Friday, November 22, 2013
Stillness ( Saint Basil )
A common theme in the teaching of the church fathers is stillness. This is not a call to idleness but to a task that is very difficult: to quiet our minds. Our minds are too often controlled by our brain and its association with all our bodily needs. It is constantly bombarding us with thoughts, good and bad. It is these thoughts that keep us separated from God and our greatest spiritual challenge is to learn to still the mind so it is able to listen to God. If we are serious about doing God's will we have to become watchful in all our daily activities.
Saint Basil says,
As far as we are engaged in affairs outside of God, we are not able to make progress in the knowledge of God. Who, anxious about the things of the world and sunk deep in the distractions of the flesh, can be intent on the words of God and be sufficiently accurate in such mighty objects of contemplation? Do you not see that the word which fell among the thorns is choked by the thorns? (Cf. Matt. 13.7, 22) Does this mean we need to become a hermit? No, but it does mean we have to rethink how we do interact in the arena of worldly affairs. We cannot allow ourselves to become angry about events so that our mind is constantly troubled. We cannot let our bodily passions dictate our actions. We have to make sure we are not living among the "thorns." We have to stop and examine the activity that is filling our minds. Then, take actions to help it become quiet. When we begin to become watchful in our daily affairs then we will find that when we are engaged in our daily prayer there will be a calming of the activity of our brain and our mind will become less and less controlled by all its messages. As we are able to gain this stillness, then we may be blessed with God's grace and enter into a direct experience of Him.
The thorns are the pleasures of the flesh and wealth and glory and the cares of life. He who desires the knowledge of God will have to be outside of all these things, and being freed from his passions, thus to receive the knowledge of God. For, how could the thought of God enter into a soul choked by considerations which preoccupied it? Even Pharaoh knew that it was proper for one to seek God when he was unoccupied, and for this reason he reproached Israel: 'You are unoccupied, you are idle, and you say, "We shall offer prayers to the Lord, our God."' ( Cf. Exod. 5.17) Saint Basil then goes on to help us understand that this stillness is not simply leisure or idleness. Leisure can be good if its purpose is to help us gain stillness to be one with God. But when it is just to avoid boredom and instead engages in stimulating activities it is dangerous as it only fills our minds with greater distractions.
Now, leisure itself is good and useful to him who is unoccupied, since it produces quiet for the acquisition of salutary doctrines. But, the leisure of the Athenians was evil, 'who used to spend all their leisure telling or listening to something new.' (Acts 17.21) Even at the present time some imitate this, misusing the leisure of life for the discovery of some newer teaching. Such leisure is dear to unclean and wicked spirits. 'When the unclean spirit,' it is said, 'has gone out of a man, he says, "I will return to my house which I left." And when he has come, he finds the place unoccupied and swept.' (Matt 12.43, 44,) May it not be that we make our leisure a time for the adversary to enter, but let us occupy our house within, causing Christ to dwell in us beforehand through the Spirit. We can examine how we fill our leisure time. Is it used in a way that brings greater stillness? Or does it only increase our anxieties and further clutter our minds. Our television viewing should come to mind as an area to examine. Our reading matter should also be examined. Even our sporting activities can be distracting. How much time to we spend reading Scripture? How much time do we spend in prayer? How much time is the beauty of nature our focal point, contemplating the wonder of it all? How about our friends? Do they help lead us closer to God? Are there some that in their friendship and interactions are really enemies to your desire to become closer to God?
Saint Basil writes:
At all events, after giving peace to those who were up to this time troubled by the enemies, then he says, 'Have nothing to do with the enemies disturbing you, in order that in silence you may contemplate the words of truth.' For this reason also the Lord says: 'Everyone who does not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple.' (Luke 14.33) It is necessary... to be unoccupied with the pursuit of wealth, with the desire for this little glory, with the lust for pleasure, with envy and every form of wickedness against our neighbor, in order that, after our soul has found peace and is disturbed by no passion, the illumination of God, as if in a mirror, may become clear and unobscured. Seek stillness of your mind and then you will begin to have a rewarding prayer life. Orthodoxy is a way of life. How we live our life will determine how well we are able to become united with God, to become glorified and to be blessed with His grace.