Inner Stillness, 2

This afternoon I began to feel as though I had been given two insights that were leading to a particular point… but I couldn’t quite reach that point. So as I reflect tonight on my day at the Academy, I’m going to draw and expand from three earlier journal entries… I do not promise answers or great insights, but today’s experiences are the kind that make me feel as though my spiritual “journey” might really be leading somewhere!

“A Morning Reflection”

I went for an early morning walk today, setting out before sunrise through the neighborhood(s) to the quaint little downtown “main street” on Broadway, to visit Starbuck’s for some pumpkin spice and then meander my way back to the Center. Good exercise, around 6,000 steps on the pedometer…

Along the walk, off-and-on I practiced the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” – while also allowing myself to pray about specific things as I was led to. Most of my walking time was in silence, mostly in prayer to Jesus. (At Starbuck’s I encountered an acquaintance from this Academy, and we talked for a little bit.)

I have to share that I was feeling strongly nostalgic. It was dark still, and there were dark rain clouds overhead, with a constant drizzle – and occasional downpour – the whole time. Temps were in the low 50s. I was wearing the outer shell of my Columbia sportswear jacket… and I was being reminded strongly of wearing the same jacket as I walked through Neubruche and nearby villages in Germany, in similar weather. Even the houses here in Burlinghame have a bit of a German look to them!

There was an insightful synergy in all of this – for as I was praying, I found myself returning and lifting to Christ an inner spiritual struggle*. And I realized as I walked that when I was in Germany – 12 years ago! – I had been struggling with the same habits of mind and had only then identified it as a spiritual struggle.

And the same struggle remains today, unabated. An interior war with… mind? spirit? imagination? Simply put, it’s an inner life – a heart/life – issue. So as I was praying and reflecting, alternating into the very apt “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” I lifted to God that in many ways I felt as though the circumstances of my life have contributed to and aggravated this struggle.

More and more, I know – deep within – that on my own I cannot hope to overcome this; I cannot hope to achieve the purity of heart I long for by myself. I know that I need to accept and allow Christ to purify my heart – and perhaps the inner struggle is a part of this – and I may very likely need the spiritual guidance and support of another. (Or others.)

God, I hope and pray for a pure and holy heart/life.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

“Afternoon Reflections Related To Orthodox Spirituality”

Question: what does ‘mystery of God’ mean to you? How do you know and/or experience the mystery of God?

I go outside for a short walk. I occasionally pray, once again lifting several repetitions of the Jesus Prayer. I follow the paved path here in the Mercy Center, lest my shoes become as dirty with mud as I sometimes imagine my heart is with sin. I find a small area – a grove of sorts – underneath several large, inter-connecting oak and pine trees. I watch, listen, and experience joy in over half a dozen squirrels, in the midst of their daily business**. I’m reminded of the squirrel monkey enclosure at the Phoenix Zoo – where my son and I have gone almost weekly for a year, standing down among the trees as the monkey scampered about on the trees and ropes around us…

Walking back to the building, a falcon or hawk swoops down, lighting on a tree just above. I watch, enamored, amazed, in awe. I walk in a slow arc around the tree, admiring him from different angles – from here I see his front feathers, almost furry, golden; from here I see his back feathers, the striped or spotted patter among them… He flies off.

As I wander, I wonder. Am I lost – perhaps that is too strong a word – in the physical world? Consider: when I woke this morning, what was my primary thought/concern? Was my wife still experiencing the physical pain that began yesterday? Not, “to be lost in the mystery of God.” Though that desire is present, too, this world seems to engage my imagination and heart first.

I believe the mystery of God is – must be – present, and to some degree able to be experienced in the physical world. I resonate with the notion that all is in God and God is in all. The mist, the squirrels, the falcon/hawk – God’s ineffable mystery encloses and pervades them as it does the Jesus Prayer, my longing for a pure heart, my love for family, friends, and Christ…

Is the physical one means to the spiritual? Oh, even the question itself is rooted in western philosophy! The bifurcation of body and spirit, of physical and spiritual…  (entry trails off here due to interruption, return to group)

“More Personal Reflections”

I’m finding a degree of… direction? discernment? dare I say “stillness”? … while here, away from the chaos and clutter of daily life. Maybe not true “purity of heart,” or even inner stillness (hesychia)… but steps in the right direction, something akin to what I imagine Kierkegaard meant when he wrote that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” There is less here to directly pull me away from Christ, to distract me, and much that actually seems to draw (compel?) me closer!

