Sometime back, I was asked about “being present.” The question was rooted in the problem of a “wandering mind.” My answer was simple and straight-forward: “You are always present. It comes with having a body.” We speak of the mind “wandering,” and it is a colorful metaphor, but it’s not true. The “mind” hasn’t gone anywhere else, it is simply thinking about something other than where your body is, or, it’s not “thinking” at all. Many times the noise in our head is just an artifact of other things, including our bodies.
If we define “thinking” as a rational, intentional act in which we attend to something (whether physical or mental), then we actually think far less than we imagine ourselves to. When we dream, we do not later imagine ourselves to have been “thinking.” Dreaming is an activity of the brain but it is not thinking. Over the course of the day, much of what goes through our head is closer to dreaming than thinking. There is the noise associated with various emotional reactions. A moment of surprise will occasion a line of “thoughts” [noise]. A moment of embarrassment will do the same. Sheer boredom invites the brain to engage with something – it abhors pure emptiness.
The very process of thought itself is never as simple as the rational, intentional event that we imagine it to be. How we think includes a host of activities. It involves memory, association, imagining, projecting – and many other things. We are not computers. Human thought and the work of a computer have very little in common (despite any hoopla to the contrary).
That said, it is good to recognize the signal importance of our bodies. We are always where our bodies are. This is the reason that the Church gives such attention to what we do with our bodies. St. Paul goes so far as to say that our bodies are Temples. We pray with the body (with bows, prostrations and the sign of the Cross); we fast with the body; all of the sacraments are received through the body. God became flesh, and was held on the Cross by His body. We continue to eat and drink His Body and Blood.
It is with all that in mind that I have said any number of times, “Ninety percent of Orthodoxy is just showing up.” There are important things that happen when we show up, but nothing can happen until we do. This is true of our worship in Church, our prayers at home, our alms to the poor. There are no intentions that replace the simple act of being there.
There are good reasons why we are sometimes not there, such as illness and the like.
We also tend to underestimate the value of simply being present. If I perceive no benefit to myself in assembling with others, we cannot begin to measure the value it very likely has to those around. I recall years when I was in the process of starting missions. In each case, twenty people could feel like a “crowd” (sometimes even fewer was great). In the vast array of temptations that face a priest, and others, few are as devastating as the suggestion that what is taking place “is not worth it.” The bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is always infinitely “worth” it. Nevertheless, we encourage one another with even our mere presence.
Learning to be “present” is generally no more difficult than learning to be mindful of our bodies. It is therefore of note that our services are as physical as they are. There is movement, the smell of incense, the sight of icons, the lighting and burning of candles and lamps. God has not abandoned us to bare walls of blank abstraction. The strange innovation in the West (both in certain strains of Medieval Catholicism as well as in many forms of later Protestantism) that stripped Churches of their beauty with the explanation that decoration is a distraction, is contrary to the much older tradition in which the display and veneration of icons is seen as an integral part of a prayer life.
When God gave commandments to Israel and told them to bind them to their arms and keep them before their eyes, He did not mean that they should merely keep them uppermost in their thoughts. They literally bound them on their arms and wore them on their foreheads. They set them in their doorposts. These were salutary practices – not superstitions. They are the practices of a people who understand that they were created as embodied people and not as abstractions.
I have a difficult time concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes. I have to back away and do something else and return to finish later. Writing a blog article, for example, is something that takes place in bursts of five or ten minutes off-and-on over the course of a day. Sometimes coming back to the project is painful. Anyone with ADHD will know what I’m describing. My prayers are no different. I pray best in a Liturgy because the activity is itself a prayer. I walk as a prayer. I cense as a prayer. I chant as a prayer. I cross myself and others as a prayer. Oddly, the Psalm says, “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” Sometimes I have to say (inwardly), “Let the incense be my prayer in Your sight, and the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice,” because my thoughts are uncontrollably all over the place. My experience is that such actions draw my mind towards God. Evagrius of Ponticus said, “If you want to humble the soul, humble the body.”
Whoever first imagined that sitting still in a pew and paying attention to something constituted worship was not only wrong, but the creator of torture as an effort towards worship. It was certainly not an idea wrought in the mind of a child. Only an ideologue could imagine such a thing – may the Lord deliver us!
I have one of my grandchildren in the congregation (three-years old). He is like his father who is like me. Out of the corner of my eye on a Sunday, I often see his father carrying him across the Church from one icon to the next. I know what he is doing. He is rightly indulging his son’s need for movement and teaching him to love the ones made present to us in their holy icons. As time moves along, he will acquire an ability to be still (well, a bit more). His father sat patiently through interminable services on Mt. Athos two years ago, which is far more than his father could do!
I delight that they show up – as well as everybody else. Ninety percent of the time, I try to be there as well.
