affect them adversely in any way.  Then other young people have told me very honestly that your kind of music has a real effect on them for evil and that it affects them in a very bad way.  You’ve been in this business for a long time, Mick.  I’d like to know your opinion.  What do you think is the impact of your music on the young people?”  
This is a direct quote, brothers and sisters.  He said, “Our music is calculated to drive the kids to sex.”  Those were his exact words.  I’m sure I had a real look of shock on my face in receiving such a bold response.  He quickly added, “Well, it’s not my fault what they do.  That’s up to them.  I’m just making a lot of money.”  
- "The Eternal Nature of the Law of Chastity", 1989, Ricks College, pg 12
Though music can cause a lot of spiritual damage, it also can be a great support in our individual quests of character.  Applying this concept to Tzu's idea of a skillful leader, music can make the spiritual war much easier to wage.

Consider President Boyd K. Packer's talk entitled: "Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts".
....Probably the greatest challenge and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life is to learn to control your thoughts.  In the Bible, it says, as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).  Thos who can control their thoughts have conquered themselves.
...I realize that in today's world, it's often difficult to keep your mind filled with worthy thoughts.  This takes careful control.  However, it can be done when you make a safe place for your thoughts to go.  I've found a way to make such a place, and I'd like to share it with you.  It has to do with music - worthy music.  A wise man once said, "Music is one of the most forceful instruments for governing the mind."  Whether it governs in a positive way or a negative way is determined by what it brings onto the stage of your mind.  If you can say that a song is spiritually inspiring or that it urges you to see yourself in a more noble perspective, the music is worthwhile.  If it merely entertains or lifts your spirits, then it also has a useful place.  But if it makes you want to respond in a carnal, sensual way or to consider unrighteous desires, then that music should be avoided.  It is not worthy.
So what's my main point?  Music can be an excellent tool in the spiritual art of war.  Tzu recommends using all we have to make the battle seem easy.  Surely listening to wholesome music would fall under his recommendation for a spiritual war.

Tactic 2:  Faith Unto Repentance

The second question someone asked me to write about was the notion of faith unto repentance.  Scripturally, this phrase shows up in Alma 34:
15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercise no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;   [italics added]
So what is this notion of "faith unto repentance"?  Simply put, it's the means for us to do the things that we thought we couldn't do.

Many of us struggle with repetitious sins.  We feel depressed by our inability to improve ourselves or to shake off what chains hold us down.  Part of our problem is that we focus so much on the change - the repentance part, that we forget the faith.  Ironically, faith is the enabling power behind the change.

My younger sister had an institute teacher emphasize this principle, and he summed it up by saying: "If you're having trouble repenting of something, work on your faith."

So what's a practical way to work on our faith?  Patterns.

Patterns lock us into certain lifestyles, whether we intend them to or not.  The Lord speaks of patterns in D&C 52:14-19 as a means for identifying the nature of spirits.  However, patterns also reinforce our motivation to improve.

Exercising faith by refining the patterns that we live our lives by gives us the power to change who we are.  Consider the routine outlined in D&C 88:124.
124 Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer that is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.
Morning and nightly routines seem to shape the overall efficiency of the day.  I remember watching an interview on ABC news where President Gordon B. Hinckley's children were interviewed not long before he became the prophet.  One of his kids said something interesting - I'll paraphrase:
Dad had a rule.  He said, "go to bed at 10 and get up at 6, and the day will take care of itself".  
If faith building exercises are planned as part of our daily routines, we'll build the faith necessary to change, and we'll improve our character perhaps without even knowing it.  Patterns of faith are the key to change.

To me "retiring to bed early" means properly unwinding the day by writing in journals, reading good books or studying talks and just in general settling down.  Doing this is particularly tricky in college - as everyone wants to start a party at midnight nearly every night.  But ignoring the parties and settling into a proper nightly routine has definitely helped me look beyond the immediate scope of worry, and tends to calm my mind into making better choices.

As for the "arising early" part, I've found that to be the best time to meditate.  If I start the day off right, I get up and exercise, then I read scriptures and just ponder for a while.  Meditation is so necessary when life gets busy.  It's a blog-worthy topic on it's own.

In a Nutshell

Summing it all up: what are two ways to follow Tzu's advice to make the spiritual war much easier?

  1. Listen to quality music to discipline your mind.  
  2. Focus on patterns of faith when you struggle to change. 
Hopefully that addresses the two questions I was asked months ago.

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