>Dashing Our Thoughts Against the Presence of God

>My dear friend, Father Paul Yerger of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Clinton, Mississippi, just returned from a clergy symposium—The Diocese of the South (OCA) Pastoral College. In his weekly online bulletin yesterday, Father Paul included the text of Metropolitan JONAH’s talks at the clergy gathering: “Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness.” There’s lots of good stuff in there about forgiving those who have abused you, and the journey/process of prayer, confession, healing, finding inner stillness. It’s a deep and lengthy article, but a wonderful preparation for Great Lent, which Orthodox Christians will enter on March 2, just two weeks from today.

I’m not going to comment very much on the text, since it will take you a while to read it, other than to mention this interesting quote from St. John Chrysostom in the section on inner stillness and how to pray:

“When you pray before your icons, light a candle and then close your eyes!” The icon is a sacrament of the Presence.

I was fascinated by this, since I often lose myself in the images—the icons—before which I pray, sometimes even becoming distracted by the style or other artistic elements of the icon. (This probably happens to me even more because I paint icons, which makes it hard not to notice these elements.) But Met. JONAH reminds us of the icon’s spiritual power, calling it “a sacrament of the Presence.” The Presence of God.

What do we do when we try to be still and our thoughts—especially resentments—invade our minds? Met. JONAH says to “dash our thoughts against the presence of God.” We have a choice. We can choose not to listen to our thoughts during prayer. We can choose to learn stillness in the presence of God. And maybe that stillness will eventually stay with us throughout the day.

I want to believe that God is big enough to take all the thought-dashing that will be coming at Him if I choose to enter into this struggle to find inner stillness. It’s not a new struggle—I’ve been here before, on and off for many years, with varying degrees of “success.” It’s always painful. But sometimes there’s a tiny bit of growth, of maturity, that comes with the struggle. And always there’s this choice of my will to engage in the battle, or not.

Yesterday at church I was discussing this with a friend when I thought about how it’s been two years since I’ve been to the monastery, and yet my mind is busy trying to plan another beach trip. Not that it’s automatic that you can pray, find peace and shut out images and thoughts when you’re at the monastery. In fact, I’ve probably experienced as much or more inner stillness walking on the beach than walking through the woods at the monastery. But there’s something incredibly celestial about being in the church services with the nuns. Like the icons, their lives are a sacrament of the Presence.

The beach. The monastery. Inner peace. Thought-dashing. It’s a lot to consider during these last two weeks before Great Lent.
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