Thanks for this blog. It encourages me because now I know I’m not alone. My mind wanders or just seems to go blank while standing and worshipping with the Church, but I love to be in the presence of God, His Saints ,and Angels. To be able to receive the Mystery of His Body and Blood is so wonderful. I’m thankful for His love even with my scatter brain thoughts.
Interestingly, ‘wandering’ and ‘delusion’ is the same word in Greek (“πλάνη”).
Paraphrasing some expressions from this insightful article, we could say that the ‘intentional act’ in which we attend to God (whether physical or mental), and which can be of countless concentration levels (depending on various factors), is typically opposed by forces ranging from mighty distractions to mere boredom. These invariably result in some (delusional) ‘wandering’ in the end.
In light of this, the bodily participation is a true God-send, especially when we remember that it includes both ‘moving’ as well as ‘staying still’ (bodily) –just showing up – – whether with our venerating stances, our been there, our bows, prostrations, the sign of the Cross, fasting, our looking inwards, our vigils, Holy Communion, etc. This is not (potentially) even disrupted by illness, as illness ‘humbles the soul, through humbling the body’ (and does this in a manner administered by God Himself rather than the man).
Thank you for the wonderful article and Dino for the reflection on wandering and participation.
It reminded me of one St. Thomas Sunday sermons where it was pointed out how the Gospel first said about Thomas that “he was not there” when the Apostles met. And how this is a lesson for us that the most important events in the life of the church happen in community. It is not possible to be a Christian alone, we cannot receive grace, joy, wisdom, help – and especially Faith – without others.
Good evening! Nice article…..I see that people do become too worried about their mind wandering during prayer. God knows what is in our heart first of all, and he also knows how to separate the truth from delusional or mind wanderings. It is our purity of intention that counts. If we are able to give God more undivided attention in our thoughts, words and actions, then He ultimately gave us the grace to do so.
Thank you, Father.
Father Stephen, great stuff! I listened to your recent podcast on the same subject and was really inspired. So many great insights and such a needed message, especially for our time when, as my friend Fr. John Bethancourt has said, our nous has moved from our heart, to our head, and then completely outside the body to our smart phone! 🙂 I believe St. Gregory Palamas called the heart “the body within the body.” So much of “Eastern Religion” and modern “spirituality” is about getting outside the body but Orthodoxy is really about getting back into the body (the nous back into the heart).
I do a retreat on the stages of temptation and speak a lot about thoughts and the difference between acting thinking and fantasy or logosmoi which is passive, not really thinking or reasoning. I had not connected the philosophy of Nominalism with all of this and want to look more into that.
For someone with ADHD, you’ve got some great thoughts! Thank you again!
So helpful and encouraging as always, Father Stephen.
I like to do the Jesus Prayer with a prayer rope when I take walks. I have recently discovered that when I say the prayer verbally, rather than just mentally, I do almost twice as many prayers during the length of my walk. I am not doing each individual prayer any faster, but apparently my mind wanders less when I say the prayer verbally. This discovery was actually quite surprising to me and shows just how valuable it is for us to use our bodies (in this case, it was my lips and vocal cords) as part of our prayer practice.
Thank you so much for these words. Discovering your writing a few years ago, along with a couple seminary classes, has heightened my awareness of how much more important the body is than I was led to believe. It is quite freeing, as I was always quite active, but never gave that part of my being credit, as it was not “spiritual,” but “just” physical. Oh, the pitfalls of dualism.
It is steadily being revealed to me how, as being made in God’s image, that in order to understand what it means to be human, it is necessary to accept the totality of the being we have been given.
To what degree does this kind of conceptualization enable a greater grasp of what ontology is all about? This word is one that seems to have crossed my radar at about the same time as these other revelations.
Thanks again, Father. I just want to say, I think you’re pretty awesome. I thank God for you and all he’s taught me through your efforts on His behalf. Thanks so much.
Lovely article. I think one of the many harmful fallacies promoted by Western culture, influencing both our spirituality and our mental health, is that we should be able to control our thoughts and feelings by sheer will. Inability to do this leads many to self-recrimination and thus more depression, anxiety and shame. To not be “in control” is the ultimate failure, according to this mindset.
While I respect the contributions made by Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) – and I know you like it, Father Stephen – I think it is overly simplistic to think that I can simply change my thoughts to more rational ones and then I will feel better. Of course, a good CBT therapist will go deeper than this but, as you wrote, much of our mental activity is not voluntarily chosen. Our minds have minds of their own, so to speak.
But, if I learn to accept this, i.e. that I am not in control, I am free to be led by God. I may not be comfortable, especially at first, but that is not the point. The point is that I cannot think my way into Heaven anymore than I can think my way into feeling better, physically or emotionally. And I need to let go of believing that I can.
