Saturday, May 26, 2012

Overcoming The Guilt Trip (Discovering Hesychia)

     For some of us there are times in our spiritual life that we struggle. We become filled with constant frustration and sometimes great guilt. It is as if we never have the time to give to God as we should. In our hearts we sense a longing for solitude but it remains a dream that will never be realized. In all of this we fail to understand the call of the Lord when he said," Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matt.11:28)".For there is no distance between us and the presence of God other then what we create for ourselves. We need to overcome our misplaced guilt and see that our God wants us to encounter him in every moment.
     A friend of mine, The Master Beadsman, recently wrote about the difference between Solitude and Hesychia (stillness). I think in understanding the relationship of these concepts we will begin to overcome  the guilt that we sometimes have. When it comes to Solitude I think it's obvious that in such an atmosphere we are at our best to focus our affections on God. Just as in the case with any human being we assume that deep levels of intimacy are not really possible without Solitude. On the other hand, Solitude is not a requirement for having a deep relationship with God and this is where we find the difference in the meaning of Hesychia. What makes Hesychia stand out in terms of Solitude is that it is more of a liberation for experiencing God in the moment. By practicing godly Hesychia a person can learn to grow deeper in their relationship with God at any time, place, or circumstance.
     It might be proper now to understand the role of Solitude in this matter. Even though Solitude is not required for a deep relationship with God it is one the greatest gifts that we can give God. It is even vital for us to seek God in the opportunities that allow us Solitude for in them we can achieve greater depths of Hesychia. It is only in the vast depths of holy Hesychia that many spiritual riches are released in the Church. This is why our monastics are so precious to us and are referred to as the treasure of the Church. Based on this, to understand our Byzantine tradition properly would make us to all be monastics but at different levels of participation. For its in the pursuit of stillness (Hesychasm) that leads us more and more to a constant state of Solitude.
     So far I really have not given a clear definition of what Hesychia (stillness) means. In its proper understating it’s a way of life where we achieve freedom from all that is not of God (known as the passions). There are mainly two types of Hesychia that of body and mind. In fact, some of the fathers of our Byzantine tradition have developed vast systems to help lead a person into stillness, which is called Hesychasm. Through Hesychasm we learn to discipline the body and the mind in order for the whole person to encounter God. This effort to discipline our body and mind is ongoing and can be practiced at various depths, and in any activity we find ourselves in.
     Without going into details about our well known prayer traditions the most down to earth definition of Hesychasm that I believe I could give is "what would Jesus do?".However, this is not to be taken in a moralistic sense. When doing activities we do them in a way that we exercise faith that God is working through us in them making us what He is by grace (Theosis). For example, if I'm doing dishes I do not let my mind wander(Hesychia of mind) but I pay attention to what I'm doing in the Lord. Also, I yield my bodily members(Hesychia of body) avoiding sloth knowing that my hands belong to Christ. The activity then becomes a means to find Hesychia. This of course is very simplistic but It was Evagrios Pontikos in the Philokalia that said,” Be like an asture business man: make stillness (Hesychia)your criterion for testing value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it (v1 pg 33).Based on this saying there should be no moment in our life that cannot contribute to Hesychasm.
     When it comes to the practice of Hesychasm it's important to recognize that we are the main source for encountering God and not our environment. In the Philokalia we find many testimonies of this truth. For instance, St. Mark the Ascetic taught that through the sacrament of baptism we receive “mystically the fullness of grace”.St. Mark in the same sentence also said that we only become aware of this gift of God “to the extent that he actively observes the commandments. (Philokalia 1, pg.133)”. According to St. Mark everything of God is within us but it's up to us to bring it out and this is what the practice of Hesychasm seeks to do.There really is nothing that separates us from God because he is fully hidden within us or as the fathers say "hidden in the heart". It is up to us to discover this awesome gift of His love.
     Everything of God is within us thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The feelings of frustration and guilt that we often create is more or less our failure to realize the gift of God that we have within us. Thanks to the teachings from our tradition of Hesychasm we can learn to find God in every moment. The Lord himself said in the psalms, "Be still, and know that I am God (46:10)".He is waiting to enter into every aspect of our life but we must be willing to struggle against all that is not of him (the passions). It takes great effort and trust but we have many assurances that God is faithful and has no plans to abandon us (Phil. 1:6)

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