Monday, May 12, 2014

Key to Spiritual Life: Purpose and Vigilance

Having spent many years wandering aimlessly in my spiritual life, I now know that what is key is to have a clear purpose and to become very vigilant.  Developing a relationship with God cannot be a casual task.  Yes, God is everywhere and available to everyone anytime, but it is our lack of mental discipline that limits us.  Our minds are very active with the things of this world.  It continually works to satisfy our physical needs and emotional passions. Without a clear focus on why we are here on earth, this all makes sense, but we will find that we lack a meaningful relationship with God. Our own needs, our ego centered focus takes control and blocks out the grace that is ours for the asking.

Saint Dorotheos tells us: 
If someone wants to obtain virtue he must be neither indifferent nor lofty, since, as someone who wants to learn to be a carpenter pays attention to no other art. It is the same for those who want to acquire some spiritual work.
Like a trade or any other skill we must practice self-discipline and work earnestly on our relationship with God. To develop a spiritual life we must work at it daily. This is not a sometimes Sunday activity.  It must be a focus of our life, one that motivates us to work at it daily.

Many of us avoid the whole idea of sin.  We believe we are good people. We say, "I have not killed or stolen from anyone."  We think we are virtuous when our own statement identifies us as self-centered and arrogant spiritually. First, we have to wake up to the reality that we are all sinful and to deny this is the poorest spiritual condition. To develop the virtues and live according to the full meaning of the commandments we must realize that we have some serious work to do.

When we are not working earnestly on living the virtues with the help of God's grace, our soul becomes distracted and controlled by our passions.  This is the way evil works. It relies on our negligence and inattention to God and our own behaviors.

Saint Basil the Great says:
The person who does not allow his thought to incline towards excess or deprivation but directs it to the midpoint, that of virtue, is upright in heart.
The virtues are a middle way and difficult to master without our full attention. Saint Dorotheos expains it this way,
For example: courage is between humility and boldness, humility is between pride and obsequiousness. Likewise, reverence is a mean between shame and impudence, and so on with the other virtues. If there is a person who became worthy of these virtues, he is honest before God and in spite of the fact that he appears to eating, drinking and sleeping like all the others, he is honest through the virtues he has obtained. However, if someone is not vigilant and does not take care of himself, he will easily digress from this path either to the right or to the left, that is to say, towards excess or laxness and thus he gives birth to the sickness of evil.
Our task is to get serious, admit we are not perfect, embrace the love of God who will help us, and examine the true nature of our lives. The imperfections we see in others we have in ourselves. How serious are we about our spiritual life?  How central is God in our daily lives.  Is our relationship with Him our top priority? Do we assume that we are virtuous in our activities?  Have we failed to examine the full nature of our way of living? How attentive are we to how God asks us to live?

Saint Dorotheos says:
There are three situations of man.  There is the person that allows the passions to operate and the person who does not allow them to act manifestly and the person who roots out the passions. The first is the person that adjusts his life according to the passions, the person that fully satisfies them. The person that does not live the passions manifestly is one who does not leave them free to act but neither does he cut them out but he disputes with them and lives with the passions inside him. The person that roots out the passions is one that struggles against them and always acts opposed to them.
So which kind of person are you? Are you one who loves the passions or allows your habits to control your actions? Maybe we do have some regrets about our actions but rationalize that we are no worse than others around us, in fact maybe a little better. Or are we one who fights our passions, attempting to find this balance, to focus on our relationship with God and avoidance of non-virtuours actions. Do we take it to the stage of struggling to uproot our temptations so they never control our behaviors?

To be in relationship with God, and to do His will, to live according to the virtues requires daily discipline. We have to examine ourselves each day and determine if we have made a little bit of progress. Even of we do not uproot our passions we can act to restrain them. We must must make sure we feel this tension and are struggling with the passions that are active in our being. This is the nature of a spiritual life and a life that is lived in union with God.

The nature of our spiritual life is all about how much we desire to be united with God and to become a true disciple.  It requires purpose and vigilance.

Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teaching on the Christian Life, pp169 - 176

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