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This evening we continued our reading of homily 71. St. Isaac continues to define for us the essential virtues that lead us to the end of our course. Tonight, however, he not only describes for us and defines for us the nature of prayer and of humility as virtues, but he lays out for us the specific Asceticism of prayer and humility; how we exercise ourselves in faith to set God above all things - most of all above our egos. There’s an absolute quality to this response to God that Isaac puts before us. We have to have both feet within the kingdom, otherwise it is like we are unequally yoked in regards to our desires. We cannot desire God and the things of this world. To do so, even in the most subtle of ways, is to diminish our love for God and fall onto a path of mediocrity. God would have us completely and desires to be the object of the full desire of our hearts.

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We continued tonight with homily 66. St. Isaac lays out for us the path to prayer and reveals to us its deeper meaning. It involves self-denial; a setting aside of the ego in order that one might be fully attentive to God. And so prayer is essentially self-renunciation shaped and guided by faith and fueled by desire.  
 
In so many ways we have to let go of our limited understanding of prayer and the shape that we typically give it in accord with our own will. Isaac would have us allow God to lead us into the depths of prayer guided by a love that is inestimable.
 
Our greatest obstacle is our selves – the many ways that we allow ourselves to be pulled towards other things. We seek fulfillment in that which is so much less than God and we lose sight of our hope. We freely give away, without effort, the love God holds out to us.
 
Isaac exhorts us to order our desire and longing toward God, to let nothing draws away from what He alone can satisfy. We must allow ourselves to hunger for He who is the Bread of Life - - for He who can satisfy us unto eternity.

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We picked up again this week with homily 66. Saint Isaac presents us with perhaps the most formative part of his book. While this might seem to be an overstatement, St.  Isaac speaks with such clarity about the key aspect of the eastern Fathers’ understanding of the human person - the nous - the organ of spiritual perception. St.  Isaac lays out with striking clarity not only the nature of the nous but how it is to be formed and purified. Only through the ascetical life and the ordering of the appetites and the passions toward God is the nous, the eye of the heart, purified in such a way that it allows for true discernment.  Aided by grace, our capacity to perceive the truth the God increases as well as our capacity to embrace it. Isaac is very quick to warn us that this spiritual perception involves the whole person. It is not simply a philosophical or intellectual perception of truth, a mental vision. It is asceticism aided by grace that allows us to contemplate the truth and so develop a greater awareness of God. This awareness of God gives birth then to love and love is strengthened and emboldened by prayer. 

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Tonight we concluded Homily 65. Isaac closes his discussion on the value of silence and the work that surrounds it and allows it to develop and bear fruit.   Chief among these is fasting and stillness. External stillness fosters internal stillness and fasting humbles the mind and body and order that prayer may deepen and the mind and the heart become more open to God. The group spoke great deal about fostering a culture that supports the renewal of fasting. Saint Isaac closes the homily by holding up the joy that comes to the individual by living in this holy silence. It is the joy the kingdom itself and that comes through seeing and participating in the mysteries of God.
 
Homily 66 is Isaac‘s attempt to open up for us an understanding of eastern anthropology and how it shapes the spiritual tradition. Chief among the things that he speaks about is the nous, or the eye of the heart and how it must be purified through asceticism. The passions must be overcome in order that the dullness of the vision of the nous, which is the faculty of spiritual perception, might be overcome. There is no discernment outside of purity of heart. True theology can only be done by one who is experiential knowledge of God and has spent years in prayer, stillness and ascetical practice.

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Tonight we continued our reading of homily 65. Isaac begins to speak with us about the fruit of stillness. One of the primary gifts of stillness is the healing of memory and of predispositions over the course of time. The more that we are faithful to the grace that God extends to us, the greater the fruit that we experience as well as the desire for stillness. Isaac warns us that we must not concern ourselves with what is foreign to God. Our minds and our hearts must be set on freeing ourselves from the senses by being engaged in unceasing prayer. We must have a love in keeping night-vigil for the renewal of them mind that it creates. This is true of every aspect of the ascetical life. We must engage in it with an exactness. Our love for what the Lord has given us and our desire to protect what is precious should lead us with a manly courage to engage in the spiritual battle. Cowardice is often present in the spiritual life and we find many ways to rationalize our negligence and laziness for fear of giving ourselves over to God completely. This we must overcome and strive to enter the kingdom and be willing to sacrifice all to attain it.

