“Principalities and Powers,” in Our Current Struggles for Peace

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In my work as a retreat director and spiritual director, I have been confronted recently with certain questions that are based on a general disposition of a disturbed and, in some cases, deeply confused mind concerning the divisions rampant in society as never before. The question usually asked is: “How can I maintain a balance in my spiritual life and in my family life when I am angry and unable to deal with this atmosphere of division in the world?” This question has considerable heft and can keep one from living the joyful life of one’s faith and to prevent a healthy prayer life from taking root.  

To all appearances, hope seems hard to find, let alone thrive. So, I have been trying to research on what amounts to desperation for some people and how faith can help and certainly how prayer can assuage as one seeks hope and comfort in times of division. Let me first admit, I am also angry at times over what I see as divisive, the corrosive wearing out of honesty and courage in institutions, like our Congress and our Church that should be leading us with care and attention instead of personal self-adulation and security of the institution’s members. But here we are, and we must do something as people of faith.

Saint Paul refers to division as evil. He also refers to the ‘principalities and powers’ as both heavenly and earthly, both good and evil. Hence, we are no clearer on their meaning than were the communities to which he preached. Theologian Walter Wink specialized in the subject of structural evil and Richard Rohr recently opined on the same subject in a series of blogs. Both claim that ‘powers’ are visible and invisible, earthly, and heavenly, spiritual, and institutional. Powers such as governments are a physical manifestation with an inner spirituality. The point is: how do they demonstrate or live that spirituality? Do they live the positive spirituality or the shadow one, the evil one? Rohr points out, “What people in the world of the Bible experienced as and called ‘principalities and powers’ was, in fact, the actual spirituality at the center of political, economic, cultural institutions of their day.” They were able to see that all institutions such as the Roman Government, the Jewish Kingdom, and even their religious faith and customs were both powers and principalities. Power came from appointment or ancestry; principality came from law and rights.

According to Wink and Rohr, institutions are powers replete with law and are at once good and evil, always capable of improvement. Rohr says we should remember three things: Powers are good. Powers are fallen. Powers must be redeemed. It is interesting, as noted by Rohr referring to St. Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis, that “the triumph of evil depends entirely on disguise.” We are usually co-opted and convinced of evil when we determine it is good. Rohr adds that silence in the face of evil is really “agreed delusion.” Yes, this weak delusion exists in our government and our religions.  

While I have been reflecting on this subject for days, I was directed by a friend to look into a Native American teaching called, ‘Wetiko’ There is a striking similarity between the Christian awareness of ‘powers and principalities’ and this teaching. Paul Levy, an apologist for Wetiko, who has written and spoken on it for decades, says the term stands for a spirit that takes over peoples’ minds leading to selfishness, insatiable greed, and consumption that turns our creative genius against our own humanity. We choose a ‘disguised good’ but in turn we get an “icy heart.” Levy goes as far as to say that Wetiko is infectious, like a virus. In other words, when we are around people who promote the destructive shadow side tendencies described by Jung, we can become convinced of these tendencies and act on them ourselves. This is acutely evident in close family units where a domineering individual can convince other members who depend on him or her for survival. It resembles ‘power and principalities’ in action.


So how does all of this answer the dilemma people are facing who want to grow in spirituality and not allow the evil of division corrupt their attempts? A few brief points might help:

  1. Adapt a contemplative prayer time each day in which you ask for the grace to ‘be’ contemplative in daily life. Contemplative prayer is quiet, no interruption, sitting still and listening for God to speak.
  2. Give attention to some prayerful reading of Scripture or the Holy Book of your faith. Discuss with a spiritual director what you might do.
  3. Do not allow social media to dominate your time. Be selective to listen to more balanced radio and television reporting or even music. Do not allow bombastic, uninformed media hosts to use fear and

manipulation to spread untruths to you. 

  • Do not forego good television, good radio, or good newspapers. It doesn’t help to be totally uninformed which might, in fact, increase anxieties.
  • Read good books by knowledgeable, professionals. Ask insightful friends for these resources or read reviews on the material.
  • Most of all take time to be true to yourself and not to follow those with angry or personally biased opinions.
  • And if you can, volunteer for a group which will help you learn and broaden your vision. Do not be afraid to work with them for the good of others, not to press an agenda to spread division.

Clear, insightful knowledge is an excellent offense in combatting the shadow side of ‘powers and principalities.’ I wish you peace in the effort and remember, I have barely scratched the surface here for those seeking peace in times of division. But it’s a start. May you find it helpful.

References: Rev. Richard Rohr, weekly posts of May 15-19

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium                    

Paul Levy, Wetiko Google 

3 thoughts on ““Principalities and Powers,” in Our Current Struggles for Peace

Add yours

  1. Thank you for a fascinating read. It brings so many thoughts and ideas to the surface. You voice things in a way their easily understandable. Much appreciated , Pam


  2. I found this passage very illuminating. ” “the triumph of evil depends entirely on disguise.” We are usually co-opted and convinced of evil when we determine it is good. ” It explains why seemingly kind and moral individuals elect to do certain things out of character.


  3. Yes, Claire. And it why we are exhorted to be vigilant. In other words, adapt a prayerful approach to life with a calm attitude.
    We always need to be introspective about what we are doing and why we are doing it. I hope you are well! S MAF


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