The Love of Being Hated

Lately, I’ve been considering giving up the appearance of being smart. I’m not sure I’m courageous enough to give up appearances though. Everyone seems to admire smart people, give them more respect, or at least take them more seriously. And fear keeps me doing the things that get me lovin’, and keeps me from doing the things that get me ridiculed. I especially learned how to toe this line in college. Fear is an excellent headmaster which keeps us students saying the right things.

But faith teaches me other things, and if I’m honest—better things. I can’t explain it but a life of simple faith yields an abundant life of simple joys. I’m considering that this might actually be a lot better than trying to have others like me because I’m clever, or knowledgeable—and certainly better than expending energy towards avoiding or deflecting criticism, and derision, aimed at my simplicity.

Not too long ago a client was extremely angry towards me—screaming, and violently gesturing, he accused me of being a liar and a thief. It seemed a very unfair accusation but I decided to keep silent, and refrained from defending myself further against his railings. As it turns out though, he did me a great service, by helping me gain a measure of freedom over myself.

My good name, my integrity, my sense of being a good person—all of this was being called into question by his anger and vociferous attack. There were defenses to be made, I could have fought back with arguments, and explanations, but silence worked a better reward within my soul. I discovered that his hatred towards me in that situation only mattered to me if I was attached to his opinion of me. Otherwise, I was free.

He liberated me from my fear of losing face, and of being seen in a bad light. He appeared to be an enemy coming to take something away from me, but he unsuspectingly gave me a gift instead. He gave me an opportunity to forget myself, and even more, an opportunity to care about him in spite of this attack. I even saw an opportunity to love him, if I dared, and consider him a brother.

Now, I imagine this freedom in other areas of my life, especially the areas that are most important to me. What if I were to be called an idiot for my faith—a fool—or a simpleton for believing in Christ? How liberating that could be!!! Well, I’m sure there is no shortage of people happy to tell me this.

I have loved to be loved. However, might it not be more advantageous to love to be hated? Perhaps this is a doorway to complete freedom. But am I courageous enough to step through this door?

 

~FS

Woman Power

It has been said that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There is no greater power given humanity than a woman’s power to bring forth another human into this world. This is an awesome power and one that requires an awesome responsibility on the part of every woman. Women are empowered with the responsibility of life itself.

Therefore, we must appeal to every woman to carefully consider her greatness with a clarity of mind, so as to recognize her great responsibility, and to protect herself from the lies of our current generation, which would try to convince her that she is merely a collection of choices, an individual with no significance beyond her personal desires.

No, every woman is much more important than this; and owes it to herself, and all of humanity, to believe that she is more than this, and to fight against the forces that would reduce her true stature, and that would substitute her true nobility with a false empowerment.

These forces in the world tell her that it is more important to grovel for the right to kill an innocent unborn child, than it is to rise up and defend the life that she bears within her. She is told it is more important to do only what she wants, rather than consider others, whom she could love, and who the world may need someday.

Woman is made to be selfless in her love—admirable and heroic—but these forces would rather keep her small, like a little child fighting for her own way. But no woman should be content to remain as such a little child, but rather must desire to mature into adulthood, becoming the powerful, loving and giving woman that she knows herself to be, that she can be, that we need her to be.

Women’s true power is being subverted by an artificial, and almost comical power. It would be almost funny, if the results weren’t so terribly sad. So many, many lives lost. Women’s true power, the power of life, is being subverted by the power of death, and this is a tragedy from which we all are victims.

Women. How you define yourselves is crucially important. You know what you are—givers, not takers of life. You possess a great power, bear it responsibly, and teach the whole world the true meaning of love. Inspire us, please, by your compassion.

~FS

June 13

While a body that has been nourished too well and has received too much rest gives man a false notion of fullness and autonomy, introducing pride in him, asceticism weakens man’s body and thus causes him to sense his real fragility, the weakness of his present nature, the ephemeral character of his bodily and earthly existence, the relativity of his being. This labor thus leads him to humility. As St Isaac observes: “The more sufferings increase, the more sufficiency diminishes.”