While I often cannot choose my thoughts or feelings, I more often able to choose what my body does, especially if the expectation is not too high. I feel tired, dull, unmotivated, etc. and I ask God what I can do. He seems to tell me, “Start by getting out of your chair.” I may not want to but usually I can muster that much. 🙂
Often I am surprised, despite experiencing it many times, at how much a simple physical action like this can alter how I experience myself. It starts a chain reaction where I may walk into another room, something catches my interest and, the next thing I know, I no longer feel tired and dull. A small example – but an important part of “showing up”, even if my thoughts/feelings don’t change.
Like Esmee, I find a prayer rope a great help in this. I try to always have one in my pocket. I’m feeling impatient or annoyed – my hand goes into my pocket. A very physical response that says I’m choosing prayer, even though I may not FEEL prayerful. I also like to make prayer ropes (in abundance) and can often convince myself to start one when I don’t feel like doing anything. My hands get busy and I automatically start saying the Prayer. How I feel may or may not change but I have “shown up” to God’s presence by convincing my body to act prayerfully.
My body can be a great teacher of my mind and my spirit, if only I allow it the dignity of its role. Sometimes the last thing I need to do is ponder and analyze. Analysis paralysis, they call it. When my body shows up, whether to Liturgy or any other worthy activity, it takes the rest of me with it, despite the kicking and screaming of my tired and lazy self.
God loves such little acts of will. Thus grace often follows them.
Praise Him for the gifts of body, mind and spirit, a small “trinity” that leads us to true Trinity. Joy beyond all joy…
There are some strains of thought that I thought I had reconciled. However articles such as this challenge me in coming to terms with those strains. Specifically, the longer I live, and the more I expose myself to certain ideas, the more blurred the distinctions become between “the physical” and “the other”, whatever we choose to call it.
I’ve stated before that I believe God to be the ultimate “Other”, indescribable, incomprehensible, and yet immediate, and personal. Physicality actually seems ephemeral at times as I lose myself in contemplation of that “Other”.
The danger here, and I realize this danger, is that the “other” is far more than just God. The Fathers talked about wrestling physically with the demons brought on by their passions.
So I read a post like this and pause. Yes, we can get bound up in our petty distractions and lose track of the physicality of the here and now, yet isn’t a preoccupation with the here and now, and the denial of a world much greater, part of the ground from which nominalism grew? How do we make sense of an event that occurred more than 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem, if we deny the intermingled world of the one story universe?
Perhaps this is one of those things that qualifies as a Mystery…
Any light appreciated.
Christ Is Risen!
As I read this blog, I am also reading a book on women with ADHD. (Im sure it’s not a coincidence). I know that this is something that I have. There are various aspects of it that I struggle with. I have always known that I think out of the box, but have a hard time moving in a direction that I allows me to complete projects and such. These challenges, can make a women feel really bad, sometimes painfully so.
I appreciate the showing up title of this article. That’s all I can do at times. With ADHD, I think there is so much energy that passes through and around me constantly. Trying to pray the Jesus Prayer is not easy. I wonder if part of my wandering is an open invitation to temptation.
This article is balm to my soul. I often feel guilty about my wandering mind, whether in Liturgy or in my personal prayer time. Thank you.
Christ Is Risen!
Matthew, I tend to push back a lot against the idea of the “present”, as do others, so you are not alone. There is something Orthodox in it, sure, but I feel that most of what we hear these days (not so much here on GTGFAT but elsewhere) has more to do with the spirit of the times than any hard-won theological insight. As for nominalism, I think that is a different issue; one can be a nominalist in the field of history just as easily as someone focused on the “present”. Changing the scope of the problem does not address the problem itself, which is not so much what we see but *how* we see and from what vantage point. Or, in the words of Our Savior, “Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him…What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.” (Mark 7.18b, 20 (NKJV)). The solution to both of these problems is found in Christ’s statement that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17.21b (NKJV)). Our continued motion outward—whether to the “present” or the latest, greatest theological system or anywhere else—leads to an inward death. Paradoxically, it is the motion inward—coupled with death to all that lies outside that inner Kingdom—which brings us to True Life. Within The Kingdom, all time and space are manifest. And within The Kingdom, within our union with Christ [which He accomplished through His Incarnation, Life, Death, And Resurrection], we see not just Him but *by* Him and *through* Him, which is the only real way out of nominalism (nominalism being, in the way we’re referring to it, merely a manifestation of egoism and pride, in a very deep way).
Thank you father for making us not feel guilty for our wandering thoughts!