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After having spoken to us in great detail about the ineffable consolation of faith and the experience of God‘s love in prayer, Isaac begins to teach us how we must be conformed to the mind and heart of Christ. In particular he emphasizes the absolute need for mercy. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful comes to light vividly in this passage. Through mercy we become the physician of our own souls. Giving this mercy to others brings us great healing. We are never to be those who seek vengeance but rather those who only desire the conversion and repentance of others so that they might come to experience the healing mercy of God. We are to be the conduits of this mercy in the world.
 
We closed with a challenging paragraph. Isaac warns us not to think that God fails to see our motives. We cannot be crafty or knavish in our actions or take the love and the mercy of God for granted or hold he cheap. Death comes to us quickly and unexpectedly and so we must live every moment seeking to love God and to love one another. 

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Continuing our reading of Homily 64, a great deal of our attention was directed to how Isaac addresses discerning whether thoughts are from God or from the evil one. We must be ever vigilant, never falling into the snares that the devil sets for us. 
 
Yet some thoughts require deep prayer, night and day, and intense vigils. We can quickly fall into delusion as we imagine ourselves as seeing things clearly and judging things clearly. We must learn rather to humble ourselves before God who alone knows the workings of the human heart. Our consciences must be formed by His grace and our love for Him must lead us to embrace a rigorous ascetical life. Every thought must be taken captive and brought before Christ for His blessing or judgment. This is how much we must love the Lord.

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Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 64. Isaac begins to open up our understanding of prayer through discussing the practical elements of it. The more he shows us the more we begin to understand that prayer is to be something that is guided and directed by God. It is not simply an activity that we engage in according to our own judgment and will. It must be a radical response to the love of God and the direction of the Spirit. All that we do should make us more attentive to where God is leading us or where we must go in order to foster silence and stillness within wherein we can hear God speak His word to us. Again, prayer involves the response of the whole self. We are to be attentive to our bodily postures, kneeling, prostration, etc. We are to allow ourselves to linger in the state that God has brought us to, whether it is silence or the tears of compunction. We are to struggle to bring ourselves out of distraction by nourishing ourselves upon reading in such a way that it restores our attentiveness. What we read must not be allowed to dissipate us. Rather it must foster within our hearts the purification of the conscience and the concentration of thoughts. Finally, discussions that we have with others must be rooted in the desire for the same end. Conversation must be had with those who have experiential knowledge of He who is the truth and have Him as the object of their heart’s longing.

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Tonight we completed homily 63. Isaac begins to speak of us of the necessity of setting aside all possessions and possessiveness; of setting aside all thoughts and distractions in order that stillness might reign within the heart, where we might remove ourselves from the web of the passions. All of this is meant to allow us to hold on to nothing but rather to cling to God. We are to be turned toward the Lord completely. 
 
Prayer requires a long continuance and perseverance. Seclusion or solitude is necessary in order that the love for God might grow and develop and that we might come to see with the greater clarity the causes for loving God. From prayer, the love of God is born and so it becomes the most important thing for us as human beings. We are to become prayer as it were. This means developing a hatred for the world; that is, a true understanding of what disordered love does to us and what it cost. Only when we do this will we become truly attached to God and the blessings that he offers. We must “be-in-love” in the truest sense of the phrase. We must live our lives seeking God and his love as the pearl of great price.

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Tonight we concluded homily 62. Saint Isaac as always with great beauty and sometimes with a poetic touch speaks to us of the importance of vigilance and diligence in the spiritual life. We must come to desire the Lord above all things; having death as the only limit of that desire. We must work until the harvest time; that is, until we come to the grave. We must never become lax in our spiritual disciplines, knowing the vulnerabilities that we have if we turn from the grace of God. Prayer is our greatest work - the pearl of great price and we must do all in our power to foster the solitude and silence that is needed for intimacy with God. We must hate our old life and the bondage of our sin in order that we might come to truly love the freedom of life in God. While we are still in this world there is time for repentance - time to turn from our sins and fill our lives with virtue and love.
 
Homily 63 speaks to us of how we rise from the grossness of the flesh, becoming ever more limpid in our response to God and refined by the action of His grace. With purity of mind and heart we must let go of all thoughts and distractions to become worthy of the revelation of his love. We must hold on to nothing - willing to forsake all for Him.

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