Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Awakening Our Heart to God (1)



In my last post I discussed the issue where many find themselves unaware of God’s presence and are overwhelmed by all the cares of daily life. These are good people, who have good jobs and care for their family, but God is not their main priority. They may go to Church most Sundays, but only come after the Gospel is read and look forward to coffee hour after hearing the sermon. They don’t participate in the main purpose of the liturgy, Holy Communion, but only a few times a year. They most likely have never been to Confession because they don’t see themselves as sinful. These people are in spiritual terms, asleep. Their life is not about perfecting themselves to live in communion with God. They have no thought about their future life in His Kingdom. They do not appreciate life of repentance or the idea of purification taught by the Church. Spiritual disciplines like fasting and daily prayer have no power for them, even though they may fast occasionally in a lite way and pray occasionally. They are doing everything out of a sense of duty or obligation to their family, ethnic tradition or norms of society. Their Creator who has made them in His image and likeness is far away in a distant land.

There is the powerful story of David from the Old Testament who found himself asleep in this same sense. His situation was extreme because he had committed several very serious sins but was oblivious to the error of his ways. He was attracted to a beautiful married woman who he caught bathing on the roof top, had sex with her, and she became pregnant. Being king, he arranged for her husband to be sent into a battle in a way where he would surly be killed and he was. He then married her. All this did not bother David until, one day, the profit Nathaniel came to him and presented a case for him to judge. The case he presented involved two men. One was very wealthy who had a large flock of sheep and cattle. The other was very poor who had only one sheep whom he raised like a daughter, even held it in his arms and fed it his food. It was very dear to him. One day a traveler came to visit the rich man. Instead of taking a sheep from his own flock he took the one from the poor man and had it slaughtered for his meal with the traveler. When David heard this case he was very angry and said the poor man should be given a flock of sheep and the rich man should die. He asked Nathan to tell him the name of this wretched man. Nathan stared into David’s eyes and said firmly, “This man is you! You have everything and what you don't have you can easily get. But you took Bathsheba for yourself and had Uriah her husband whom she loved very much killed. You like the rich man took from her who had little the one she loved for your own pleasure.” David was suddenly awakened and said, “I have sinned against the Lord!” Awakened, he was transformed and began to live a new life in repentance. We can see how he became close to God through the many Psalms of repentance he wrote.

Those whom I described above are like David, unaware of their sinful nature, and distant from God. I myself was also like this for many years. For our salvation it is important to know how we are awakened from this slumber and able to turn our hearts to God in repentance and receive His grace. Saint Theophan describes this process as being similar to one who is sleeping, who wakes up in the morning, gets up, and gets ready to go to work. 

Saint a Theophan says,
A sinner who turns to God and repents is roused from the lullaby of sinfulness, reaches a decision to change (he gets up), and, at last, puts on strength for his new life in the Mysteries of Repentance and Holy Communion (preparation for work). 
We also see this process of awakening clearly in the story of the Prodigal Son. He left his father, went far away and  lived a loose life until he lost all and was suffering. He came to himself (awoke) and made a decision to arise (get up) and go to his father. He left his former life and confessed to his father, I have sinned. The father receives with open arms, joyful at his return, and clothes in fine clothes (absolution in Confession)  and prepares a grand meal for him (Holy Communion).

Saint Theophan identifies three stages in the conversion of a sinner (one who is asleep and not aware of his sinful nature like David and the Prodigal Son) to a God pleasing life:
  1. Arousal from the slumber of sin.
  2. Reaching a decision to give up sin and devote oneself to pleasing God
  3. Vestment of power from on high for doing this in the Mysteries of Repentance and Communion.

Next, I will cover Saint Theophan’s view of how this awakening takes place.

Reference: The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 101; 2 Samuel 11 & 12; Lk 15:11-32

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