Very recently I heard a close relative of mine describing how he ‘saw’ the guardian angel of a diseased during the funeral service, as well as his OWN guardian angel standing next to him and three others during the same service.. What he described made me realize that we may be able to concentrate our minds better, IF we see with our mind’s eye our guardian angel standing in awe next to us in Church. Because this is what he does!The angels he saw, not only were as bright and beautiful as nothing else we have seen in this world, but also very humble in their bowed heads and hands clasped in front of the body. If we imagine that our guardian angel stands next to us in this way, it is a little unlikely that we will let our mind wonder away from the present and from prayer for a long time. After all, we can ask him to help us pray and concentrate our minds. I found that it works, for the time being… I hope this helps others too…
Joseph and Matthew,
Please note, I have said nothing about the need for “being present,” particularly in the sense meant in current culture. My observation was and is that you cannot help but be present, because you are a body that is always present in space and time. That the mind “wanders” is a metaphor, not a description of being somewhere else.
As to Matthew’s observations – this verse comes to mind:
It was not a fascination with physicality that brought on nominalism – so much as a fascination with the mind, per se. It ultimately locates the world in our thoughts (the “names” “nomina”). I don’t entirely know what to make of contemplation of the “Other.” There are healthy forms of “theoria” that are proper and good, and there are unhealthy forms in which we are only engaging in imagination. We are not taught to have communion with what we imagine.
We are taught, rather, to have communion with God – Who comes to us. We do not have to ascend to Him or descend to Him. We eat and drink Him. He comes to us. And then there’s the test – given to us in the parable of the judgment. Jesus doesn’t seem to place a lot of value on what we think or thought. Rather, it’s much closer to what we did with our bodies – did we feed, clothe, visit, etc., Jesus embodied in others. The “Other” that we seek is found above all in the other standing physically next to me. Love – laying down our life for others – is the measure.
St. Silouan taught that we only know God to the extent that we love our enemies. The One-Storey Universe is just that. The Larger world is found in the smaller. It is not the “mind’s eye” that matters – it’s the one in your face. We want to meet God face-to-face, not mind-to-mind.
From one wandering mind to another, thank you, Father. This encourages me.
Christ is risen!
Joseph and Matthew,
(Father please delete if this isn’t helpful.)
Your exchange brought to mind a philosopher I read this year, Martin Buber. One of the distilled points in his (very meaty) work is that we have two kinds of relationships with the Other: I-It and I-Thou. I-It is a relationship of observation and experience; I-Thou is a relationship of beholding and participation. In our analytic, nominalist culture, it’s SO easy to get stuck in the former– with my neighbors, with God, even with the very rocks and trees. And we can get stuck there even with the effort and intention of aiming for an I-Thou encounter. 🙂
We don’t really have much of an existence unless we are able to have an I-Thou encounter with God and with others. And I think part of what Fr. Stephen’s article here means is that “just showing up” and being available to that encounter is a more spiritually significant movement than thinking our way through a convoluted understanding of whatever model we’re trying to use at the time (that’s all I-It relating).
This article is so appropriate at this point of our church calendar, (the pentacostadion) Christ is Risen! The point Father makes is that Christ is always in our midst, whether or not we realize it or think about it, this is the reminder I need.
I understand and always appreciate what you say regarding God not seeming to place a lot of ‘value on what we think or thought’. Of course, this is understood as compared to the truth that He rather cares about ‘what we do with our bodies – did we feed, clothe, visit, etc., Jesus embodied in others’. Indeed, “we only know God to the extent that we love our enemies”. It is in this sense that the most tangible proof of the first commandment [love of God] is the second [love of neighbour]. At the same time, I think it might be worth clarifying that it also holds true that ‘our thoughts do determine our lives’: of course, in the sense of ontologically (rather than at a moralistic surface) guiding everything, including our bodily behaviour. Keeping all this in mind, I think we can say that while it’s ‘not the “mind’s eye” [as human imagination or reasoning] that matters – it’s the one in our face.’ But the mind’s eye however [understood as our “turning towards”, or “remembering”, or our attentional draw towards the Creator and His will – or alternatively away from Him] certainly matters when understood as this, i.e.: the most central part of our being, the one that despite the numerous unconscious effects it is subjected to, often preserves a certain rational volition, for which we retain a certain responsibility and culpability. Couldn’t we say that?
It is certain that we can say that. However, given that we are so completely tied up in our thoughts, as soon as you say it, people rush to think, “Oh yes, that is the actual important thing.” It is only in a very nuanced sense that we can say our thoughts determine our lives. In the tradition, however, there is no calming of our thoughts without first joining them to the body and calming them there. If we spend time in our thoughts we will spend most of our time chasing wind, and never catch it. “The soul follows the body.” It is this that we have forgotten above all else…at least in our modern culture.
Makes sense indeed…!
Thank you for this reply, Father. I have been a little uneasy concerning “our thoughts determine our lives”; it is a little too close to Descartes’, ” I think, therefore I am”.
I much like, “our soul follows the body” and I believe you have pointed out in the past that the Fathers pretty much considered the soul as “the life of the body”. It is dangerous to compartmentalize when we are, in fact, dealing with a whole. Just my thoughts.
