In his Epistles (Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27 for example) St Paul exhorts his listeners to “put on Christ”. What did he mean by that? To my mind, it has clear military overtones. When you go into battle, you first put on your battle gear. You put on your armour. It would be the height of foolhardiness not to.
If so, what battle are we talking about? Are we talking about “jihad”, holy war? Yes, but in the spiritual rather than literal sense. It is a spiritual war against the enemies of God, the “world”, the “flesh” and “the devil”.
If we are serious about the spiritual path, spiritual progress and the spiritual life, we soon realise that it’s not all sweetness and light and plain sailing. There are equally serious forces ranged against us, serious and powerful. Sometimes that can be bargained with, but sometimes, if you don’t want to be defeated and overrun, you just have to stand your ground and fight.
In any military engagement, you must look to your defences as well as your opportunities for attack. This is as true of football and chess as it is of war. The primary thing, however, as you square up to your opponent, is to make sure you have a strong defence. You must never leave yourself open and exposed to a counter-attack.
When you enter the spiritual battle, you need to put on your armour if you are to have any hope of survival or victory. As a Christian, you put on the armour of Christ. But what does that mean? Do you just bring Christ to mind? Do you imitate Christ? Do what Christ would do? Imagine you are Christ for the duration of the battle?
It clearly must be something along those lines. We are talking about spiritual armour here, and the royal road to the spiritual is via the imagination. But we can be even more effective in armouring ourselves if we take the imagination a step further.
I describe the perfect God-Man, represented by Christ, as a “Mystic-Shaman-Warrior-Monk-Philosopher-King-Priest”. Each of these seven archetypes I associate with a specific point on the Christian Orthodox Cross: the Mystic at the top of the vertical, the Shaman at the bottom, the Warrior at the right end of the lower horizontal, the Monk at the left end, the Philosopher at the right end of the higher horizontal, the King at the left end, and the Priest in the middle.
Imagine crossing yourself in the usual way, from the middle of your forehead to your heart, to your left shoulder, right shoulder and back to the heart. Now imagine doing the same thing, but with a “double” cross which reaches down to your navel. You cross yourself from the middle of your forehead, down to your navel (“hara”), to your left hip, right hip, left shoulder, right shoulder and end at the heart.
Now, if you mentally cross yourself while bringing to mind the archetypes at each of the seven points on the body, you will find that you create a sort of mental shield. If you do it repeatedly, the energy of this mental shield will increase, as though you were turning a dynamo. You can think of it like a force field. Any number of Hollywood superhero movies should help you visualise it (think Dr Strange).
The repetition of the mantra is called “japa”. You repeat the sequence at some speed and keep going until it slows down of its own accord. Eventually, it will find its own rhythm and you will find that you are no longer using your conscious will to keep it going, but are merely following it as it continues by its own steam. This stage is called “dharma”. It feels effortless and easy. Finally, the mantra will slow down and come to a natural stop. This final stage is called “yoga”. The mind is still and the body is energised. You have put on the armour of Christ.