May 2007Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Christ is Risen!
We have this one life. It is a precious treasure, each moment profound, filled with unlimited potential. How sad that we miss most of it!
Bishop KALLISTOS (Ware) in his wonderful book THE INNER KINGDOM points out that our "lack of concentration, this inability to be here and now with the whole of our being, is one of the most tragic consequences of the Fall." It is possible to pass through life without being aware of being alive. Olivier Clement refers to it as sleep-walking through life.
Much work is being done these days on the subject of consciousness. Among other questions, what does awareness mean and what does it mean to be aware? Some of it is very good and worthy of our consideration. For example, quantum physics is opening doors to new ways of perceiving the world that are collapsing old paradigms. (We Orthodox are sometimes scared to death of letting go of old paradigms, but we are not alone in this.) Since the material world and the spiritual world, visible and invisible, are not, as previously imagined, two separate, fixed spheres, even the discoveries of science have spiritual implications. It is a thrilling time to be alive!
Orthodox spirituality has great power to awaken and transform, but we are often so comfortable with the way things are that we would rather not explore it. I italicize the word because the truth often is we are not comfortable at all. We are resigned to believing that the way things are is the way things must be. The anxiety and pain of life, the repetitious sins and depression are not the final word! As the poet Rilke wrote, "No feeling is final." If we believe that real change is not possible, then we deny the transforming power of God in life and we deny that self in us that must not be denied - that is, the image of God.
The great spiritual fathers and mothers of Orthodoxy have much to say on the issue of consciousness and real transformation. Indeed much of what they taught it being confirmed and discovered by scientists and religious thinkers from many different traditions. For example, the spiritual masterpiece THE PHILOKALIA speaks volumes about consciousness and the infinite depths of reality, visible and invisible. This great book is being studied by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike from a variety of traditions and disciplines in a variety of surprising venues.
To tap into that transforming power, that infinite spring of living water, we must, as St. Isaac of Syria taught, "dive into ourselves" for "the Kingdom of Heaven" is within (Lk 15:17). Bishop KALLISTOS, reviewing the traditions of hesychasm, writes that only in this way can we discover the ladder to heaven. (INNER KINGDOM, p.93). We return to our true selves as the Prodigal Son returned to his senses and to his father.
This is not the same as "self-interest" or "self-consciousness". The "self in these compound words is the ego, that "self" (the ego) we are taught by Jesus to deny. The ego defends itself, narrows vision, clouds reality influencing life from its hidden command center controlling secretly like Jung's famous "shadow self". The ego relishes its own paltry vision of reality which is, in the words of the Orthodox funeral service, "a shadow and a dream". All the activities of the ego are meant to nurture and strengthen the "dream". We know we are trapped in its web when our minds narrow and our vision grows dim, when we are overtaken with negativity, guilt, fear, and remorse and when we find ourselves unable to escape our addictive and harmful patterns of behavior. The ego feeds on these things. The ego wants us to be asleep. It does not want to be exposed. It avoids the light of the present drawing its strength from the shadowy phantasms of the past and the future.
Fr. John Main, OSB, the founder of the World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org), writes, "we have to see beyond ourselves and with a perspective greater than we" generally think is even possible. That perspective, I believe is nothing short of what St. Paul calls the "mind of Christ." That mind is fully aware of things as they are, that is enlightened and, even more, deified. The goal is nothing less than to see as God sees and this, my friends, is the vocation of everyone made in His image and called to His likeness.
That is why we are called to wake up to each precious moment, to give thanks in all things, to pray without ceasing and to rejoice always. This is only possible when we let go of our narrow, ego-driven perspectives and open our eyes in wonder to all that is real. The most important truth is that we are literally bathed in grace inside and out. God is with us always and everywhere.
We dare to believe in the possibility of enlightenment, transfiguration and the deification of humanity. Direct experience of these three potentialities is possible when we begin to (as Fr. Roman Braga puts it) "explore the inner landscape." It is there that we discover the truth about ourselves, the image of God, the ladder to heaven and the magnificent gifts God has granted to all who bear His image. There is theory and there is practice. The practice of meditation and prayer (hesychasm) brings results.
Yours in the light of Christ's glorious Resurrection,Fr. Antony Hughes