When I saw the title of this article – “90% of Orthodoxy is just SHOWING UP” – I initially thought the good Father might be commenting on the frequent tardiness of ‘the faithful’ at liturgies or – possibly – even the ‘renaissance’ which seems to be challenging some ‘cradle Orthodox’ to a renewed appreciation of their faith.
One of my favorite quotations (what are now called ‘memes’?) has been:
“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most!”
So maybe – in the light of this article – it wasn’t such a great loss after all!
Thank-You for the responses regarding my questions on the “showing up”, vs whatever else we are talking about here.
As I was thinking about it today, it occurred to me that even the saints who fought the physical demons brought on by their passions, dealt with those demons in very physical ways – prayer, fasting, silence, rebuke, penitence, all very physical activities. When Christ, and the Saints have raised bodies, they uttered physical words, and a physical body was raised. Demons are cast out by a rebuke.
When I started going to services, I had to go to English services, and I had to be able to follow along to a text. Why? Because I found that by concentrating on what I heard, and on what I was seeing, my mind wandered less, and I was better able to focus on what was being said.
And lastly, dare I say it? Faith without works is dead.
So, In a practical sense, I think I have found my answer. I approach God with actions, and I fight demons with actions. I am defined by my actions.
Thank-You for the thoughtful comments.
I might also add that, for me at least, thinking about the Essence vs the Energies of God helped me work through this. We cannot know God except through his Energies. His Essence will always remain a mystery.
But the creation, the work on the Cross, all of it. Energies – the work of God. Physical activities that God engaged in to interact with his creation. As embodied creatures, we engage, and are best engaged through the physical.
Thank-You for your patience with my struggles.
Dear Father Stephen:
Like always, many thanks for your writings. They are a very helpful blessing.
I came into Orthodoxy in the winter of my life. I wish I could had seen the light sooner but that goes true for many things. I often have the opposite problem of wandering thoughts; that is, concentrating too much in some particular problem to the point of feeling sort of angry if somebody interrupts me.
Following your train of ideas, I would say that 90 percent of “living a life” is just showing up. I do not not know if it is right or wrong but I always considered that our actions and the consequences of our actions determine our lives and not our thoughts or desires. They may be related but not always. Early on, my father stern but loving discipline followed by some military training in my youth stamped in my soul and body the sense of doing your duty no matter the circumstances. In that sense, the likes of our mind and our duties for our actions rarely superimpose.
I will never forget a remark of a Russian colleague Prof. Leonid Ponomarev about the need for people to meet in person and not through conference calls. It is slightly inappropriate but here it is: you can talk love over the phone but to make it, you need to do it in person.
thinking about the Essence vs the Energies of God helped me work through this. …the work on the Cross, all of it. Energies – the work of God. Physical activities that God engaged in to interact with his creation. As embodied creatures, we engage, and are best engaged through the physical.
Matthew, a very helpful observation. Well stated.
Then what of hesychasm, which does not appear to involve any movement at all?
David Waite – one still has to show up in their Hesychastic corner so-to-speak, sitting in chair, using a prayer rope, repeating the prayer, perhaps lighting a candle and burning incense, In a lecture given by Fr. Maximos Constas, he said non-monastics often mistakenly think that a life of just praying is easy, “but,” he said, “try sitting in your cell for four hours straight practicing the Jesus Prayer and tell me how easy it is,” Lol 😂.
My condolences to you and all Orthodox (but Greeks especially) on the repose of Elder Aimilianos this morning.
May God grant him triumphant entrance into His Heavenly Mansions, where a special place is prepared for him among all the Saints.
Thank you for sharing with us his words of wisdom and deep theology, I am most grateful for you doing it here on the blog.
Orthodoxy has long attracted me with its holiness mixed with a certain sense of ease, of being “at home.” Countless evening services we must watch where we step as little ones are asleep on a mat or blanket. This has to be a blessing for young families especially moms. I have never felt strange in a liturgy. I guess because God and the saints welcome my presence there. Yes, Father, our presence does affect ones around us. When others do not “show up” I know that I miss their presence. Each one there, present, strikes a different chord in my heart.
I can’t pray for a minute. I can’t imagine praying for four hours. How beautiful that would be.
St Paisios of Mt Athos says that anyone who would be a good family man would be a good monk. The key is being willing to work really hard.
I have to remember that when monastery life sounds like a great alternative to being a mom of six little kids. If I am not content to pray where I am, I will never be content…
Agata et al,
The Holy Elder’s repose, to all those how have gleaned a little into what God made of him, was nothing other than a handover from the temporal to the eternal: the Heavens welcoming a new and outstandingly magnificent light, a light from that First ‘Light which is never overtaken by night’ as we sing in the night of the Resurrection. Those how knew him (including some canonised saints) speak of an outstanding purity, an otherworldly freedom, an august majesty, a rare ‘internal orderliness’, valiant fearlessness and loving discernment. One does not need to have met him though to suspect all this, as a mere dive into his teachings is enough to realise that there’s something exceedingly special going on there.
