THE first year after I had received the Holy Spirit I thought to myself: The Lord has forgiven me my sins: grace is witness thereof. What more do I need? But that is not the way to think. Though our sins be forgiven we must remember them and grieve for them all our lives, so as to preserve a contrite heart. I did not do this and ceased to be contrite, and suffered greatly from evil spirits. And I was perplexed at what was happening to me, and said: My soul knows the Lord and His love. How is it that evil thoughts come to me? But the Lord had pity on me, and taught me the way to humble myself: Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not. Thus is the enemy vanquished; but when my mind emerges from the fire the suggestions of passion gather strength again. ~ Starets Silouan
“Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally),” they write. “Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting drawn into wallowing in a setback.” ~ Badri Bajaj & Neerja Pande
I am one of those who hears Bajaj and Pande voicing important psychosocial aspects of the Jesus prayer. In my eyes, their points are not complete, nonetheless, their words express essential aspects of what the hesychastic traditions teach us. Their words voice part of what we are to express to those around us. Our forgiving, weeping and in our prays bearing up under the load of everyones need of joy in Christ is, in part, expressed by those researchers words.
Put another way, mindfulness “weakens the chain of associations that keep people obsessing about” their problems or failures, which increases the likelihood they will try again. ~ Tom Jacobs
I adore how Fr. Freeman began this sentence. My own idea is to forgive everyone for everything and yet, I know that I am incapable of accomplishing anything close to that goal. More to the point, though, is the question of what my forgiveness is to accomplish.
“Those who forgive them recognize and affirm their guilt. Yet at the same time, they lift its burden from the shoulders of the offenders.” ~ Miroslav Volf
Dr. Volf, you have drawn out something which too many of us give no attention. Our forgiveness, whether accepted or not, burns with that accusation of guilt. This is part of the Early Church Fathers’ speaking of our need to seek forgiveness from God and others before taking the step of confronting anyone with an offering of forgiveness for their wrong of us.
C.S. Lewis: “Humility” ~ “Humility is not thinking more of yourself or less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Earlier, I found this C. S. Lewis quote posted on Dover Beach which then set off more of my playing hide and seek with forgiveness. At least in my mind, humility is seated deeply in being able to do more than offer forgiveness.
As Lewis put it toward humility, forgiving doesn’t require our forgetting that minor toward major wound. It is a shifting away from speaking the words, “I forgive you,” on over toward living out how forgiving changes my life both toward myself and the other(s) who hurt you or me.
Our choosing to deal with feelings through spiritual endeavors takes us deeper than we’ve typically been taught. As St. Hesychios the Priest says, “Dispassion and humility lead to spiritual knowledge. Without them, no one can see God.” His point is, at least, uncomfortable. His words delve into things out of sync with how most of us see a withdrawn and emotionless life. I’ve begun learning to see those last words as terribly off the mark.
Dispassion, for me, has ceased being the absence of feelings. Now it is becoming a dissociation from my long practiced dysfunctional fashions of fitting experience and feelings together.
Humility has become a confidence seated within a constant unfolding of self coming with progressively discovering that God isn’t the one who’d pulled away.
Being rather a shedding of mutated understandings, dispassion has become a tilling, watering and nourishing of what our God embedded within me, in the first place. As mom and dad had taught me back on the ranch, I knew the literal need to sweat as I broke my back working beside dad. Our crops, cattle, hogs and dogs were better able to make it through the seasons because of what we did. Having, also, learned at the knees of my parents, teachers and all the kids I played and fought with how to live life. Now, I am having to shed most all of it.
Not because of each item being evil. Learning, in my 50 plus years, to see most of those things as pretty well on the mark, anyway, I am coming to see how mistaken I have been in my fashions of fitting those together! Too often, clients I dealt with in domestic violence groups lived out no connection between what they’d done and why they had been sentenced to see me. Feeling this point prodding at me, I am only now beginning to catch sight of how often what felt like God keeping a distance from me was really my keeping my back turned on that One regardless of what He did.
I am close to being shamed by how long it has taken to catch onto the jumbled nature of my own emotional life. After all, what had I done for nearly two decades before my surgeries? As a counselor, I knew a good share of his own emotional flaws. Practicing at owning into those flaws makes for a continual need to keep at working on those blemishes. Following one of two parts of the physical essence to my emotional life extracted I have spent nearly 12 years refashioning the whole thing again. But now, what has the Spirit shoved at me? Now, I’m beginning another adventure which makes the last two seem trivial.
Coming to see our common uses of feelings as a dysfunctional tangled mess is difficult enough. Meaning to catch onto how I, like the rest of us, keep my emotional eyes turned from God, even when I’m pretending to be looking at that One makes me quake at my core.
“Not all psychopaths are saints. And not all saints are psychopaths. But there’s evidence to suggest that deep within the corridors of the brain, psychopathy and sainthood share secret neural office space.” ~ Kevin Dutton
“What?” I figure many will ask after reading Dutton’s comment. “How could that be? After all saints are those of us walking close to God.”
“No way,” several others may chime in with irritation over those words. Some others, I’m rather confident, will be voicing, “Who other than a malicious atheist would pair God’s saints up with psychopaths?”
Either way, I’m not voicing Kevin’s work to break the knees of Christians!
Having dealt with an assortment people, I’ve, also, known various levels of seeming Christian saints. Some of them are people who had done all the way from, subtle manipulative, on over to overtly murderous things. Of course, many will retort with, “Then those people weren’t Christians.” Keeping to my point, I have to tell you that until their evils were surfaced, everyone in the church thought that pastor, youth minister, teachers or long-term member, I had dealt with were nothing less than true believers. I’m not contending that God saw our shared examples as believers or unbelievers. Rather, I’m pointing at us and scorning those earlier declarations. No one, including me, knew any better before their sins were surfaced. So, it isn’t those people I want your attention focused on.
Delving deeper, I have listened too a host of difficult to swallow thoughts, feelings and a few fantasies shared with me by clients and friends that would be disturbing. Those of you who function as pastors and priests probably know what I’m talking about. More to the point, both what my work history exposed me to and what striving to follow after the likes of Maximos the Confessor, John Climacus, Symeon the New Theologian or even what Staretz Silouan have shoved my face into I couldn’t have truly owned that my own spiritual life totters a lot like my father after his strokes and advancing dementia.
People, please realize that we are not living clean lives in spite of being forgiven. To trod the whole distance of personalizing forgiveness honestly requires owning the depth of personal fallenness. We are not truly wanting to live out our repentance until we are actively reflecting back on all we have been up to until that very moment.
But then what am I, let alone you to do with owning what I’ve come to see as odious thoughts, feelings and behaviors?