January 4

Briefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him. He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose.

Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen. We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity. Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin. The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed. For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls and dies as a result.

Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented. We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of to what is unwitting. But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second. Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.

~St Peter of Damaskos

I Wish I Were A Talking Squirrel

I read about a peony spending its whole day giving fragrance to the wind,

And I thought to myself, I’d like to be a peony.

 

Then I saw three ducks taking flight and leaving ripples on a lake,

And I wished in my heart, I were a lake.

 

Then I heard a squirrel chattering from high overhead upon a limb,

And I wondered, what would I say if I were him—

 

Would I wish I were an acorn?

Or when I looked into the sky, would I long to be a passing cloud?

 

Might I wish to be the oak I’m perched on,

or to be whisked far beyond the ground?

 

Imagine spending your whole day giving fragrance to the wind—

And still having a place to call home at night.

 

I spend my days doing the business of making a living,

Because living like a peony is a riddle I cannot solve.

 

If I were a lake I would be homeless,

Because a lake has no home.

 

And if I were a talking squirrel,

I’d be richer than my wildest dreams—

 

And then I could spend my days giving fragrance to the wind.

 

 

 

 

~FS

 

January 2

Man stands at the crossroads between righteousness and sin, and chooses whichever path he wishes. But after that, the path which he has chosen to follow, and the guides assigned to it, whether angels and saints or demons and sinners, will lead him to the end of it, even if he has no wish to go there. The good guides lead him toward God and the kingdom of heaven, the evil guides toward the devil and agelong punishment. But nothing and no one is to blame for his destruction except his own free will. For God is the God of salvation, bestowing on us, along with being and well-being, the knowledge and strength that we cannot have without the grace of God. Not even the devil can destroy a man, compelling him to choose wrongly, or reducing him to impotence or enforced ignorance, or anything else: he can only suggest evil to him.

~St Peter of Damaskos

January 1

We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like. And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his light-less condition. For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.

~St Peter of Damaskos

December 31

This is the beginning of our salvation; by our free choice we abandon our own wishes and thoughts and do what God wishes and thinks. If we succeed in doing this, there is no object, no activity or place in the whole of creation that can prevent us from becoming what God from the beginning has wished us to be: that is to say, according to His image and likeness, gods by adoption through grace, dispassionate, just, good and wise, whether we are rich or poor, married or unmarried, in authority and free or under obedience and in bondage–in short, whatever our time, place or activity. That is why, alike before the Law, under the Law and under grace, there have been many righteous men–men who preferred the knowledge of God and His will to their own thoughts and wishes. Yet there were also many who have perished in these same times and in the same circumstances, because they preferred their own thoughts and wishes to those of God.

~St Peter of Damaskos

December 30

The first step is that of purest prayer. From this there comes a warmth of heart, and then a strange, a holy energy, then tears wrung from the heart, God-given. Then peace from thoughts of every kind. From this arises purging of the intellect, and next the vision of heavenly mysteries. Unheard-of light is born from this ineffably, and thence, beyond all telling, the heart’s illumination. Last comes–a step that has no limit, though compassed in a single line–Perfection that is endless….

~Theophanis the Monk

(Excerpt from, The Ladder of Divine Graces)

Paths of Desire (part 18)

I began this story by claiming that life is an inner battle, which each of us wage; and that for me, the basis of my battle has been, and is, to seek love from the source of all love, God; and to resist seeking it in other places, along other paths, apart from Him. Consequent to this underlying battle, are manifest a myriad of more superficial, but no less important battles, waged in my heart and mind against a myriad of sins, mistakes, misdirections, vices or whatever you’d like to call them. Resulting from these battles, waged primarily in my thoughts, are all of the actions I might take, for good or for bad, in my life and in the world; as a result of the victories or the defeats I’ve won or lost within my thoughts.

