Tag Archives: the soul

What appears to be harsh.

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.

“For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

-St. Anthony the Great, 251-356

We are commemorating St. Anthony today, which prompted me to read a little about him. I learned about this book that looks like basic reading:

“The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.”

And one sentence from the story of his life jumped out at me:

“Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation
and constant struggle with the demons,
and he finally achieved perfect calm.”

Pray for us, Holy Father Anthony!

The paltriness of the good and the bad.

Father Stephen:

I can think of no Church Father who spoke more forcefully or critically about the moral failings of his time than St. John Chrysostom. He did not hesitate to call out the Emperor, or problems within the larger Church. Eventually, his words brought about his exile. Banished to the very edge of the empire, he died in isolation. Writing to the Deaconness Olympia, his closest friend and confidant, he expressed the very heart of Orthodoxy in troubled times:

“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”

From Letter 7, Saint John Chrysostom’s Letters to Saint Olympia.

From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent post: Into the Heart of the Capitol

Nagging that cuts the soul in pieces.

From the book New Media Epidemic:

Jean-Claude Larchet

Spiritual life…requires what is traditionally called recollection, the capacity to turn all one’s faculties inward, away from the world, there in one’s heart to unite and consecrate them to God in meditation and prayer. Recollection is the stage of preparation for prayer that precedes concentration. 

But as we have seen, the new media [cell phones, tablets, internet, etc] push man’s faculties in the opposite sense, always outwards toward the world. They are dispersed by a stream of discordant nagging that cuts the soul in pieces, and destroys the unity and identity of the inner man.

The new media encourage strongly two elements of ancestral sin:

(1) the loss of the inner unity of the faculties, which once were united in knowledge of God and doing His Will, dispersing them among physical objects and their representations (thoughts, memories, and images), or the desires and passions that they arouse;

(2) the resulting division, chopping up, and inner dispersion, which, according to St Maximus the Confessor, “breaks human nature into a thousand fragments.”

As other holy ascetics have said, the intelligence [attention/nous] is then constantly distracted, floating, erring, and wandering here and there in a state of permanent agitation, quite the opposite of the deep peace it experienced in its former contemplation. The thoughts that once were united and concentrated become manifold and multifarious, spreading out in a ceaseless flow. They divide and disperse, leaking out in every direction, dragging and dividing the whole being of man in their wake.

This leads St Maximus the Confessor to speak of: “the scattering of the soul amongst outer forms according to the appearance of sensory things,” for the soul becomes multiple in the image of this sensory multiplicity…which is simply an illusion… Stirred up and excited by a multitude of passions, they pull in many directions, often opposed, at once, and make of man a being divided at every level. This process of the fall of man, described by the Church Fathers of Late Antiquity, continues today faster than ever, driven on by the new media. They offer such a rich and speedy flow of temptations that they multiply the sensory objects that attract the senses…

—Jean-Claude Larchet

(from a church bulletin)

Since we are poor, a warmth.

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

-Wallace Stevens

I discovered this poem on the blog Kingdom Poets, where the poet-blogger D.S. Martin wonders if Stevens ought even to be “mentioned in a blog about Christian poetry.” Martin also quotes a few speculative lines from a biographer of Stevens, as to the lifelong skeptic’s motives for receiving Christian baptism on his deathbed. I’d like to read more of what he wrote later in life, but the images and evocations of this poem are familiar enough to me to make me think that Wallace Stevens had truly tasted of the Kingdom of God, that Holy Spirit-quickened heart where Christ dwells, of which He spoke when He said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

St. Porphyrios said provocatively, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.Father Stephen Freeman has quoted the saint when he writes about “what can drive us both to poetry as well as theology”:

“The reduction of the world and its ‘history’ are the tools of those who lack the imagination and patience to find the truth. The Fathers tell us to ‘pay attention.’ This is true with regard to the heart, but it is also true with regard to the world around us. Attention does not solve the mystery, but it at least acknowledges its presence and gives rise to enough wonder to make understanding possible at some point.”

“Evil is never creative. It is destructive and occasionally diverse in its activities. But creativity requires energy and commitment. Evil’s own entropy always reduces it to banality and boredom. It prefers prose: poetry is too much work.”

Fr. Stephen also quotes a poem from e.e. cummings, including the lines, “i do not know what it is about you… only something in me understands…”

The type of somethings that e.e. cummings refers to can’t be known intellectually, but they are the testimony of our own experience that “mystery is not only an aspect of the divine, but part of the nature of all reality. Everything is far more than it appears.”

I am eternally grateful to writers like Wallace Stevens who commit their strength of mind and length of days to sharing their glimpses of the mysterious reality behind the obvious,

…since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.