The Two Truths That Set Us Free
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 26, 2014
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39)
There is a very simple message behind the Gospel reading this morning. The demoniac represents for us what happens when the mind is out of control. Most of us will never encounter personified evil in the form of demons, but every one of us knows what it is like to feel as if we are not in control of ourselves. Evagrius of Pontus wrote about logismoi, evil or distracting thoughts, which is by far the most pressing spiritual problem we have and the cause of most of our suffering. This is the kind of possession we all know very well.
Look inside yourselves. Try and count your thoughts. It is impossible! There are too many. It is Legion in there!
Our thoughts determine our lives. Deuteronomy tells us “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” So, we must watch carefully what our minds are up to. We pray in the Liturgy that God will grant us “vigilance of soul.” Vigilance is the soul’s great power. When the soul is weak, vigilance is weak and we find ourselves driven to think and do things that bring suffering to ourselves and others, just like the demoniac in today’s reading. He was not free. We are not free.
And Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.”
There are two truths we must come to know: the truth of our internal life and the truth of who we really are. First, we must come to know what it is that drives and moves us to think and behave the way we do. Simply put, when we are unaware of what is going on inside of us, we will be controlled by it. Carl Jung noticed this and wrote, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.”
Second, we must come to see our own hidden beauty. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote, “Christ looked at everyone he met…and saw the beauty hidden there…and what he did was call out this beauty.” Do not think that because we do not see him we are not meeting him. We meet him all the time in the Liturgy and in life. He is present always and he is drawing out of us even now, the beauty that is at the core of our being. We may try to avoid his gaze, but this is futile. We are the apple of his eye, the object of his love. We are never out of his sight.
The revelation of the first truth is painful, so we attempt to avoid it, but it cannot be avoided forever. The teaching of Jesus that “What is hidden will be shouted from the housetops,” points to this inevitability. Eventually, everything that we attempt to hide about ourselves will reveal itself. It is far better to do this voluntarily, I think, than for it to happen to us. That is what scandals are: hidden truths made painfully clear. The sacrament of confession is about revealing the hidden things so that we do not fall into worse things. Of course, that is why most of us avoid it.
The revelation of the second truth, the discovery of the “kingdom within” is perhaps the even more shocking thing. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware wrote that on the Day of Judgment what will surprise us more than our sins being revealed is the revelation of all the good we have done. The beauty of the truth of our essential nature is far more powerful than the petty sins we commit. The truth is that we focus so much on the sins we commit and the pain that we feel, our guilt and our shame, that we cannot see the deeper truth of the image of God that we are. No matter. The bright shining truth will be revealed. It is inevitable. Get ready. It’s gonna hurt! But in a good way!
The spiritual life is about becoming conscious of these two truths and allowing that awareness to direct us. We define ourselves by what we think and feel and yet there is something deeper than that. Our thoughts and feelings are not who we are. Beneath them is the one who knows we are thinking and feeling. We can define that one who sees as the soul. The spiritual life is about strengthening the power of the soul.
It is like this. When there is a storm at sea the surface of the water is troubled, wild and dangerous. But in the bottom of the sea what is there? There is peace. The storms cannot touch the deep. The soul is like the depth of the sea. It is undisturbed and peaceful, a still point in the midst of everything.
It is also like a mighty oak whose roots are suck deep into the earth. When the wind blows its leaves and branches may fly apart and break, but the roots remain unmoved.
To that internal place of stillness we must go. It is from there Jesus is calling us. There we find God. There we find the treasure and the truth of who we are. Above the depth of the sea and the foundation of the earth is instability. Down below there is strength and there is peace.
Identified with the storms of thoughts and feelings we are like the double-minded man St. James mentions, “unstable in all his ways.” Identified with the image of God in the core of our being, we are like God in whom there is no shadow of change. This core is the closet Jesus calls us to enter and pray. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field and the widow’s lost coin. It is the deepest truth of who we are. Grounded in the soul and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious cooperation with him, we are set free.