Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Awaken from Slumber of Sin

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph 5:14)

Those who have studied Scripture and know the story of Jesus Christ, but have never experienced that inner fire of grace, are most likely in what Saint Theophan calls the "Slumber of Sin."  I know for myself that I, who always considered myself a Christian and for many years did not believe that I was sinful, was in this state for a long time.  Life was good.  God was there on Sunday to be worshiped and to listen to His word (Not even every Sunday to be honest). But there came a time when I was awakened from this slumber.  Saint Theophan gives us incite about how this generally happens.

As we read earlier, Saint Theophan says the Christian way of life begins with the arousal by grace.  This is a moment that is not one easily forgotten.  Here is how Saint Theophan describes it:
"During the arousal of grace, the destruction of the entire established order of self-pleasing sinful life is carried out instantaneously in the presence of the consciousness.  In its place is revealed another superior divine way, the only true and satisfying one... It is always accompanied by this feeling of being overwhelmed and a sort of fear."

This is not the kind of event that comes from attending a lecture or a  course. It is an event (or series of events) that totally changes your way of seeing and being in the world.  He is not talking about incremental change. It's possible that incremental changes could lead up to the kind of event Saint Theophan is describing, but the spiritual awakening is like the difference between night and day. Like the difference we experience when we awake from sleep in the morning. Nighttime slumber has little resemblance to our daytime activities.  When this awakening occurs it is unsettling and can be confusing because all is different.  It is different in a superior way, he says.  One is left not sure how to respond in the world. One's sinfulness is now evident in many ways.  One's spiritual desires are heightened.  There is an intense desire to want to make outward changes in one's life.

Saint Theophan tells us that this happens in two ways"
1. visibly and through the senses, or
2. where the spirit perceives it internally.

Visible awakening
Frequently God is revealed visibly appearing while either awake or asleep.  This is like Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.  Sometimes it is someone God has sent from heavenly realm like the Mother of God or an angel.  Or it could also come as some kind of miracle.  We see revelation quite often in the lives of saints.

Saint Theophan says,
"In all such manifestation, the mind, confused by various objects and seductions of the world and hopelessly caught in the visible, sensible, external order, is confronted with the striking, unexpected and sudden appearance to it of higher beings and powers from the invisible realm."
When one has such a vision, one knows they have been in contact with a spiritual realm beyond this physical world.  It is more than a simple dream. It is different than a hallucination.  It is a jolting otherworldly experience.

Internal awakening
Awakening from the "slumber of sin" can also  take place internally either directly or indirectly. When the divine grace intervenes directly it is generally experienced by the arousal of a dissatisfaction with oneself and anguish over something. One acts as if heartbroken and has difficulty finding any consolation in visible things. As a result, seeing no hope in the things known of the every day world, one turns to the invisible and becomes ready to receive grace sincerely and surrender to it.

When it intervenes indirectly, it acts to break well established behaviors that bind the spirit such as self-indulgence, things of the world, or the acts of the devil.

In the case of self-indulgence, whether it be a dependence on some aspect of worldliness such a wealth or even learning, the divine grace destroys the supports on which the self-indulgence rests.  It weakens these bonds and provides a opportunity to lift us above our indulgence.  We are made to suffer the loss of that which we think is most essential to our way of being. This loss shakes up our inner assumptions about the life and we open to a higher vision.

Theophan gives some examples:
"He who is enslaved by pleasing the flesh shall fall ill... He who is preoccupied with his own attractiveness and strength shall be deprived of this attractiveness... He who finds refuge in his own power and strength shall be subject to slavery and humiliation.  He who relies of wealth shall have it taken away from him.  He who relies on solid personal connections shall have them cut off.  He who counts on permanence of the order established around him shall it destroyed by the death of people he knows for the loss of essential material possessions.... each of the supports in indifferent self-indulgence constitutes a turning point in life...."

Sometimes it is the worldly organization of life with its laws, principles, concepts that constrain us.  In other words, our culture and norms of our social environment.  What is needed is to break our dependence on this order so a new divine order of things can take its place.  This can happen by contemplation of divine creation or even upon entering a church.  Nature and the Church can "completely wrench the human spirit from the bonds of the world."

One can also find such conversion taking place through an encounter with a satisfied peaceful person who do not have the worldly pleasures that one possess.  From this comes disillusionment with the existing situation and a change of way of life.

Finally, "it often happens that in the end, the world itself prods and drives one away from it seemingly of its own accord, because it does not satisfy expectations or it disappoints them.  We seek happiness; but in the world there is only glory, honor, power, wealth, pleasure, none of which satisfies the seeker."

We can also be bound by satan and his demons.  This manifests invisibly as a "vague faintheartedness  and fear which can confuse the soul of the sinner... especially when he thinks about the good..." Or, "people who have despair with doubt and disbelief."  The devil often conceals himself giving assurances that he is not present.  Discovering his methods "leads a sinner to the certainty that he is in malicious, hostile hands, that he is being duped into having himself, that he is being deceitfully led down some gloomy path toward destruction, and that the demons want to rejoice in this."

For me personally, there were several steps involved that awoke me from my "slumber of sin."  I was a self-satisfied seeker relying totally on my own efforts.  But this activity remained pretty much intellectual and I saw only a few problems as my own.  I lived the good life. I guess we would call it a "happy" life. I had only the normal stresses of job and family, but everything was pretty good.  Then I embarked on a series of journeys to underdeveloped countries and experienced simple village life.  A way of life that did not rely on material goods. Returning from these visits I was left confused knowing that something was wrong with my current way of living and its dependence on material well being.  I knew I had to change my outward way of life.  This I did by joining with a small group of people who had similar feelings and started a small commune committed to living in harmony with nature and spirit. This led to the next step and final blow to my old self.  In this commune, living a simple sustainable lifestyle, I was immersed directly everyday in the natural world.  I could not avoid admiring with wonder and awe all of God's creation, especially that aspect that was not impacted by human activity. Out of this arose an intense inner desire to get closer to God, an unquenchable fire was lit within me.  I desired a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I saw my current ego-centric way of being and wanted to change it, and I sought to immerse myself under the yoke of His Church.  That zeal has never left me. At time it is stronger than others but it is always there.  Once awakened it seems impossible to think of ever going into a state of "slumber in sin" again.  The days of self-satisfaction are gone.  My sense of my own sinfulness grows with time and thanks to God, my desire for Him continually grows.

Each awakening experience is different depending of each individual's background, experience and situation.  Most awakenings will involving some aspect of one of the alternatives outlined by Saint Theophan above.  When it comes, it is transformational.
Examine your own experience.  What does it teach you?

Next: The Word of God - This can enhance or even replace all of the above.

Reference: Path to Salvation: pp. 105-118

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