The desert fathers are not shy when it comes to talking about the more intimate details of human sexuality and its interplay with the spiritual life. Conference 22 picks up with Cassian and Germanus' much anticipated discussion with Abba Theonas about why fasting does not always seem to guarantee freedom from nocturnal emission of semen. There is no dualism between mind and body in Cassian's thought - each has an impact on the spiritual life and are intimately tied together. Nocturnal emissions take place for three possible reasons: Either a surfeit of food and drink has demanded this sort of release; or some kind of spiritual neglect has provoked it; or, finally, the devil himself has brought it about and uses it to humiliate a person who is otherwise progressing in purity, thus making him hesitate to receive Holy Communion.
This leads Germanus to ask whether a person who has had a nocturnal emission is permitted to receive communion and if so under what circumstances. Passions may lie deep within the unconscious and arise within dreams and cause such natural phenomena. An individual can incur guilt by irregularity and neglectful practices - times of gluttony, entertaining momentary sinful thoughts, lack of prayer, etc. The unconscious reveals a great deal about one's conscious spiritual life and practice.
Such considerations are important especially when it comes to receiving Holy Communion for one who seeks to truly discern the Body and Blood of the Lord. Though seeming subtle and significant to the modern mind all of this speaks to the importance of purity of heart and whether one is in a right relationship with God and living, as it were, from communion to communion. Do we appreciate the nature of the gift that we receive in the Holy Eucharist and do we live our lives in such a fashion that we are constantly preparing to receive the gift of God's grace and striving to allow it to bear the greatest fruit possible? If the Eucharist is Life and the center of our lives then our attentiveness to both our conscious awareness and practices and to manifestations of our unconscious should be great. What do our dreams or the presence of nocturnal emissions tell us about aspects of our internal state that may be hidden to us?
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