Monday, July 13, 2009

Evagrius: Abmonition on Prayer - 2

Evagrius says:
"If you are thinking of adding to your labors, do not be in a hurry. Be patient. "
Think about what kind of hurries you introduce into your own prayer life. What are you thinking of adding into it. A new prayer? More time? Prostrations? Or just establishing a daily rule of prayer?

He continues,
"If the idea remains with you, urging you on to yearn for something more ambitious, you may know that this is to your advantage, and you can carry out your intention in confidence, for it is of God. But if the idea should come to you only once or twice, and not again, then you should consider it to be f o Satan who cunningly wants to hold you back. It is the same with all one's thoughts: as the Fathers have said, 'Do we not discern between them?'"
How do we discern what is the right path for our prayer life? What Evagrius is saying is that with patience we will see which of the ideas we have are true for us and which are attempts to distract us, to push us beyond our limits.

He continues:
"A person who embarks on this way of life needs to be both astute and simple, both wise and foolish, both cunning and guileless: in each case, the former with respect to anything good and the latter with respect to all that is bad. Let us be wise in keeping the good watch over our way of life..."
What is meant by being wise and foolish? Are not these opposites? Wise about what is good and foolish about what is bad? Maybe he is saying that if we are wise we will choose what is good and if we are foolish we will choose what is bad.

He says,
"Above everything else, choose for yourself humility. Set an example and foundation by means of all your good words. Bend down as you worship, let your speech be lowly, so that you may be loved by both God and other men and women."
The first characteristic he points out for us is humility. The way he asks us to demonstrate this is through our words by making them "lowly." Here he us suggesting to keep our way of speech in a way that does not puff ourselves up above others, does not make others feel inferior to ourselves. This is what he probably means by being lowly.

He continues with,
"Allow the spirit of God to dwell within you; then in his love he will come and make a habitation with you; he will reside in you and live in you."
Do you seen how is comes back to the idea of achievement he rejected in the beginning of his discourse? He puts the emphasis that it is God who resides within each of us, the Spirit, who will work from within. This "habitation" is what we should be seeing rather than any achievement in our prayer efforts.

He writes,
"If your heart is pure you will see him and he will sow in you the good seed of reflection upon his actions and wonder at his majesty. This will happen if you take the trouble to weed out from your soul the undergrowth of desire, along with the thorns and tares of bad habits.
(Mat 13:22, Mk 4:18, Lk 8:14)
Now to have the Spirit work from within we need a pure heart, he is telling us. And to gain this purity we need to deal with our desires. These are our bodily cravings that go beyond our needs as well as our social striving and desires for processions of all kinds. It's not what we desire that is bad but it's our attachment to our need for them that make our heart impure. The desires for lesser things overclouds our desire to be in communion with God. This desire become productive when it is focused on our desire for God. Unfortunately for most of us, thinking of my own experience, the desires end up as habits, patterns of behavior that are automatic like responses. The rooting out of them, as we all learn, is a most difficult task and among our greatest of our challenges. He is telling us that to attack these issue we must remain humble.

Humilty is about being Penitent
Evagrius continues:
"A sinner who begins to show concern over his soul and who becomes penitent is like a kitchen utensil which is full of filth and blackened; yet once washed and scrubbed it glistens. Again, he resembles a piece of charcoal that was dark-colored and cold, but when it is put in the fire it becomes host and glows. Or it is like gold or silver vessels which were badly discolored, but were then polished up. You could compare this to a corpse into which the soul is breathed, to a dead person who has come to life, to someone lost who has been found (cf Lk 15:6, 24), to a stray lamb that has returned, to a sick person who has recovered, to someone poverty-stricken who has become rich, to a person mourning who now rejoices, to someone starving who has got enough to eat, to a royal portrait that has been renovated, to a ruined house into which a king has entered and taken up residence after having restored it."
He is directing our attention to the need to be penitent. This means we show a concern about the condition of our soul. When penitent we no longer see ourselves as one who is capable of taking on any journey, but a as a traveler who is in need of assistance, in need of conditioning to undertake the spiritual journey our soul desires. This is the essence of the idea of humility he began with.

Finishing up the thought he writes,
"Have a love for penitence, then; put your neck under its yoke. Give pleasure to your Lord by changing from bad actions to good. Be reconciled (Lk 12:58) readily, while there is still time, while yo still have authority over your soul. Carry out whatever you are capable of doing, and then after it is all done reckon yourself as a useless servant, (Lk 17:10) for you have not been able to repay anything of what you owe...."

Remember that the Jesus prayer is not a mechanical devise like some kind of mantra, but is a prayer of one who is penitent. We say with deep feeling and sadness, "Lord have mercy on me a sinner."

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