Sunday, October 18, 2009

Returning to God - Thoughts from His LIfe is Mine

One of the things I had to come to terms with in my spiritual journey was to understand why there was so much suffering in life.  Why did God make it so difficult.  In the beginning I was willing to put this burden on God.  Eventually I came to see it differently.  Here is how it now makes sense to me.

In the beginning we were created in the image of God and endowed with a free will.  This gave us the capability to love God as He loves us.  It also eliminated the possibility of predestination as we can use this free will with full liberty.  We can choose to go against what God asks of us like Adam and Eve.  But there is a catch.  With this freedom we have there are consequences of our actions.  We all are made to seek perfection by striving to become like the image of God we have been created with.  In our efforts to grow in this way, we collectively make imperfect choices and experience suffering and pain.  In this is a creative turmoil. But this is precisely what leads to our further growth.  In our suffering we come to know our limitations, imperfections and need for renewal and transformation.  Often, out of fear,  we seek to avoid all pain and the reality of death. This serves to draw us into contemplation about the meaning of life and the purpose of our struggle.  It is in this struggle that we grow.  As we grow we learn to accept the difficulties that come our way as further opportunities for our growth.  We become thankful and each new encounter leads us closer to God.

Archimandrite Sophrony puts it this way,
We Christians accept the wondrous gift of life with thanksgiving.  Called by Christ, we strive for the fullest possible knowledge of the Primary source of all that exists.  From our birth onwards we gradually grow and enter into possession of being.  Christ is for us "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  With Him our path lies through a great and intricate spiritual culture: we traverse cosmic chasms, more often with much suffering but not seldom win rapture as understanding increases.  For a while the growing process is bound up with our physical body; but the time soon comes when, liberated from terrestrial chains, mind and spirit can continue their progress towards the Heavenly Father.  We know  that He loves us and because of this love reveals Himself to us without limit.  It may still be only partly, but we know that in Him is our immortality; in Him we shall arrive at everlasting Truth.  He will grant us with indescribably joy of sharing in the very Act of the Divine creation of the world.  We hunger for complete unity in Him.  He is Light, Beauty, Wisdom, Love.  He gives the noblest meaning to our life and the bliss of boundless gnosis.
Archimandrite Sophrony, His Life is Mine, p 35 
Yes, we need to learn to be thankful for whatever difficulty we are called to face, as it will lead us to an inward peace and union with Christ our God. The reward is as Archimandrite says, "He reals Himself to us without limit." and "He will grant us with indescribably joy of sharing in the very Act of the divine creation." This then gives us the meaning we seek out of life.

The reality of life is that as we humble ourselves, accept our weakness, and recognize our self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit makes its home in us and we come to know Christ with certainty and have no lingering doubts about our eternal life with Him. The Gospel is transformed from a book into a clear description of the true love of God for us.  As we walk this path, we learn that we must deal with our sinfulness.

In my case this took many years.  I led a life for over forty years without having any realization that I was living in sin.  I was successful in my career, had a loving wife and healthy kids.  I was in control and everything was going my way.  Eventually, the reality of death and a persistent conscience began to have an impact.  I began to feel the pressure on my job and wondering about the purpose of this hectic way of life.  I began to search for the truth.  This eventually led to a thirst to be become part of God's Kingdom, but the path was one with many detours.  It wasn't until I learned how to pray that I began to make any progress in this search for true peace.  The truth I found was that it is only through an inner process of searching, involving contemplation, prayer, fasting and regular participation in the sacraments of the Church, that the Holy Spirit becomes active within and makes its home within us.

Archimandrite Sophrony says,
...true contemplation begins the moment we become aware of sin in us... To apprehend sin in oneself is a spiritual act, impossible without grace, without the drawing near to us of Divine Light.The intial effect of the approach of this mysterious Light is that we see where we stand "spiritually" at the particular moment.  The first manisfestations of the Uncreated Light do not allow us to experinece it as light.  It shines in a secret way,  illuminating the black darkness of our inner world to disclose a specticle that is far from joyous for us in our notmal state of fallen being... We become acutely conscious of sin as a sundering from the ontological source of our being.  Our s;pirit is eternal but now we see ourselves as  prisoners of death.  With death waiting at the end, another thousand years of life would seem but a deceptive flash.  
Archimandrite Sophrony, His Life is Mine, p 41
We learn that it is our sinfulness that separates us from God.  This is what sin is in reality.  It is not about violating a code of ethics. It's about having a personal relationship with God.  We discover that until we form this relationship we are living in sin.  Once we realize this state, then the desire grows with to come closer to God.  We become zealots.  We embrace repentance, feeling sorry for our separation from God, seeing to change our way of being,  and asking God for forgiveness and help.

Archimandrate Sophrony says there is no room for justification of our sinfulness.
 When we seek to justify sinful action we ipso facto sever our alliance with God.  God does not constrain us but neither can He be coerced.  He retires leaving us berift of His lumeous  presence.  Of course, man cannot altogether avoid sinning; but he can avoid the cnsquences of sin––separation from God––through repentance.  With repentance and the consequent increae of grace within us, the reality of the Divine World preponderates over the visible cosmos.  We contemplate the FIRST REALITY.  
 Archimandrite Sophrony, His Life is Mine, pp 45-50 
When we are properly prepared and ready, only then does the Holy Spirit come.  Preparation is necessary because we must first be receptive.  God does not force himself on us.  We must seek Him.  We receive the Holy Spirit when we are able to surrender our self-control and open our hearts to him, trusting in Him totally, and able to call Him "Our Father, Who art in Heaven," with heartfelt sincerity.  With this comes an intense yearning for His love.

Archimandrite Sopharony says,
 Live-giving faith consists in unquestionaling belief in Christ as God.   Only when Christ is accepted as perfect God and perfect Man does the plentitude of spiritual experience described by the apostles and fathers become possible.  
Archimandrite Sophrony, His Life is Mine, p 50 
In my case, it was prayer combined with full participation in the Sacraments of the Church that cleared the way and opened this path to union with God. My return started with the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

Archimandrate Sophrony says, "Of all approaches to God prayer is the best and in the last analysis the only means."

Quotes from His Life is Mine by Archimandtie Sophrony

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