Monday, November 2, 2009

What is a Spiritual Life?



Our life is said to be spiritual when the spirit has supremacy over the other aspects of our being, according to Saint Theophan the Recluse.

What is Spirit? Saint Theophan says that spirit is “that force which God breathed into man when he created him.” It combined with the soul and raised the soul in humans above al other of His creation. He says, “The Spirit, as a force which has come from God, knows God, seeks God, and in Him alone finds rest.”

Our being is also made up of soul and body. The body has a digestive system to nourish it, a muscular-skeletal system for movement and a nervous system to connect our five senses to our body so it can interact with the external world. The soul is intermixed with this physical aspect. The body, however, puts great demands on the soul to meet its needs and restricts its freedom. He says, “The minds and spirits... are inevitably famished, if not completely deadened, stopped up and immersed in sensuality.”

Our soul has three aspects: intellectual (imagination, memory, and intellect), desirous (will) and heart (sense).
Our intellect is subject to wandering and distraction. He says, “Thoughts rise up one after the other, they form into a line, then they intersect each other, are a few steps forward, then go backward, then run sideways, never stopping for anything. This is not reasoning; it is wandering and scattering of thoughts, this state is the complete opposite of what our intellectual faculty is supposed to be. That is its illness, which is so inculcated in it and so endemic to everyone, that it would be impossible to find a single human being who is capable of continuously conducting the substantial labor of thinking.”
Our desirous aspect thirsts for what is pleasant and beneficial. Its purpose is to control our life, but because of “wandering and scattering of thoughts” we find it preoccupied with “inconsistency, disorder, and selfish desires.”
The heart is the center of our being and senses the condition of the soul and body providing motivation to please it. With sobriety it is calm and undisturbed, but with distraction from the intellectual part and inconsistent desires from the desirous parts the heart has no peace.

The normal life today is one driven by physical desires, scattered thoughts and selfish desires. St. Theophan says,
“a person receives a particular character according to the kind of life he lives, and this character is reflected in his views and attitudes, his habits, and his feelings. That is, his life is either spiritual, with spiritual views, habits and feelings; or it is intellectual, with intellectual concepts, habits and feelings; or it is carnal with carnal thoughts, deeds and feelings…. The straying of thoughts, inconsistency of passionate desires, and uneasiness of the heart constantly disturbs us, not allowing us to a single thing as we should, and nearly always leading us astray…. Please take note of this illness of ours… Do not put entirely out of your mind the idea that within you there is always present something which is not good, which is always ready to divert you from the right way and to mislead you.
We live a spiritual life when the spirit has command of all aspects of our being. When this is true we do not err. This is the norm of human life, says St. Theophan. Living a spiritual life, one is a real person, different than the unnatural intellectual or canal person. When the spirit reigns the soul seeks only what is beautiful in this world and in the invisible world. In the soul the intellectual part yearns for the ideal, never being satisfied but strives for the “significance of each sphere of things in the overall sum of creation.” The desirous part seeks unselfish deeds or virtuous actions. The heart has a yearning for the love of the beautiful. The soul then seeks only what is desirous by God, being bound together in harmony with the soul and body.

A spiritual life is one where the spirt harmonizes the physical demands of the body and the actions of the soul to live as God created us. Spirt of necessity takes on the leading role. It does not negate the other aspects of our being, the intellectual and physical, but puts them all in the proper perspective and under proper control. It is a life where the “spiritual predominates, subordinating to itself and penetrating the intellectual and the physical parts.”

This is the main challenge of a spiritual life. We can and must learn how to lift ourselves from domination by the demands of our physical, intellectual and desirous aspects that are distorted and contaminated by our passions and to allow the spirit to function as it was intended .

He says,
“As long as you are not living in the spirit do not expect happiness. Intellectual and physical life,when the course is favorable, give something like happiness, but it is a fleeting illusion of happiness, and soon vanishes… The spirit however, soars beyond the boundaries of all troubles and carries away the person who abides in the spirit, and , by allowing his to taste its blessings, which are ever present, makes him truly and completely happy.”


From The Spiritual Life, letters 4-13, Saint Theophan the Recluse.

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