Saturday, December 12, 2009

Truth comes from knowing the truth about ourselves

Each time I prepare for confession I am always amazed at how little I know about myself.  Each time there is some new discovery.  It is this continual self-discovery that seems to be important for our spiritual growth.  Usually, the truth we discover is something we don't particularly like about ourselves.  Sometimes, it is a recognition of a particular gift or talent we have to share, but are not appropriately using it. Whichever it may be, a new discovery leads us to new ways of living in ways that God's will can be done.

Living an Orthodox Way of Life, we are continually examining ourselves.  We are taught to do it in a way that leads us to new ways of living, and not just for some intellectual curiosity or to seek restitution in some legalistic way.  We truly want to live according to God's will!  As we do this inner seeking, we uncover assumptions and thought patterns that tie us to predictable ways of thinking and behaving.  It is like being engaged in some kind of archeological dig where we keep uncovering new mystical mind layers-–each new layer exposes a new artifact.  When we find it shining in the mystical cloud like layer of the mind, we then examine it to see what kind of artifact it is. This examination is made by a mind that at times does not even seem like its our own.  It is one were we observe ourselves from some higher place.  This is the higher mind of our soul at work. As our brain becomes quieter though our practice of spiritual disciplines and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we become aware of new ways in which we are corrupted.  This may bring tears or some other emotional response, but in the end it is a joyful discovery. For this is the aim of our spiritual struggle, to know ourselves and to be better able to see our sinfulness, so we can make changes in how we life in union with God's will..

Saint Nicetas Stitatos writes,
"To know yourself means that you must guard yourself diligently from everything external to you; it means respite from worldly concerns and cross-examination of the conscience  This is true humility that teaches us to be inwardly humble and makes our heart contrite.  If you do not know yourself you cannot know what humility is.  To know oneself is the goal of the practice of virtue." (Philokalia, vol 4, pp 116-117)

The key is to have a sincere desire to change and to become more like God Himself.  First, we have to accept that we have the potential to live a more virtuous life than we are presently living.  Next, we must be willing to carefully and objectively observe the deplorable state that we are actually in. Seeing it, we must then have a strong desire to change.  This is the meaning of repentance (metanoia), a willingness to change our mind so we can become more like God.

As we practice the Jesus Prayer and other spiritual disciplines we will find the Holy Spirit helps us and that our mind can become much quieter.  In this quietness we gain the capability to observe our most inner being. Knowing the love of God, we let go of our fears about what we may find and scourge up the worst we can find, asking God's help to change.  This is the central theme of an Orthodox Way of Life.

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