Here's an inspiring bit of graffiti art stencilled on a wall in Carlton, Melbourne. It's an image from a photo of a famous mark in 1998 (for the uninitiated this is cleanly catching a ball that hasn't been impeded; in the best marks a footballer leaps up above the pack, often climbing on some backs, to grab the ball from the air and bring it down). It takes skill and courage.
We are closing in on the AFL Grand Final – in my home-town a mighty day for courageous warriors. It is an annual event; every year the rhythm repeats, as here on earth one football team again vanquishes another in Australia's favourite mock-warfare. At the end there’s fist-pumping jubilation on one side and heads bowed in anguish on the other; that’s the way of the world.
In the other-worldly realm a mighty spirit Archangel Michael yet again vanquishes the mythical dragon-devil. Behind the dramatic picture of ‘war in heaven’ there’s far more than meets the eye. The fighting images have externalized an important personal truth. The war continually takes place in every one of us.
The dragon living in human beings comes right to the surface in a fast-paced footy game when players fail to focus their energy. Then it's misdirected, arising as anger and aggression towards other players. The worst offenders are fined or banned for a game or two. The crowd can also become nasty with fights breaking out and the police being called.
Of course, the dragon's reach isn't limited to a competitive game. the unruly beast breathes out its fire in all the angry, resentful, envious, fearful, quarrelsome, judgemental thoughts and acts that set us against other people and the world. This burns our soul too.
When Archangel Michael raises the sword, it represents the strong backbone of our own human spirit that overcomes the dross of our lower nature. We can all take hold of the sword of Michael and find the courage to stand firm as a new kind of warrior, one who rises above the lower self, who defends truth by being true, who speaks truth clearly and acts from that inner surety without arrogance or dismissiveness. Even in a competition, any sort of competition, it is possible to have this clarity and honour the struggle in others.
A football game is over in a flash. The immediate surge of passion passes, and then wounded heroes take time to embrace their ‘foes’. In this formalised war, an opportunity has been deliberately included for players to respond in recognition of mutual striving.
This is deeply educational. It's about acknowledging the soul's longing to know and express the spiritual self. That's one reason why Archangel Michael is also depicted carrying scales to help us weigh our soul's state. Understanding our inner needs and achievements will inspire us to live in harmony with one another.
The AFL's after-game ritual of a pat on the back, shaking hands, a friendly word is played out on the ground and on myriad screens. Some who experience the moment fully, including those watching, will respond to it warmly. Others may unconsciously feel it – that moment of real connection revealing the truth of Archangel Michael. This truth lives in every such expression of genuine humanity.