Mystical and sacramental truths are not seen so much with the physical eyes but perceived by the noetic ones.
Unsatisfied and unconvinced by this temporal life, the seeker of Heaven of such stature, whose motives are genuine and pure, soon becomes internally liberated in his singular surge towards the only One Who truly exists. (This can only be a healthy surge when done in the spiritual basis of trusting, joyous, courageous humility.)
The closer one comes to “betting everything they have” (in utter, yet absolutely responsible, freedom) in this divine ‘game’, the more they become “caught up into paradise, hearing unspeakable words, which are not lawful for a man to utter”. And the more that the Glorious Light illuminates the person who struggles to seize Heaven as the holy Elder Aimilianos did, the more his shameful darkness becomes discernible to him. He comprehends that man’s entire ‘nature’, not as it came out of God’s hands, but in the wounded form that it is experienced, (since stretching out to grab the forbidden fruit), is worse than a nothingness buried in unfathomable darkness; and yet, returning to God in earnest, man can truly be god – it is the most natural yet forgotten thing for him!
Such a person then deciphers this life as nothing but a bridge that takes you to the ‘other side’, where you forever gaze inside the loving eyes of God. The most visible proof of the genuineness of all this, is the love of all others, [the love of neighbour], no matter how they see us, an unlimited respect of their freedom, no matter how sinful or hurtful to us this might be.
That was positively beautiful, Dino!
MamaV – Fr. Maximos Constas said that Archimandrite Aimilianos encouraged all of his monks to practice the Jesus Prayer for four hours (in the middle of the night) prior to receiving Holy Communion. I can only imagine the transformative nature of such a practice!
The newly translated (by Fr. Maximos) volume of Archimandrite Aimilianos’s talks – titled The Mystical Marriage – on Saint Maximos the Confessor’s book Chapters on Love, previously mentioned by Agata in the comments of an earlier blog post, is truly outstanding. I highly recommend it.
Then what of hesychasm, which does not appear to involve any movement at all?
I read this and immediately pictured the end of Fight Club where the onlookers see the main character fighting himself…. 😀
Hesychasm is probably the ultimate “showing up.” Being still requires that you be there. Above all, it is a stillness of the passions. For some, such stillness is best performed in motion.
In a recent YouTube interview, Heiromonk Seraphim (Aldea) encourages us to try different forms of prayer until we find what works for us. He said he knows monks who can only pray while walking in the forest.
“When others do not “show up” I know that I miss their presence. Each one there, present, strikes a different chord in my heart.”
Beautiful. I too feel this, especially in church services. I miss those who are not there.
Thank you Father,
as you say -your words stop the state of dream and include the mind trying to grasp the spiritual fullness on the edges of its present potential in mind and heart together.
Only by being present we maybe realize that God has never left, but we have. At one particular,special moment, we may realize his Being here for each one of us in a special way that we mutually with Him and as a person realize. That is maybe the exact full sense of Orthodoxy, all of a sudden: your confession, Eucharist and the Presence of your Spiritual Father mark your being present – facing Christ, Who has never left.
You touch on a most important aspect of the spiritual struggle: to demand of ourselves and not of God.. When we ourselves are being truly “present” (to God) “we realize that God has never left”. It is us who leave and us who demand of God to come back when He himself hasn’t left (but it is we ourselves that have returned to our own ego and lost everything).
Any “special moment” when we realize his Being here for each one of us (i.e.: when it is given to us to comprehend this in great strength), comes when we already have in place this ‘groundwork’ (i.e.: of us being here for Him, through continually renewing and cementing our spiritual watchfulness).
This was a continuous counsel of the recently departed Holy Elder Aimilianos. He would remind us that God’s invisibility is our protection, our safety, the prerequisite for cultivating our spiritual senses; thanks to it we learn to see the invisible God as visible and see-able.
The quintessence of such watchfulness, however, is “not my will, but thine, be done”.
Expressing in a way an end of a journey that lasts in continuation-
“The quintessence of such watchfulness, however, is “not my will, but thine, be done”.
– again a practical prove that everything starts with the First and the Greatest Commandment:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
So, that is why He is our Alpha and Omega, the Begining and the End,always Being here patiently Waiting.
In the culture of conformism, maybe the dying self you mentioned will be best explained by- taking a risk of being out of the comfort zone, a jump into emptiness as unknown, again given in Christ’s words:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Father Stephen,… the other 10 percent for full Life in Christ, as the number itself marks the begining and end, maybe are in this?☺️
And, Dino, thank you for your simple and honest contemplation which takes what I was thinking to the limit of giving yourself to Christ,giving God what is already His, as an utmost transcedence or ecstasy of living life in Fullness when the words so sweetly melt into Silence, just because, simply-
His Loving you and your loving Him back, brought you Face to face in a joyful Presence.