I’ve described the varied paths my life has taken through childhood, youth and young adulthood as a result of living by trial and error, seeking love without direction, doing the best I can, hoping not to hurt anyone, yet acting without knowledge of the true nature of the daily battle occurring within me, and without a clear method or practice to help me learn how to fight for victory first by God’s grace, in synergy, with my own efforts.

The world is a melting pot of ideas and philosophies from which each of us pick and choose, or adhere to without awareness, consciousness or understanding. We express opinions that we learned along the way, that make us feel good, but not necessarily ones that are true; but we are sheltered from truth by the widespread and deeply held relativism of our world, that allows us to have our own truth, and thereby live free of any constraint, or obedience to anything beyond ourselves.

“I’m a good person.” We hear this all the time, by many people, nearly everywhere. But whether something is good or bad depends not on us, but on God alone; and which ideas or philosophies we adhere to, determine which direction we are going, and eventually where we will end up. One might say it is good to go to New York, and then give good reasons to support that claim; and for those who want to go to a large city with the opportunities it offers, that is good, but for others who desire peace and tranquility, this advice to take the road to New York would be bad advice. So it is in all of life; lots of advice, lots of wisdom, all pointing us in different directions; our task is to decide where we are going, where we want to go, and then listen to the advice that helps us get there, ignoring the other advice which leads us to a different end. Those who want the world can have the world, those who want God can have God.

I mentioned earlier, how, during this period of which I’ve been writing, from my teens through my early twenties, that while, in a sense, I was searching for God, in reality I was slipping further and further away, and deeper into a depravity of my own making. I could look back on this time, from my current vantage point and say, “well, these things are what make me who I am, they are learning experiences and no harm was done” and this may be true, and may be fine to say, but then, these aren’t the things to say, or the ideas and philosophies to hold, if I want to be made new in Christ. The Christian view is to hate the evil we’ve done, to repent, and to begin afresh. These compromises or excuses allow us to stay with ourselves as we are, but they don’t spur us on our path to perfection, or lead us to a better standard of love. Jesus said, “be perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect”. He calls us to be holy, to be healed, and to become whole, as we were intended from the beginning to become. It is by His grace, but also by our ongoing and committed agreement and effort that enables us to attain this goal here and now, and eventually in totality in the age to come.

I imagine myself sitting at the dinner table and I am joined by three wonderful young people, now in their twenties. They are like olive plants around my table, as the psalmist says. When I sit in my prayer nook at night, I pray for these three people, my children. They are on my mind daily as I go about my business; I am concerned for their well-being and their eternal life. So many years ago, I first knew of them, and eons before this, they were known by God. To me they are only images now, memories that barely got started; but they are with God I pray.

When I had learned that they existed, each in their own time, I was a selfish boy, thinking of myself, and also fearful of how I would be perceived by others. I had also learned to be the ‘enlightened’ boyfriend, to support the women in my life in whatever they decided was right for them. So when the decision came to stop a beating heart, I sat quietly, not in an innocent silence, but in tacit support. And when a second beating heart would be silenced, I continued in my silence. And upon the third fatal decision, I crumbled inside, and made every effort to forget, and to tell myself it hadn’t happened; that nobody died and I wasn’t accessory to murder. I was willing to believe this, and to instead understand myself as a champion of rights, a steady and dependable partner, a good man, a good person. And this is the theory I held for decades, completely forgetting the other silent parties involved; those three silent ones, within the flesh of another, which were, one by one, preparing and becoming—and then were silenced forever.

My sorrow for my three children has become complete; where at first it never existed. My tears have washed away the horror of what I did and, upon my knees, I have found peace. I look back on those years, when I sat in self-satisfied silence, and am amazed at what I was convinced was true, and how I misdirected my love and protection. I focused on the needs and rights of one while neglecting those of the other. My love was narrow and could have been larger, large enough to encompass everyone involved, but it was not. By God’s holy mercy and through His forgiveness though, I have returned to my feet again; and in gratefulness and thanksgiving to Him, I march onward.

(to be continued)

~FS