Some of the response to yesterday’s post brought to  mind an ancient Cherokee story.

To benefit from this story, you need to be able to overlook the harsh dualism between “Evil” and “Good”. The point of the story is carried in the last line. So, like all ancient stories, if we are going to benefit from the message, we have to let go of our need for absolutely every detail to fit perfectly into our current worldview.

One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson, “There is a terrible battle that rages inside the heart of every person”.

He said, “My child, that battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather; “Which wolf wins?”

The Cherokee elder replied, “The one you feed.”

We all experience ” anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego”. And we all understand intuitively that these experiences are not the highest and best qualities of which we are capable. But we know they are real and they will not be denied.

In the Christian understanding, these experiences do not make us bad people, they are simply acknowledged as a part of the human experience.

The Cherokee story is similar to Paul’s description of the human experience in Romans.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-25)

The point is not to demonize certain real human qualities. The point is to acknowledge the reality of the human condition while at the same time holding out the luminous vision of beauty and truth for which we were created.

Which wolf am I feeding? Do I give energy to “my flesh” or do I give energy to “the spirit”? Do I feed my lower, smaller self, or do I nourish my higher, more true self?

When I ride the waves of negative intensity and drama I am energizing the “flesh”. I am promoting that petty self who lives in a small tight little world of self-interest.  I can feel the energy of “sin” growing with the rise of self-centred resistance. When my voice becomes clipped and harsh, when I push too hard, unable to see another point of view, unwilling to open to the possibility I may be wrong, I am stoking the fires of death and the flames will burn everyone with whom I come into contact.

Sin is not a list of actions that make me a bad person. Sin is a deadly orientation toward life.

At the centre of the word sin is the letter “I”. When I put my small needy self at the centre of my own narrow little universe, I am feeding the wolf that desires destruction. When my choices and actions are all about supporting my fragile little identity project, I will be unable to emanate the energy of life.

The “Good” wolf is sustained by surrender. When I trust that the “Good wolf” is in fact stronger and more real than the “Evil wolf”, I am able to let go of my need to defend and protect the fragile little building of my ego. The power of ” joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith” grows in my being as I nourish those qualities that characterize my true self.

Every moment of my life I am confronted with the choice. As Moses said at the end of his long sermon in the Book of Deuteronomy,

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

When I “choose life” I increase the flow of life-energy in the universe. I pass on to future generations a legacy of life. I enter into the fullness of what it means to be human.

The power to choose life in the face of death can never be taken from us, no matter how restricted or painful our circumstances may be. The ability to choose life is the glorious richness and potential that makes us truly human.