Remembering actively to be thankful (to God) for everything, could be seen as ‘showing up’ (in whatever situation we are in); above all though (considering we are brought into being not for temporality away from God but for eternity in union with Him) being thankful for death and illness (understood as the 2 strongest signifiers of this calling towards an eternity with the Lord).
“Let us attend” is what comes to mind for me. Standing, waiting, listening, all are physical, real, done with the m’odh, the whole person. The psalm “wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord” seems to have a deep relationship with the Paschal vigil at the end of Holy Saturday. Thank you, Fr Stephen, for your writing.
I don’t remember how long ago it was that I first discovered your blog, but reading and following it these four (or more) years has been immensely helpful and encouraging to me in my spiritual journey. Thank you, Father, for sharing with all of us! And thanks to the other blog followers out there who regularly post such thoughtful and encouraging comments. This is the first time I’ve been moved to post a comment here.
It was almost exactly six years ago that my husband and I were baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church (ex Methodists, then Charismatics, then Nondenominational Evangelicals). Two years after that, our daughter (22 at the time–she has suffered from bipolar disorder since age 13) was also received into our small OCA parish church. Drawing nearer to Christ by learning how to pray, by fellowshipping and serving in our parish community, by receiving wise counsel from our priest and by frequent participation in the sacraments (Oh, what precious, life-sustaining gifts!) have served as our lifeline, just as if God had physically thrown each of us a life preserver with, “The Church is Your Salvation”, boldly emblazoned on it!
I have often marveled at the myriad ways that the Lord has deeply ministered to me (unexpectedly) when I’ve practiced the discipline of “just showing up”. Whether it be forcing myself to light a candle and stand silently in front of our icons at home (while apologizing to God because my scattered, swirling anxious thoughts and frustrated attitude keep me from concentrating–I also have ADHD :)) or whether it be standing in the choir with hurting feet and a less than “spiritual” attitude, wishing I could just go sit down, but then suddenly receiving a divine gift of grace enabling me to actually “Lay aside all earthly cares.”.
I am finally learning that matter really does matter; that the only way we humans could have been saved was for Christ to become a man (matter), as we are matter. I am convinced that for us, His church, to be His Body and to be able to function as His Body in the world, we must fearfully and lovingly consume His Body and Blood on a regular basis. The only way to do this is to “show up” where and when it is being offered.
I’ve come to believe that , mysteriously, the Eucharist is the glue that binds us together and transforms us into the Body of Christ. I have a feeling that there is so much more to this than I can even begin to understand: And, if we all are receiving Him in our bodies, then how can we not receive each other as “fearfully and lovingly” as we receive Him? I fail miserably in this area on a regular basis and I am ashamed of myself. Please forgive my ramblings…
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Thanks for your precious thoughts…God is so good in giving us His body, the Church.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers! I’m sure that I am a Christian today because of my mother’s and my wife’s prayers.
I have a similar background and a special needs daughter who was baptized at 18 last August in our Orthodox parish. I have been Orthodox for just over twelve years. Your experience mirrors my own in so many ways. Thank you for sharing!
(Happy Mother’s Day!)
Thanks for the Mother’s Day wishes–and a Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to you too! I’m always glad to hear from another “mom from the trenches”, so to speak 🙂
Blessings to you and your daughter.
Yes, God is good! And thank you for the nice Mother’s Day sentiments.
Blessings to you too 🙂
I wish there was a difference in most parishes between showing up and being present. The Church in the US has suffered with that attitude. People are used to services in languages no one knowa, done incompletely, chopped up and incomprehensibly celebrated. These are the product of a “showing up” way of thinking. If even 10% of services were done in a way that showed someone actually respected the brains of the laity it would be 90% different. That should motivate our clergy, let’s see if it does. I fear the showing up is all that is important to most of them. This gets taught in seminary for some reason, it shouldn’t be celebrated.
I believe I understand your intent, but I would like to suggest another possible thought for consideration.
So long as the bulk of the Liturgy is practiced and delivered in a language that is understood and conducted according to Tradition, by ‘showing up’ we are being immersed in the Liturgical life environment. Forgive me for adding these additional ideas, but showing up also means showing up on time, being responsible and respectful toward that end.
Last, showing up consistently builds upon tacit knowledge. This is particularly important for inquirers and catechumens. Such experience can’t easily be formalized. And if it were so formalized, it might be putting an obstacle in the way of the ‘lived’ experience.
