Friday, March 23, 2012

Peering through the Window

The eye is the lamp of the body. It is by the eye that the mind is able to receive the world. Continuing so: if the eye then is flawed, the mind will have a faulty perception of reality, and still, if the mind is flawed, then the mind will create and store within itself hidden falsies. If these distorted assertions were individual disconnected premises that had no bearing on a man’s soul then the mistaken view of the world would be excusable. The issue then arises from the understanding that it is through the conception of these distortions and the process by which they were conceived that the voice of the Designer is dulled. The accumulation of wrongful perceptions of the world, of others, and of the self creates an unstable foundation for a person’s existence. The weak foundation is built on with more bricks until the structure entirely collapses. But if it is the relationship between the eye and the mind that allows for the processing of the external world, by what system if any does the external world process the internal being?
The physician-writer responds in perfect medical and philosophical terms when he say: “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). He acknowledges that within the confines of the heart are stored what has been accumulated from the world. He then asserts that it is through a man’s words that this accumulation, mixed with his perceptions, is reciprocated. It is at this juncture that our job begins. Through a man’s words, the educated and loving listener can learn and detect the motivations of the soul, the misconceptions about the self and the world, and the potential diseases of the mind. In speaking about the parable of the talents, our late Patriarchal Father, Pope Shenouda III, says: “the mind is a ‘talent’ that can be ‘lost’. In the case of sin, there is found within the mind a wrongful understanding.” He continues: “The mind is not stable.”
It then becomes our job as servants and stewards of truth to uncover the flawed systems of perception in those whom we serve: by listening. By listening we are able to peer through the window of the heart and see deep into the concealed layers of a struggling soul. By listening we can not only detect the impairments of individual thoughts but also the process by which these thoughts are wrongfully collected and formulated. Listening, understanding, and conveying understanding becomes for us the vehicle by which the “doctor” can “reach” the “patient.”
Hearing the specific word choice, the ordering of ideas, and the tone of voice, the listening poses the question: “Why does he chose to say what he is saying in this manner?” Watching the patient is equally important: “based the hands, the posture, and the facial expression, what is the confidence level contained within his own words? Does he believe his own words or does he seeks attention?” Attention can even be paid to those thoughts and ideas that are skipped, omitted, or briefly touched on by the speaker: “Why did he not say…? Was a thought glanced over for the sake subtly or embarrassment, or maybe because of some unknown fear?” Over time the good listener can begin to uncover the idiosyncratic use of the patient’s language, emotion and movement. It is only at this point where the listener can speak; speak in order to first break down the collapsing building in a safe way and uprooting the unstable foundation.
Seeing, hearing, and detecting the inner unconscious conflicts, the hidden distortions, and the faulty association, is a difficult task that was laid upon us. It is a slow process requiring much time and persistence. Fortunately, along with being the “True Physician,” He is also the perfect teacher-listener.
But as important as all this may be, something is still more pressing. The question bodes: who now can preform these acts on themselves?
Who can listen and detect their own faulty conceptions of the world?
Who can hear the mind suppressing the spirit for its own gain?
Who of us can detect the body when it attempts to protect itself from the uneasiness of service and the help for other?
Who is able to attend to the “craftiness of the mind” when it yearns to fall into sin?
More… Who can listen so closely to their own thoughts that they can retrace the Designer’s thoughts deep within the soul uncovering His voice within us?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


“Oh what’s this guy doing? Again? Now?”
Whether its snowing, raining, or the temperature is sub-freezing he’s out there every morning. He and many like him are so common that they sometime “become part of the scenery.” I find that I notice him more when the weather is terrible and I’m in my car shivering. Bothered by the weather, frenzied by the list of tasks to complete before the day’s end, and confused by the seemingly contradictory action of running in “terrible weather,” I drive by hoping my tires splash water on him because he’s doing what I can’t.
Ok, so maybe I’m not that dramatic about the whole situation but it needs to be said that this runner has something that a lot of us don’t: consistency. Over time he’s developed and cemented this routine into his life. Regardless of the weather, regardless of what he “needs” to do on that day, and regardless of what may be going on in his life, you know that at 8:27 in the morning you can catch him rounding the corner on your way to school or work. Granted he may enjoy running but there are undoubtedly days where he wakes up and running with an injured leg in the cold weather, knowing that I’m out to splash him with my car, is not high on his list of “likable activates.” So why do it?
The answer lies hidden within a fact about the human psyche. The day this runner gives into his laziness, the stresses of life, or the weather he will then repeatedly allow his mind to fool him into skipping more “run-impairing-days.” But if today, when there is ice cold rain falling, he has plantar fasciitis in both heels, and he has a crucial meeting at work, he does actually manage to overcome his very rational excuses to “just skip today,” he will forever be able to overcome any obstacle the stands in direct contradiction to his routine.
And our spiritual lives are no different. In the Lent we need to spend time both creating new routines and solidifying weak ones. We should tell ourselves “No! I don't care how late it is, how much I have to do tomorrow morning, or how tired I am. I decided I’m going to do … and I’m going to do it.” Conversely, the first time we fall into a particular or new sin (in the Lent, but more likely at any point in our growth) it is catastrophic because it was often something that we never expected to happen. The horror is that we then become even more susceptible to falling into the same mistake a second or even third time! We become increasingly more desensitized to our own failure every time we fall. “No. I don't care how tempted I am by this sin, how ‘different’ this situation is from the ‘other’ times, or how undetectable this action will be. I decided I wouldn’t … and I’m not going to do it.” The goal when it comes to confronting sin in Lent is to return us to our original, or even “baptismal,” state.