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, vol.2 p.270)

Soul Exercise

Pray, pray, pray to develop soul muscles—to bring peace to your inner life, and open your heart to the life of God.

When I fail to pray, my spirit becomes flaccid, my mind grows restless and I cannot discern—I lose understanding, and my spirit grows anxious, seeking every form of distraction. I become lost in a world of my own creation, convinced that God is no longer present.

Prayer is the exercise that makes us lighter, and burns away our life in the flesh—but it is painful. How difficult it is to stand fast in prayer while we experience all manner of discomfort: distractions, boredom, unpleasant sensations of soul and body, unsettled emotions, memories, doubts, regrets, shame, despair, sorrow and fears—but this is the doorway to prayer. We are just warming up, stretching our spiritual muscles, and preparing ourselves for the real activity of prayer—relationship with God.

In this life we tend to tie ourselves into knots. Prayer is the necessary unraveling of these knots. As we warm up to prayer, these knots release—this will initially be painful. Because we have contorted our spirits in avoidance of God; we must make straight what we have made crooked, so that we can see Him clearly again, and understand the truth of ourselves in relation to Him, turning away from the deceptive allure of a life separated from Him.

Pray, pray, pray with words until you no longer need them. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray the Jesus Prayer. Pray the many other prayers written for our benefit. Pray with hope before every activity, and again with thanks for everything that has transpired. Pray continually and make your soul a house of prayer.

Pray in spirit and in truth when the words become distractions. Pray in a quiet and private place. In stillness and silence make your home through prayer, so that God will abide there with you.

Pray until you lose yourself, and find yourself at the feet of God, then listen to His voice. Pray with tears, if you are able, and turn your heart to God.

Don’t be discouraged. If you stop prayer, start again. If you haven’t prayed for years, start today. If you’ve never prayed, start today. Grow strong in prayer through repetition and perseverance. Build endurance through habit.

Discover the sweetness and beauty wrapped within prayer—a fragrance of joy and peace that will permeate your life.

 

~FS

June 11

The most immediate goal of bodily asceticism is to put an end to the unnatural submission of the soul to the body; to free the soul from the body’s stranglehold, to restore the dominion of the soul over the body, to submit the body and the soul to the sovereignty of the mind. Thus St Thalassius writes: “The intelligence by nature submits to the Logos (ie. reason) and disciplines and subjugates the body.”

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.2 p.264)

Happy To Be Alive

It’s a sleepy morning,

all is still and quiet.

The air is cool, but warming,

as the sun rises slowly in the sky.

 

A bird chirps here and there in the distance.

But for that, one hears only

the sound of their own gentle breath—

rising and falling in measured cadence.

 

It is easy to forget oneself this morning—

the mind drifts outward among the towering trees,

climbs up into their canopy of leaves,

and floats between the branches.

 

But something is stirring,

rising, awakening—

an invisible flow is coming,

trailing vitality in its wake.

 

Awake! Dreamer!

It is no longer time for slumber—

Life is come, and has arrived,

make ready your eyes and see!

 

Feel your pulse quickening,

and your heart begin to race,

as the surrounding world bends,

sways, and starts to dance.

 

Fresh scents from a distant place

fill the air: salt from the sea,

and the fragrance of roses—

hints of honeysuckle and mint.

 

Shadows and shifting lights,

flicker, fall and rise,

as clouds march overhead—

the day begins to tantalize!

 

Our senses all aquiver,

fluttering and darting,

like birds upon the wind,

happy to be alive.

 

~FS

Keep Thy Mind in Hell, and Despair Not

How might we approach assisting others who are suffering, in ways that are empathetic but not pitying, as their servant and not their savior—in ways that are healthy—while at the same time developing our own spiritual foundation from which to serve? St. Silouan presents a powerful paradigm for life, which can assist us in accomplishing all of these goals.

He tells us to “keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” Contained in this is a constant awareness of our sinfulness and fallen state, yet also at the same time a trust and faithfulness in God’s supreme love for us. The former provides many spiritual benefits in our spiritual formation while the latter draws us ever closer in relationship with God through faith and hope.