I’m finding (perceiving?) that there might be a synergy or synthesis between my morning walk and reflection and the post-lecture walk and reflection on the ‘mystery of God’…. A connection between experiencing the Mystery/Presence of God – the so-called “spiritual” – in and through the physical world and the achieving of inner peace in place of internal spiritual struggle… (another interruption)

Thinking Further

In the Philokalia, a collection of teachings of early (Orthodox) Fathers – referenced in The Way of the Pilgrim but also available in modern translations – there are a great many teachings on the Jesus Prayer. Both the descriptions of the Jesus Prayer and the path to and practices that are described as leading to “inner stillness” involve the physical body. Some Fathers teach about focus on breath, or imagining the heart within the chest, even uniting the prayer with the heartbeat itself… not to mention other physical actions associated with prayer.

As human beings, we are spirit incarnate – our spirit and body are not distinct, but are united. We also – if we are truly creedal – believe in a bodily resurrection at the end of time. Our human spirits may be reflections of divine Spirit, may be divine sparks within jars of clay; but our experience is directly linked to these jars of clay. Yes, we can find a nice tree, sit lotus-like, and seek to meditate free of physical sensation. And maybe such stillness is important. But our lives, our day to day lives where we should just as readily seek to know God’s presence, are lived in this physical, temporal world. And our spiritual struggles occur in this physical world.

So perhaps in my journey toward “purity of heart” there are two lessons I should be pondering:
1) where, or who, might be the spiritual guide/director to help me be attentive to and respond to the presence of God in my life?
2) in what ways, as I live and struggle in this physical world, might I further seek to recognize and immerse myself in the presence – or ‘mystery’ – of God?

*Do the details matter? I’m being intentionally vague, lest this venue become too confessional or revelatory. Perhaps I’m being a bit guarded. Suffice it to say the struggle in question is one of the heart, although it does not directly affect my actions in the world, I feel that this one particular struggle outweighs others (i.e. jealousy, resentment) that also prevent me from achieving “purity of heart.”
**Business? Squirrels don’t really have “business,” do they? Busy-ness, maybe? Better to say that they were active in seeking out acorns, no doubt anticipating and preparing for winter.

3 responses to “Inner Stillness, 2

  1. One extra comment. A paraphrased quote from Bruce Ridgon, our presenter on Orthodox Spirituality: “Mystery is what happens when you encounter/contemplate something that is far larger than your ability to comprehend. The only appropriate response is awe and wonder. The only thing I can do is doxological…” His quote reminded me both of the experience with the squirrels and hawk, and the birth of my two children. After Kate was born, I could rationalize and explain to you how it all happened, even describe the birth. But at a deeper level I recognized it as a great and holy mystery and gift. And I found myself saying out loud, literally, “praise God, from whom all blessings flow…”

  2. Your postings for yesterday and today are a whole to me. As one of your parish, I am blessed by your participation at the Spiritual Academy. Your sermons and your guidance grow with you.
    Additionally, your writing about your spiritual awakenings, renewal, transformation, struggles, wanderings, travels, (whatever you might feel are the appropriate terms for your experiences) are helpful in my own search for purity of heart. And I propose that 100% purity of heart is not achievable until all humans are there together. I’m not proposing that we “give it up.” I think we need to keep working on it, because that is the only way for the world to achieve it. One soul at all times will bring us all souls at one time.

    Regarding “stillness of heart” while existing in a world of cares and woes: I thought of a “wise man” who sits on a hill and his fingernails and toenails grow so long they curl back on themselves into spirals. To find true or inner peace, implies a pulling back from the world. But God calls us to work in the world to bring His Kingdom to all. If we achieve 100% stillness of heart, aren’t we shirking that calling?
    Jesus worked in the world, and He cared, and He experienced pain and sufferring for doing so. He regularly withdrew either to experience, or perhaps just to show us how to do it, the “stillness of heart” the centering so that we will one will. Working in the world creates distractions because we do will one will. There are too many places that call us to bring the Kingdom there. Our job is to keep working on helping all experience the stillness of heart, in bringing the Kingdom Living here. And that calls us to regular separation from those cares to keep our focus centered. Thus, I see it as a carefully balanced pendulum, where we go into the world and withdraw to nurture our stillness of heart and enable our return to the world and His work.
    Did the separation of the disciples, from the cares of the world, and being able to focus all of their attention on the Things of God, enable their transfiguration experience? I think so. And God enabled that experience so that they had strength for their return to the world and His work there.

  3. Nina – one of the things I appreciate about _The Way of the Pilgrim_ is that the example it sets – itself, likely, based on the example of Jesus – is that the pilgrim goes in and out of solitude and community throughout his narrative. To me it evokes a kind of rhythm (I won’t say balance, because I’m not sure God wants us balanced!), much as Jesus withdrew to solitary places but then returned to differing sizes of community. I think it was Henri Nouwen who described “solitude of the heart,” where we manage to find inner stillness and then carry it with us into the world in which we live.

    That’s my hope. I don’t want or intend to live my life as a hermit – I love my wife and children too much! – but I do want to have a quieted, still heart that seeks to know God’s presence at all times and in all people. I can only imagine, if that day comes, how much better a father, husband, and pastor I might be…

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