But on the day where we forgo the routine, we are chopping at a sapling. When a seed is planted it takes a lot of time and “nurturing” before it sprouts and shows “life.” If during this crucial and equally sensitive time you take just one swing at it with an axe you could permanently eradicate the young tree. You then need to exude more effort replanting the same “seed” and again wait for it to take root. Too often in our spiritual lives we do this; before we allow our daily practices to become—daily practices, we let ourselves slip. Over time, a young sapling, the routine, will indeed grow thicker and stronger and spread its branches and roots into different dimension of our lives. If I can expand the analogy even further: over time the same tree may even “bear fruit;” fruit that will sustain us during trying times and fruit that others can tastes of for their own.

What’s the best way to do this? First: Don’t think long term. Think: “Today. Today I will accomplish...” and let tomorrow “worry about itself.” If you do what needs to be done today, then tomorrow will be the same. Second: Do it even if you don't feel it. So often I’ve let myself escape nightly prayer because I know I’ve misused the day, fallen into sin, or am just “too tired” and have no emotion towards God. Doesn't matter. Stand up and pray anyway. Sprinkling drops of water onto the seed is better than leaving it dry. Granted, tomorrow I may need to correct whatever made me feel this way but habit building is as much about repetition as it is about the practice itself. Third: Don't look for results so soon. This is one of the more difficult obstacles to overcome. There is no reason to treat a seed like a full grown tree and equally a young tree may not have ripe fruit. It takes a lot of time and conscious effort to build fruitful habits and we should not cease trying simply because we don't immediately feel or notice their effects.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Moment, in Preparation of:

There has always seemed to be a separation between God and I. For some reason when I stand to pray I can formulate words in my mind, or even as far as my heart, but often times I am still missing the listener. Aside from the division between my words and God’s ear, there seems to be a gaping difference between my prayers and the way I live my life: my words strongly contradict my daily actions and my daily actions are not a projection of one who prays. There seems to be this veil that I have cast in front of God that I often peak through when I feel holy but lock in place when I don’t want God to find me. This curtain makes me feel safe and allows me to conceal my fears and faults from an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-helpful Father. But is that it? Is that all my life is called to be; a “spiritual” life entrenching within a secular existence separated by an insurmountable curtain?

In the Gospels, the immediate moment that follows Jesus’s death, the writers include a seemingly “misplaced” verse. Luke says: “and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:46). What is the correlation between the veil of the temple and the death of our Protagonist that the writers would use such a highly vulnerable point in the reader’s attention to include such a foreign idea? Wouldn’t those few lines following Jesus’s death be better suited for words about His unquenchable Love or Shepparding care for humanity?

In the Old Testament Moses or the high priest of the time were called to be intermediates between God and man; the bridge that allowed the people to communicate to their God was another mere human. This mediator was the only person allowed past the veil that was hung in the temple. Yet what laid behind the barrier was the answer to Augustine’s concept of human “restlessness.” Behind the veil was the symbol of heaven and where “The Lord spoke to Moses as a man speaks to a friend” (Ex. 33:11). We were not granted to speak to God.

But after the crucifixion and the tearing of the veil St. Paul said in Timothy 2:5: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” This concept of someone connected me and God has been completely abolished with the crucifixion because “the veil of the temple was torn in two.”

Now, allowed to reunite with God without a separation or intermediary, where in the temple do I choose to stand?

Yet as systematic as all of this sounds, the core issue has still not changed. I still have this curtain between God and I but this time it was not God who put it up in His tabernacle, it was me. I insist on dividing myself from a Father. I insist on making myself an orphan in this temporal world. I insist on turning my back on the God “who gave His only begotten Son, that whomever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The veil is none other than MY sin; my personal sin. The sin that I hold onto and will not let go of; not even for God. And for some of us we know what that sin is and intentionally overlook it and insist on asking God why He chooses not to listen to our prayers. And still for others, we have not spent time “in the Light” to see where our filth lies.

Nothing speaks stronger to the potential of the relationship that we can have with God like the model set forth by Moses. Speaking to God as a friend is a simple formula that we (me above most people) complicate. If this all too short time that we spend away from the world in Lent is to be beneficial, we must focus on exposing ourselves before the merciFUL God. Spending time quietly and alone away from the daily routines of life is a vital method by which we can spend moments with God and examine the direction of our individual lives.

If I may, I would ask to leave you with this idea: this retreat away from the other 310 days of the year will be only as effective as the effort we are willing to put into it. If I take it upon myself to wake up early and sit with God before the world is ready to swallow me up with its “needs” and if I can silently pray in the midst of the day remember my Goal then to me, my Friend speaks and says: “I love those who love me, and those who seek Me find Me” (Prov 8:17). Keep in mind: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:20)…am I waiting on the other side? Or am I not even home yet? If so, maybe next year’s lent will be better…