Prayer of the Heart in an Age of Technology and Distraction, Part 7
By Fr. Maximos (Constas)
St. Paul says you are the dwelling place of God. Is this how we normally understand ourselves? To be dwelling places inhabited by God? This is a very powerful assertion; do we take it seriously and understand what it means and what our lives mean in the context of such a statement? Do we live consistently with such a statement?
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to begin the day with the Divine Liturgy. In the monastery, outside of Lent we have the daily Eucharist. Once a visitor asked us why we celebrate the Liturgy so much, and our answer is because every day is a new day, a new beginning, or at least the opportunity for a new beginning, and what better way to begin that new beginning apart from the Divine Liturgy?
We began by talking about distractions and how they’re an innate problem exacerbated by the culture we’ve built of or organized distractions with a shift from the inner life to the outer world, from the depth to the surface, and how the spiritual tradition of the Church runs in the other direction, to encourage us to collect our thoughts and concentrate our attention within ourselves. We’ll continue along these lines. The title of my remarks today is, “The Buried Seed,” and what that means will become clear as we move on.
As a result of the distractions we experience we end up living outside and far away from ourselves, or simply living in our heads, so to speak, and not in our deeper center. We live on the surface and not in and from our depth. We have an outer life, and often it’s very busy and complicated but it’s not always clear that we have an inner life. The image the Church Fathers often use is of the onion that has layer upon layer upon layer of complication, and when you get to the center there’s nothing there at all. The problem is that if we live in our head and thoughts, God will always be a reality that is external to us. For many people God is an idea or concept or something to be argued about. God remains external and our thoughts swarm around us like so many flies, and they distract us from ever knowing God. But if we undergo that shift from the outer to inner and from mind to heart then God ceases being simply an idea but becomes a living and powerful reality.
There’s a great story about this from the desert fathers. There were three brothers and one of them decided to be a peacemaker. The second wanted to feed the poor. The third brother decided to go to the desert to pray. The peacemaker gets involved in peacekeeping organizations with politicians, but over time he finds that no matter how hard he tries he can’t get people to reconcile. Despite all efforts, fighting and war and killing continues, and he becomes very tired from working so hard without results, so he begins to lose his faith in human nature. He gives up and goes to see how the second brother did. And the second brother tells him that he has a similar story. He set up a soup kitchen and gathered all the food, but found that no matter how much work he did there were more hungry people, and he was sad and frustrated. So together they went to see the third brother and told him their stories about difficulties in the world. The third brother thought for a minute; there was an empty bucket on the ground where they were sitting. He told them to take the bucket to the spring and fill it up and bring it back to him. And the brother picked up a stick and stirred the water, and told them to look in and see what they could see. They couldn’t see anything because the water was agitated, so he told them to wait a minute. They waited and when they looked again they said, “We see ourselves.” The brother replied, “And that’s what happened to you in the world. You went into the world and you were caught up in the chaos and disorder and agitation of the world and you lost yourself.” The remarkable thing about this story is that they set out to do good—nothing evil or corrupt. They were pursuing the commandments of the Gospel but nonetheless found themselves lost in their work and losing their faith in humanity. The message here is that we really can’t be successful at our ministry if we lose that connection with the deeper part of ourselves—if we don’t know who we are, essentially.
In another story someone asked a desert father what is necessary to be saved and he said, “Every day ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’” In the world we get lost and forget who and why we are, which is another reason why staying connected to the deeper ground of our being, which is God, is so critical for all that we do. God is not out there somewhere, but rather somewhere within us, woven into the very fiber of our being. God is closer to you than your own jugular vein; and when Christ was asked about the Kingdom of God He said it is not to be observed by external signs, but the Kingdom of God is within you. According to St. Paul your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you. The body as a temple has received elaborate treatment from the Church Fathers so that all of the forms of an Orthodox Church are replicated in the human body. There’s an altar in the Church and there’s an altar in the body, which is the heart.
Elsewhere St. Paul says you are the dwelling place of God. Is this how we normally understand ourselves? To be dwelling places inhabited by God? This is a very powerful assertion; do we take it seriously and understand what it means and what our lives mean in the context of such a statement? Do we live consistently with such a statement? Also from Galatians 4:6: God has sent forth His Spirit into our hearts. That will be key for the rest of this talk—the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the heart. In 1 Cor. 6:20, because all of these things are so, because we are that dwelling place, Paul urges us to glorify God in our body. The body has to participate in the mystery of the divine indwelling. God says in Lev. 26:12, quoted by St. Paul in 2 Cor. 6:16, I will dwell in them and walk in them and I will be their God. These are just a few of the many statements to demonstrate from Scripture that God dwells in us.
~ “Prayer of the Heart in an Age of Technology and Distraction” delivered by Fr. Maximos (Constas) on Feb. 2014 to the clergy of diocese of LA and the West of Antiochian of N. America at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph. The audio version of this lecture first appeared on Patristic Nectar Publications, and is published here by permission.
Fr. Maximos is the presidential research scholar at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of theology in Brookline, MA. He is an Athonite monk, one-time professor at Harvard Divinity School, accomplished author and translator and lectures internationally in both academic and parochial venues.