Whoever goes to the LORD for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, can say to him, “You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.” He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.
Last week I spoke of angels and the reasons they are sent by God: to convey messages, to pass on Divine information, to aid people, and perhaps most importantly, to protect people. Protection is an action with various motivations, including fear, wisdom, or nature, and is a key impulse for how we think, live, and behave.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, where he suggested that there are five phases of human growth and illustrated them as a pyramid from the basic needs to the higher needs. He named these stages Physiological, Safety, Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. We may have studied this in high school.
In one way or another each stage seems to involve protection. Obviously, the first stage, the basic physiological needs for shelter, food, air, water, and sleep protect us from harm or death. That’s what we are experiencing in our concerns for toilet paper, hand soap, and masks. We are attempting to protect ourselves and others from germs. It is also why we pray for the people of the Ukraine, so that they are not denied their most basic and fundamental needs.
The second stage, Safety, involves communal living, employment, social stability, and family and offers protection in another way. Our prayers for the Ukrainian people envelop these needs as well.
The third stage – Love and Belonging - references friendship, family, intimacy, and a sense of connection that protects us from feeling alone and isolated. It is at this level that our consciousness begins to extend to others. If we are living from levels one or two it is difficult for our hearts to reach and are too consumed with our own needs.
The next stage, the need for Self-Esteem, can be seen as a means of protecting ourselves from being demeaned, disrespected, or criticized, so we seek achievement, the appreciation of others, avenues for expressing our uniqueness, and strategies for developing our confidence.
The final stage is Self-Actualization or Self-Transcendence. This is our highest and most complex need. In a sense, we want to protect ourselves from being useless, lost, or irrelevant. When we are motivated by Self-Actualization, we consider ideas that protect us from the onslaught of typical negative human consequences. We display high morals, spontaneity, creative outlets for expressing our fullest potential, connect to others universally, and look for purpose and meaning in our existence. This is the spiritual realm, where we grapple with the Ego, or edging God out.
Protection is an essential part of our human experience. It is a need, driving us at all levels of our consciousness. We seek protection through our decisions and behaviors. Some of us seek protection at the lowest levels because of fear; others because of wisdom. Not all protective instincts are fear-based, some bubble up from an innate divinity.
I believe that the foundation for our prejudices is protection-based, not necessarily from fear, but most commonly. Prejudices can also present themselves through mental biases or errors. No matter how we attain these false ideas, we hold them because we believe they protect us. If we can keep ourselves separated from those who we perceive as different we feel safer. To the lowest thinking part of the Collective Unconscious, ‘different’ means ‘dangerous'. So, we isolate ourselves physically as well as psychologically from anyone we think may be a threat. We form gangs. We live in neighborhoods of people who look like us, live like us, speak like us. These are all means of protecting ourselves.
We own guns, set up alarm systems, build fences, learn martial arts, wear charms and trinkets and baubles, and memorize prayers, affirmations, and even recite superstitions to protect ourselves. To protect our health, we eat specific kinds of foods, take nutritional supplements, and exercise. We search for mates, friends, companions along life’s journey as protection from loneliness. We take out warranty plans and insurances of various sorts.
Just watching a baseball or football game we can observe the clothing and articles of protection: cups, helmets, gloves, masks, mouthguards, all designed for protection. Some of us protect ourselves by learning, reading, and educating ourselves. We master certain skills partly to protect ourselves. Protection plays a large part in all our pursuits. It is not the sole reason, nor even the primary reason, but it is a significant portion of our life journey.
And it always has been so. Over the hundreds of thousands of years of existence and conflict, we have developed better and better weapons, shields, and armor. From the thick fur of a bear or bison to wood and leather shields, from mail-lined metal-forged armor to the latest lightweight liquid-based Kevlar vests.
Protection while in these bodies is necessary; fear is not necessary. And while it is important to protect our bodies, it is equally important to protect our souls, our consciousness, the spiritual part of us, the awareness of our Divine Natures.
Ephesians 6:10-18 gives us a wonderful metaphor about putting on the armor of God. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the schemes of the Evil One. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
But unlike physical armor, God’s armor is not burdensome or restrictive. Like a screen door it keeps out the bad and protects what is inside, allowing the free flow of Spirit, Life, and Love.
This leads us to St. Patrick. St. Patrick was a 5th century catholic priest who set out to bring the idea of Christ to the multitudes of pagans who lived in Ireland. Tradition has it that he wrote a prayer describing his theology, which has been called the Lorica of St. Patrick. ‘Lorica’ is the Latin word for a cuirass or breastplate, or any type of armor. It also has come to mean a rhythmic invocation or prayer recited for protection, often before going into battle. St. Patrick knew that he would face challenges while spreading his beliefs on God, so needed protection. Since he was not a warrior, his Lorica, or protection, would be prayer and his faith in God.
This is a magnificent lesson for us today. We may not have to wear liquid-based Kevlar vest when we go about our day, but we can have all the protection that we need when we submit our wills and thoughts to God. Joshua 1:5 states: No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
As we expand our attunement to God, our protection moves from ourselves to the ones we love and beyond. Robert Hill Sr. wrote: “Love is the commitment to protecting another person’s heart with the same passion we use to protect our own.” Love protects us; it protects those to whom we direct it. 1 Corinthians 13:7 states: Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
We will never know all the ways that God has protected us or how Spirit has influenced our thinking. As goofy, quirky, and misdirected as I am at times, I would be even goofier, quirkier, and more off-track if it were not for the Grace of God. I am one of those who does not believe there are any coincidences and believe that God is working all things for our good. Author of Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” In the face of disappointment and darkness, our challenge is to release the fear and doubt and open to God’s direction and to the love, peace, and joy of Christ.
Personally, my greatest need for protection is from – me -- my own thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs. I need protection from my own fear-based analyses and doubt-filled erred conclusions. My greatest protection comes from a non-judgmental attitude, non-attachment toward what is happening within me and around me. What I need is to look at myself and others without criticism or blame and allow Spirit to flow lovingly through me.
Einstein said that we cannot solve our problems at the same level as they are created. Applying this to Maslow’s Pyramid, our physiological and safety issues will only be solved from a level higher, through Love or Self-Actualization. I suggest that the surest way to move up Maslow’s Pyramid is to move into prayer, contemplate Christ within, and meditate upon God’s presence in our life. God desires Self-Actualization for us: the fullest expression of Christ through us and into Creation.
As human beings, we will follow the protocols that keep ourselves healthy, safe, and secure. As we ascend Maslow’s Pyramid and in our own spiritual awareness, our concern for protection expands to others – first to our loved ones and then to all others. But regardless of all earthly conventions, it is good to remember that God is our greatest protection. And like St. Patrick, I pray that we will call upon Christ as our greatest defense against what the world would throw at us. I pray that we will wear faith as a shield and utilize prayer to protect ourselves against the onslaught of our ego’s whiney voice of fear and doubt.