How does this work? Archimandrite Sophrony explains it in this way: “Spiritual pain is the source of the energy needed to resist the pull of earthly attractions for the sake of that other divine and eternal world (Sophrony Wisdom 7).” It is a way to conquer sin within us (11), a way to resist the passions, especially pride and vanity, and to learn humility. Additionally, it can help us shift our vision from what is earthly and temporal to what is heavenly and eternal. Our “approach to the divine mysteries lies through the humility and the kind of kenosis that we see in Christ… (7).” And ultimately it is Christ who we emulate when we keep our minds in hell but despair not, much in the same way that He emptied himself, crying tears of blood when he prayed in Gethsemane, and when he suffered on the cross and descended into hell before rising again.

By this practice we keep our mind in focused awareness of our sinfulness in the face of God and this protects us and keeps us from the deceptions of pride and vanity. If we can consciously and intentionally accuse ourselves of our sin we nullify the accusations that come from others, destroying the power that sin has over us, and restoring our freedom in Christ. We see our enslavement to the passions in contrast to the holiness of God and this brings us to a state of terminal humility—a humility that is our end, or telos as human beings, and a humility which casts out the passions, killing them and leading us to true life.

In a way, this concept is like mindfulness of death in its effect; as a method which keeps our mind and heart in the house of mourning, where we are told wisdom is to be found, rather than in the house of mirth, which could be equated to all of the ‘worldly’ pursuits. All of the spiritual benefits which derive from this practice, but in particular humility, engender in us a peacefulness, and a love for others that can be healing.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible to look and see the hell that exists around us, and within us, due to sin, without feeling tempted to despair, and perhaps even succumbing to this temptation. However, it is not inevitable that we feel despair at this, because God is love and He loves us, and He desires that we know Him and know His profound love for us (cf. Archim. Sophrony, St. Silouan, 194). We learn of His love by faith and hope, through the action of grace in the Holy Spirit and by our actions of obedience to God. In particular, by the action of “keeping our mind in hell, and despairing not” we can work away at our pride in order to manifest an attitude of humility, which allows us to approach and know God and His love for us, further protecting us from falling into despair in the face of the world’s suffering. And as we attain this state we can share it with others to assist them also in resisting the temptation of despair.

Furthermore, St. Silouan describes this power of grace which helps us avoid falling into despair as we keep our mind focused on the abyss, he states: “When we properly condemn ourselves to eternal infamy and in agony descend into the pit, of a sudden some strength from above will lift our spirit to the heights (Sakharov 104).” This grace of God strips us bare, shows us our spiritual poverty but also gives us courage to overcome ourselves and see ourselves as God sees us (Archim. Zacharias, Enlargement of the Heart, 74).”

Finally, “by descending into hell, we do nothing other than follow the trail of the Lord Himself. However, the way of the Lord leads to life, and for this reason we should not despair (Archim. Zacharias, Christ Our Way & Our Life, 268).” We can hope in this because it is the way of Christ—strength in weakness, victory over death by His death, descent into hell leading to eternal life.

This is the life opposed to self-exaltation, like the path that infamous angel took before he was cast to the depths. Instead, this is the reversal of his path, this one empties us of pride, leading us first into the depths so that we can be raised up again, and along the way gain humility and other spiritual gifts which allow us to walk alongside those who suffer, not seeing ourselves as saviors or heroes but as simple servants doing what is expected of us for the love of God and our neighbor.

______________________________________________________

Archimandrite Sophrony. Wisdom from Mount Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan, 1866-1938. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 1974.

Archimandrite Sophrony, St Silouan The Athonite. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 1991.

Archimandrite Zacharias. The Enlargement of The Heart: ‘Be Ye Also Enlarged’ in the Theology of Saint Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 2013.

Archimandrite Zacharias. Christ, Our Way and Our Life. St Tikhon’s Monastery Press. 2003.

Nicholas V Sakharov. I Love, Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 2002.

 

~FS