These are just my thoughts. I am a relatively recent convert and the way that the Liturgy is practiced in my parish, varies in small ways from other local parishes. And yet, for a convert, it is a welcoming smile in another parishioner and being there in the presence of God, that provides a huge impact.
You have distorted the intention of the article and turned it into a theme for your complaint – a disservice to the article, regardless of whether your complaint has merit. There are many faults and failings of Orthodox practice in America and elsewhere in the world. You have an experience of the Church that does not match mine. I’m in the OCA – our services are always in English. My diocese is thriving with growth, children bursting at the seams, and with enthusiasm and commitment that could be measured in many ways. These are also sinners whose lives are in need of mercy.
“Showing up” (particularly in the article) means much more than being physically present – it means being truly present and the struggle it represents. Frankly, the internet is replete with complaints and the beating of horses viz. Orthodox failings. I’m not interested in being part of that chorus – it serves no purpose in the Kingdom of God.
God is at work in His Church just as He has been since its beginning. He was at work in its worst of times as fully as He was in its best of times (however such things are measured). The Church is not an organization to be managed (or aided by cries for better management!). Where it flourishes, may God be praised. Where it fails, may God be praised. The good God is always tending His vine, including pruning that which does not bear fruit. Dead branches are thrown into the fire.
I would appreciate my article not being cited as an example of celebrating dead branches. That would be an ironic misreading.
As an added note: Within Orthodoxy across the world, there is a “crisis of Hellenism,” something too complex to describe in a short manner. It is, at the very least, a continuing ripple on the surface of the pool set in motion by the many outrages of the Ottoman yoke and its aftermath (and likely aided by the many crises of the late Byzantine Empire as well). I understand it only a little, and can only observe it from the outside. I cannot understand it – my world is bound up in the sins of my own English/American heritage – fraught with its own sins.
There are other crises. I suggest reading my article, The Church is the Cross Through History. It suggests a different way of thinking about these problems.
Orthodoxy is always troubling when compared with the excellence of the various modern “churches.” They are sleek, new inventions, with so little history that nothing from the past need bother them. Orthodoxy labors under the burden of 2000 years. The Cross grows heavier through time.
If even 10% of services were done in a way that showed someone actually respected the brains of the laity it would be 90% different.
This is very surprising to me and I’m not even sure what “respect[ing] the brains of the laity” would look like to you.
I remember being the lone person, outside of our small choir and priest, at a Vespers service one night. Father came out and spoke to me, roughly as follows: “It is the work of the Priest to offer the bloodless sacrifice, the work of the choir to sing Psalms and praise God, and the work of the laity–in this case tonight, only you–to pray for us all.” I don’t see that work within the Liturgy as a lack of respect; we actively take part in every service in a very important manner. These things are all part of the whole.
I go to many week day services at my Church where there is only myself and perhaps one or two others in attendance (out of @200 members who attend on any given Sunday) simply because most of our parishioners have busy lives and many responsibilities that I do not. My priests regularly remind us that the Church is always filled to overflowing with Angels and when I am able to be truly present, I can actually feel the presence of these heavenly beings celebrating and praying with us.
To me “showing up” means being there reaching for God despite my pain, wandering mind and the burden of my sins and others. It also means trusting the others there to help bear my burdens as I bear theirs.
On one my first Theophanys in the Church, my late wife was the chanter so we got there a bit early and were the first parishoners in the temple. Yet, the place felt packed with the angelic presence. Yet still, it was equally clear that our presence was welcome and required.
So, no matter the short comings of myself and others I always try to remember that I am a guest in the Lord’s place and am there only because He summoned me. I assume that is the case with everyone else.
Interestingly enough I have learned the most about the faith from people who I do not particularly care for, at least initially. When I first started reading this blog, there were parts of what Fr. Stephen said that had me gnashing my teeth in disagreement. But I kept showing up anyway. Even after ending a session shaking my head vowing not to return.
We are all sinners in need of grace. The Church is the font of Grace, the Living Water. It is a mark of the reality of that Grace that so many of the halt, the maimed and the lame gather here. I am surely the least of these.
Come Lord Jesus.
I’ve got twenty bucks that says that our friend bob never read the article.
This article immediately caught my eye! Your words are the very same words I share with nearly everyone – that Orthodoxy doesn’t “require” you “To Do” – that you only need to show up with an open mind & heart. God, thru the Holy Spirit, will do the work in you. Raised as a Protestant (Baptist), i always felt such a deep emptiness & searched during my young adulthood for something to fill this hunger for deeper meaning, value & permanence. I had married an Orthodox Christian, but did not immediately convert. Early on, during a trip to Crete-Greece, we visited the site of St Titus. I was humbled and felt a sense of wonder at the historical reality of it all. I sought guidance from a local priest and nearly half a century later, my chrismation into the Orthodox faith is still a gift of “Life”. Thank you. +++