Category Archives: Prayer

Shielding the Glowing Heart

“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.” -St. Seraphim of Sarov

God knows how I fail to be gentle and kind. My wife and friends and family know too. I realize more and more how much I swim in judgment, and at best lift my head above its surface on occasion. More often, I’m about as aware of the condemnation welling up in my heart as a fish is conscious of water.

I keep coming back to this quote to remind myself of the high calling we have in making the Truth incarnate through our lives. That it’s better to give than to receive. To remind myself of the great blessing of kindling joy in another through truth spoken in love, and love shown by actions.

I don’t think being gentle and kind means being a pushover or turning a blind eye to wrongs committed. Neither do I think St. Seraphim means that we should never speak up, but rather that we should do so with a right heart—one heavy with the Spirit’s blessed fruit. How else will those who don’t know Him taste and see that the Lord is good?

I have so far to go.

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.
Amen.

-A prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Help Me to See

Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You know better than me what my needs are. You love more than I know how to love. Help me to see clearly my real needs which I do not see. I open my heart to You. Examine and reveal to me my faults and sins. I put all trust in You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me how to pray. Pray in me. Amen.

At the Fragrance of Humility

“My children, desire to purify your hearts from envy and from anger with each other, lest death should overcome you, and you will be counted among the murderers. For whosoever hates his brother, kills a soul.”
-Abba Anthony the Great.

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“One must by every means strive to preserve peace of soul and not be disturbed by offenses from others; for this one must in every way strive to restrain anger and by means of attentiveness to keep the mind and heart from improper feelings. And therefore we must bear offenses from others with equanimity and accustom ourselves to such a disposition of spirit that these offenses seem to concern not us, but others. Such a practice can give quietness to the human heart and make it as a dwelling for God Himself.”
-St. Seraphim of Sarov

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As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.
-St. John Climacus

In the Hour of Prayer

“In the hour of prayer, when our mind wanders to thoughts of bad things–or if these thoughts come without our wanting them–we shouldn’t wage an offensive war against the enemy, because even if all the lawyers in the world joined together, they wouldn’t make any headway with a little demon. Only through ignoring them can one chase these thoughts away. The same is true for blasphemous thoughts.” -Elder Paisios

The Treasure House within You

Be at peace with your own soul
then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.

Enter eagerly into the treasure
house that is within you,

And you will see the things that are in heaven,
for there is but one single entry to them both.

The ladder that leads to the Kingdom
is hidden within your soul…

Dive into yourself and in your soul
and you will discover the stairs
by which to ascend.

-St. Isaac of Syria

He Needs True Human Beings

Steve Robinson over at Pithless  Thoughts wrote something yesterday that really struck me–right in the solar plexus:

“God does not need our ministries and false humility and our greatness. He needs true human beings to live and die in Christ as a witness to the resurrection, and to be willing to be an obscure, no-name person in someone’s distant past who, because of a glimmer of faith, did one small thing in the name of God that, generations later, saved the very cosmos.”

God does not need my ministries and false humility and my greatness.

Ouch.

This is difficult to put into words–not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not sure how to speak of these thoughts. For most of my Christian life I have striven to be something. A leader, yes, in various roles. A nice guy. A potential mate. But it goes deeper than that. It seems to me now that I’ve spent my energy as a follower of Christ in trying to rise above my humanity, to be more than what I am or can be. Looking back over my experiences in the evangelical world, I’m surprised by how much loathing for people there is. For all the talk of love for others (where you can find it), there seems to be a general disdain for the human species under the surface–reverberations of a theology that denies or forgets the goodness of God’s creation. We are not dung. I don’t believe that.

Of course, I believe we should improve how we act, speak, think. But in my experience, such tasks easily become an external effort, as if putting on a costume, acting the part, rather than simply becoming those virtues, as dye stains wool. We feel empowered by the costume and begin to believe it’s who we really are, although no transformation has really taken place. We’re just wearing a set of clothes made for the stage, not real life. And when the gig is up, we feel disillusioned, like walking away.

The trouble is that one can only perform for so long. Sooner or later, the lines we’ve rehearsed to craft our false image become transparent, no longer able to conceal what’s really in our hearts, how we live, judge, hate.  We may try a different role, to craft another persona, but the same end is inevitable. All this manifests itself in cycles of zeal and piety, self-loathing and despair, wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes excited and other times apathetic. Trying to be something for God and winding up resentful of ministry obligations, feeling the vastness of the chasm between who I am and who I have projected myself to be, the sickening gravity of standing at the edge of the abyss. Can you relate?

I hate the cycle. And I’ve realized at the heart of it is pride–the belief that I am better than I am, better than you, my wife, my friends, my family, neighbors, strangers–whether I realize it or not. I’ve found that the first in that list is the seed of all the others and is a stumbling block to true repentance. How could I have done that? I should be better than that. But you know what? I’m not. And I can’t make myself better by putting on good deeds and attitudes and leadership roles as if the clothes make the man. I’ve done that for too long. It doesn’t work.

I think at the heart of this, besides pride, is impatience. The unwillingness to accept who I am at present and to trust God to make me who I will one day become, by His grace and mercy. I have a tendency to short-change the process. It goes something like this: I read a few spiritual books, I have some great conversations with friends, and maybe I pray consistently for a week or two. Then, feeling puffed up with spiritual goodness, I do one of two things, if not both: think better of myself than I ought, and take on a spiritual project, believing there to be a readiness in my heart that does not yet exist. I want to do it all now. And I want to do the jobs I admire whether it’s good for me or not. And if I’m honest, sometimes that doesn’t become a question until the damage is already done.

All of that spiritual playacting isn’t being a human. Putting on someone else’s clothes or armor or job title won’t bring us to our true selves, our personhood, however much we admire what they do.

I want to live and not analyze or evaulate everything.  There’s a time and place for self-examination. But I fear too many people I know, me included, approach their life as if shopping for costumes. We turn away from what we truly are to embrace a self as wooden as the floor in my house. That’s not transformation.

I’m tired of trying to “get ahead.” I want to make mistakes and repent and be forgiven. I want to be wise and open and loving, not defensive or detached by self-focus and inherently limited analysis. I want to be my true self, deep in my soul, my heart, in my speech and actions, however long that takes to get there–not a manufactured, calculated facade (i.e. delusion). I want to live. That’s it. I want to live in the present moment and become better by the grace and mercy of God through everyday circumstances. I want to be healed. I want to be human.

All of this grossly falls short of describing the issue at hand. I’m no teacher, and I’m not a wise man. But I think for the first time, I almost “get” that oft-quoted proverb: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Almost.

Thanks, Steve.

Make Yourself Subject to All

An old man was asked, “What is humility?” and he said in reply, “Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labor and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.” Then a brother said, “What does it mean, to be subject to all?” The old man answered, “To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God.”
-The Desert Fathers

(via Orthodox.net)