The Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness
“Try to be free of curiosity, for it can defile stillness as nothing else can.” St. John Climacus
In this podcast Veronica examines the sensual aspect of our fallen nature and how our physical senses and curious tendencies can entice and entrap our souls robbing us of our stillness and relationship with God.
‘Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me.’ If we were still in paradise, what would be most natural for us would be to turn our minds and hearts towards our Creator, but here we are in the fallen world.
Least we should be lulled to sleep by the world and its temptations, Lent serves to remind us, ‘We are fallen.’ We are being mislead, but by what? ‘How, dear Lord can we be lead astray so often?’ How is it that we continually put distance between God and ourselves – all the while thinking, ‘There is nothing amiss. Everything is fine.’
My research for this podcast started with the term ‘sensual judgment’ used by St. Nicholai Velomirovic in a passage in The Prologue. I pondered its meaning for a few moments. ‘Sensual judgment’ was a show-stopper for me. I had never thought of judgment being in relationship with sensuality or being based upon sensual perceptions. The more I pondered the deeper meaning of ‘sensual judgment’ – the more I thought the term so accurate.
I recalled when I was seeped in the New Age and Eastern religions I thought how I felt and what I perceived through my senses, including my ‘sixth sense’, was an accurate perception of reality.
However, when I became Orthodox I realized I had been trapped in my sensual perceptions and far, far away from true spiritual discernment. I was in a state of ‘sensual judgment’, for I was using what my senses perceived as my measuring stick for reality, my means of judging what was good. If it felt good – then it must be good – right? Wrong! This was a life changing understanding for me.
What about now? Am I still under to dominion of my senses. Yes! Perhaps I am less captured, but an onion has many layers… So let’s take a good look at this onion called ‘sensual judgment’ and how our senses, fueled by curiosity, imagination and self-will can lead us astray rob us of our communication with God and our inner stillness.
Here is what St. Nicholai has to say about the milk of sensual judgment and the gradualness of spiritual development:
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, we have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 6:12–14)
Those who are fed on the milk of sensual judgment cannot easily differentiate between good and evil. They generally come to the conclusion that all faiths are of equal value, that sin is the indispensable shadow of virtue and that evil is a necessary companion of good.
A true Christian cannot come to these utterly mistaken conclusions. For a true Christian is a mature man, who does not feed on milk, who is distrustful of sensuality, who has a finer judgment and makes a finer distinction between the value of the enduring and transient. To the Christian, surely, clear guidance is given by the revelation of God to distinguish between good and evil; but he has need of long and serious study to reach perfection, to be able to know in every given situation what is good and what is evil…
St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, Jan. 11th
No wonder one Lent is not sufficient to change us! Who has not been raised on the milk of sensual judgment? How is it that our senses often run our lives?
For help with these questions I turned to St. Theophan the Recluse and his book, The Path of Salvation. What follows are instructions St. Theophan is giving to parents for raising their children to be the master of their passions. How I wish my parents had read this book!
It is impossible not to use the senses, for it is only through them that one may note the things one must know for the glory of God and for our own good. But in doing this it is impossible to avoid curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose–what is being done where, and how things are… Curiosity consists of trying to know everything without order, without aim, without distinguishing whether it is needful or not.
…curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose – what a shocker this was to me! I thought curiosity was a good thing. Here is my first example of how sensual judgment has misdirected me. Curiosity is not a ‘good’ thing. Curiosity is a distraction and the dictionary definitions of curiosity back this up as you will see…
Definitions for curiosity:
1) A desire to learn or to know. (this desire must be directed and have a purpose according to St. Theophan
2) The desire to know about matters of no concern to one; nosiness.
3) Something novel or extraordinary that arouses interest.
The last two definitions brought to my mind gossip and the arousal of my passions in unhealthy ways.
My husband and I were discussing how pernicious unstructured curiosity is.
Here are a few examples we thought of in our own experience about this:
The distraction of computers and other devices like our cell phones – how we are going from site to site or video game or other games. Channel surfing and watching too much TV – we are curious about the previews of movies or TV shows
These are all things the Church asks us to moderate or abandon during Lent – for good reason. We thought of all the time we have wasted in our life with these distractions, which means that time could have been given to God or others we love.
How many of us suffer from distraction during our prayers? Here St. Theophan is explaining the reason why. Curiosity leads to imagination and fantasy. I can see how I just follow my thoughts during prayers. I am curious and attracted by them and off I go…. 5 min. later I ask myself, ‘Where have I been?’ How many wasted moments has curiosity bought me?
Back to St. Theophan
One who is unable to master the senses and imagination will inevitably be distracted…being overcome by curiosity, which will chase him from one subject to another until he is exhausted and all this without fruit.
What the senses do is to see, to hear, to feel–in general to experience, to test. This is why our senses are the first rousers of curiosity, which later, because of them, goes over into the imagination and memory and, having acquired a seed in them, becomes an unconquerable tyrant for the soul.
Great Lent is our opportunity to turn the tables on this so-called tyrant of our soul, our senses. How do we do this?
Back to St. Theophan:
When man was in union with God, he found delight in divine and sacred things by the grace of God. After his fall he lost this taste and thirsted for what is sensual. The grace of baptism has removed this, but sensuality is again ready to fill the heart. One must not allow this; one must guard the heart.
The most effective means for the education of the true taste in the heart is a church–centered life… sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in the midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive and worldly vanity…
A soul that has been calmed and ordered in this way will not, in accordance with its natural disorderliness, hinder the development of the Spirit. This is a person who is committed to …having unfailingly in mind not to ignite the passion for sensual enjoyments, and to train one to deny oneself.
Thus here is more validation for the need of our fasting periods. We are fasting not just from food, but, from the indulgence of our senses, curiosity and imagination. If we want to be that spiritually mature man that St. Nickolai referred to, who has true spiritual discernment we need to learn to control the sensual aspect of our fallen nature. No wonder Lent is so challenging!
In conclusion here is what both St. Theophan and St. Nicholai have to say to encourage us to ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent…
…The beginning of a Christian life in a man is a kind of re-creation, an endowing of new powers, of new life… This seed of life (the resolution one makes to live a Christian life) is not surrounded by elements favorable to him. And besides this, the whole man–his body and soul–remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ. Therefore from this moment begins in a man a labor of sweat–a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties, according to the Christian standard.
Back to St. Nicholai to complete what he started…
Let us strive, my brethren, each day and each hour, to refine our hearts, that they may be able at all times to differentiate between good and evil…
O Lord, Thou lover of mankind, warm our hearts with the good that is from Thee. Bring us to our senses, Lord, that we may learn to distinguish good from evil. Strengthen us, O Master, that we may always cleave to good and cast away evil, to Thy glory and our salvation. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
Amen! Thank you St. Nicholai and St. Theophan!
My next podcast will focus on Inner Stillness – The Fruit of Our Spiritual Labors.