There is a meditation in the Spiritual Exercises entitled ‘The Two Standards’. The purpose of the exercise is to get an interior map for discernment. The metaphor used in the exercise itself is a medieval battle scene between the forces of Jesus and the forces of Satan. The ‘standards’ are the banners of each. The one making the exercise is invited to consider the different tactics used by each camp.
Some years ago I participated in a weekend seminar focusing on the Second Week of Exercises which includes ‘The Two Standards’. I think it was Philip Endean SJ who asked us to read a paper written by Lavinia Byrne on this exercise (you can find a pdf here). Byrne had developed her own modern version of these two. It was over this weekend, that the penny finally dropped for me on the purpose of The Two Standards – it is to find the symbols which represent the Two Standards in my own life.
The image I have held since that weekend, is reminiscent of Byrne’s but it has a personal twist. For me the image of Satan is a well dressed business man. He is serious, organised, and controlled. The image of Jesus is a surfer dude in board shorts.
The image is a powerful one for me – because my temptation is to take myself a little too seriously. To take a little more responsibility than I should. And taking this road paralyses me. It is the path to unfreedom, to constriction, ultimately to destruction.
Being able to evoke this image as a tool for discernment has been tremendously useful. It has given me a handle to cut through the subtle deception.
We are not tempted by things we know to be inherently destructive. There is always some lure, some attractive disguise. This image speaks to my own pet temptations, the things I will fall for.
What are the images you use as your touchstones for discernment? What are The Two Standards you use?