Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Bodily and Mental Accompaniments of Prayer (WOA Ch. 19)

While some consider prayer to be a purely mental and/or spiritual activity, in which the body plays no role, the Fathers teach us otherwise. If we do not keep our bodies disciplined and their desires in check, it negatively affects our prayer life. One way in which an undisciplined body harms our prayer life is by robbing us of joy. As Colliander says,

“True joy is quiet and constant, wherefore the apostle urges us to rejoice evermore (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It proceeds from a heart that weeps over the world’s (and its own) turning from the Light; true joy is to be found in grief. For it is said: Blessed are they that mourn (Matthew 5:4) and Blessed are ye that weep now with your carnal self for ye shall laugh with your spiritual (Luke 6:21).” In other words, joy is not the same as amusement, mirth, or temporary happiness. Contrary to what the world teaches, joy does not come through indulging ourselves with material goods or pleasure. Rather, in Colliander’s words, “True joy is the joy of consolation, the joy that wells up in the knowledge of one’s own weakness and the Lord’s mercy, and that does not need the bared teeth of laughter to express itself” (72).

He goes on to say, “Think also of this: the person who is bound to earthly things may rejoice but may also be upset or disturbed or grieved over earthly things: his mind is exposed to continual changes. But the joy of your master (Matthew 5:21) is enduring, for God is unchangeable” (72-73).

Perhaps the most difficult part of our body to control is our tongue. But it is also one of the most, if not the most important organ to control. Colliander tells us to “...control your tongue at the same time as you discipline your body with fasting and strictness. Talkativeness is a great enemy of prayer. A spate of fluttering words stands in the way of the words of prayer. [Fr. James’ note: see Matt. 6:7] This is the reason that we shall render account for every careless word we utter (Matthew 12:36). One does not bring the dust of the road into a room that one wishes to keep clean; thus keep your heart free from gossip and chatter about the events of the day that is past.”

The tongue is a fire, and consider how great a matter a little fire kindleth (James 3:5-6). But if one gives a blaze no air, it dies out: if you do not give air to your passions they are gradually quenched. If you are kindled to anger, be silent and do not let it be noticed outwardly. Only the Lord may hear your confession. Thus you extinguish the burning brand at the beginning. If you are disturbed over the mistakes of another, follow the example of Shem and Japheth: cover them with the mantle of silence (Genesis 9:23); thus you quench your desire to judge before it bursts into flame. Silence can b filled with watchful prayer as a bowl fills water” (73).

Finally, Colliander reminds us that it is not only the tongue that must be controlled, but also the mind. Particularly harmful to prayer, and to spiritual growth in general, are memories and fantasies. He advises us: “Do not stir up a memory that will cover your prayer with mud, do not root around in the soil of your old sins. Do not be like the dog that returneth to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Do not let your memory linger on private matters that can reawaken your desire or set your imagination going. The devil’s favourite wrestling-place is precisely our imagination; through it he draws us to further intercourse with him, to consent and action. In your thought-world he sows doubt and worry, attempts at logical reasoning and proof, fruitless questions and self-found answers. Meet all such things with the words of the Psalm: Away from me ye wicked (Psalm 119:115)” (74).


charlene said...

Father James,
I agree with what Colliander says about true joy, but can there be something he isn't saying as well? I think perhaps I would break what Colliander calls "true joy" into two components instead of just one: "joy" and "peace". Knowing God's mercy brings us both. When I mournfor others, when I am hurting because the world has wounded me, when I am ashamed of my sinfulness, I still can experience peace from knowing God's mercy, just as I can feel the peace when I receive the body and blood of Jesus during communion. What I think Colliander leaves out is that you can also feel the other kind of joy from prayer, or communion, or from recognizing all the blessings God has placed in your life that is expressed as happiness, smies,a feeling of love for God and others. Sometimes I think we, the Orthodox are afraid to experience this kind of joy because we are not being properly ascetic. But I think this kind of joy is totally different from the PLEASURE we get from indulging ourselves with earthly, material things.
My tongue is something that gets me into trouble all the time, but I wish Colliander had also advised us NOT to hold our tongue, if we can use it to show kindness to another.
Am I being un-Orthodox Father?

Fr. James Early said...


As always, thank you for your commment.

There is certainly much that Colliander is not saying in this brief chapter. The thing to keep in mind is that he is not attempting to write a thorough treatise on joy or on the use of the tongue. Rather, he is mentioning these topics only in relation to prayer.

I don't think anything you said is un-Orthodox.