Late last night, my spiritual father, Father Elias, sent me an Email with an attached podcast from Father Steven Freeman. It is a short podcast, being only eight minutes long, but like many small things, it is powerful and worthy of consideration. I hope you, dear reader, will take a short break to listen to what Father Freeman has to share with us. Father Elias asked me to listen at least twice and then send me his reflections on it. I will share what I wrote after I share a little personal backstory.
At the urging of Father Elias, I am in counseling now, dealing with anger issues that have plagued me all my life. I have a good counselor and together we have dug into a past life which has been painful and damaging to me. Whenever Father Elias finds something which he feels will help me along my journey, he sends it to me to reflect upon.
Dear Father –
Thoughts on this podcast as I listen for the second time.
1. “The Orthodox way is hesychasm. It is the quietness of the heart, the stillness of the mind.”
Exactly the opposite of where my life is right now. From the minute I wake up till the minute I retire, my life is filled with demands that intrude on my thoughts. “You have to make breakfast for Elizabeth. Take care of the dog. Go to the vets. You have customers waiting. You need to get the music ready for Liturgy this weekend. Stillness? Quiet? Hah! When I’m dead!! I’ve often kidded with friends that I am so busy that I will probably wind up carrying my coffin at my funeral.
2. “It is the heart at rest in God.”
How does this comport with what I see as the constant need to be doing something? Would you say that constant activity is a very Western way of approaching life? My first thought here is that the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic” stands in direct contradiction to this. People who are not “productive” (i.e. busier than all hell) are seen as “lazy” and “shiftless.” The Western pheronema seems to be that one must be constantly achieving, moving upward, acquiring, bettering one’s station in life, etc. And I am in the middle of this with what appears to be, at this time at least, no way out. Part of it is my own fault, and part of it is the way I am wired right now. I simply do not understand the quiet life of rest and reflection. Even my “recreation” is busy and involves activity. Yet, oddly enough, one of the things I find most relaxing and closest to something that could be called hesychasm is when I go on long drives. I like to have the radio off and just stare out the window as I drive, enjoying the sights. From time to time, I have had some remarkable insights, as I wrote about here: The Joy of Being
3. “Now God certainly makes Himself known even in stormy circumstances, but when the soul is in a storm, if often does not see what is being made known to it, all it sees is storm.”
I would say that is a pretty good description of where I am now.
4. “The Orthodox faith directs us and gives us the means of stilling the storm.”
I haven’t even begun to learn this way yet. I know of it from a distance, I use the language of it from an intellectual standpoint, but it is not yet a reality in my heart.
5. Father Freeman goes on to describe the consumerist mentality that is the entire state of our Western culture. We are seen by the Capitalist mindset as potential consumers from the moment of our birth. Our lives are bombarded by a constant stream of noise designed to alter our feelings and make us desire that which we do not have. “As consumers we are constantly prodded one way or another, towards one desire or another.” “We are being trained to feel.” He later on says:
“The fact that we can use the word “feeling” for an opinion does much to explain its passionate character. The thoughts that are saving thoughts, that is, thoughts that are of benefit to the soul and its salvation, generally need no level of feeling in order to bolster their value. But our culture, driven by consumerism, majors in the means of motivation. Advertisers and politicians, the shapers of public opinion, learned long ago that reasoning based on the facts is the least reliable motivator. Getting someone to feel that they are reasoning based on the facts is much better—but getting them to feel is the key.”
It seems to me that in this milieu, the milieu of feelings, there exists a fertile field for the devil to exploit me. How do my feelings tie in with the life that I have experienced and how do I disconnect from them? I have had little success with the Jesus Prayer so far. I have been fairly faithful with it, praying it upon waking most mornings. Sometimes it is interrupted by a multitude of the cares and worries of the world that simply will not stop pestering me, despite my attempts to put them aside. Other mornings, I pray and have a bit of success in obtaining fleeting seconds of stillness, but there is no communication with God in stillness. I am sure I hear you saying now, in your usual kind voice, “But, Ed, remember, it’s a life-long struggle, not a one-time mountain top experience.”
6. “Passions are also described as habits—they are addictions of the soul and body. In service to its own economic interests, the culture has found it useful for people to be addicted to feelings. They are easily the most malleable aspect of the soul, particularly vulnerable to manipulation. The addiction to feelings is a hallmark of the modern soul. We think that we are our feelings, or that they somehow express something important, when in truth, our feelings are so distorted through addiction and manipulation that they are generally only barometers of the cultural pressures that surround us.”
I have been addicted, in various forms, for as long as I can remember. It has been such a way of life that I would describe it as being so deeply ingrained as to seem to me to be my very life. This is, of course, a lie. If the culture uses our feelings to serve its own interests, then I would say that going along with that measure of service, I have used my feelings to serve the interests that my brokenness demands, whether it was pornography, sexual and drug addiction, or even addiction to religion. (Yes, I’m sure you know that there are such people who are addicted to religion).
What is the feeling to which I am addicted? Based on my sessions with Dr. Acosta and my talks with you, I would say that it is the need to feel wanted, to feel worthy, to feel loved. Does such a need come from a lack of sensing these things? Correct me if I am wrong, but experience is fact. What I am saying is this, if I experience rejection, indifference, insults, or direct physical abuse, those experiences are facts which speak louder than merely hearing words or being told by a third party that I am loved. I have spoken with Dr. Acosta about this and we have gone into my personal history to some degree. My whole life has been an experience of the facts of rejection, insults, and indifference. This has continued right up to the present day. You are the first person – I kid you not – from whom I have sensed genuine concern and love. I cannot help even feeling this from God in my rejection from ministry. Being falsely accused, having no one to stand for me, no one interested in my offer to give myself to the service of the church, all of this speaks to my heart much louder than someone saying, “God loves you.” To which I can only say “He has a very odd way of showing it.”
Father Freeman said that we are beings made for communion. If there is one thing which I would say has been utterly lacking in my life, it is communion. Again, the times of breaking bread with you have been the closest and best thing I have ever had in communion with another.
What Father Freeman said is all well and good, and I do intellectually see the truth in it, but unless the Lord sends me to a monastery to live out my days, I will probably never fully experience that of which he speaks. I am caught in a situation, in God’s will and providence, and must do the best I can within the demands of it. Elizabeth is profoundly demanding and insensitive. She will barge into my room when she can hear me in the middle of my prayers to either tell me some trivia or ask something which could have waited another 10 minutes. That is one aspect. The other aspect is my own fault. I simply do not know how to be still. The closest I have come to it is what I described in the blog piece I shared with you.
What is the bottom line of what I have written to you? It is to continue onward , to seek to learn the “quiet way” of Orthodoxy, despite all the noise around me. I remember hearing a story about a monk who was visiting his friend in NYC. They were walking along the busy and noisy street when the monk said, “I hear a cricket.” When his friend objected, the monk said, “No, I know what I hear.” After a few seconds, the monk turned over a leaf in the gutter to reveal the cricket.
You see, he had trained his senses to tune out that which was not necessary. He was tuned in to a different wave length.
I think that is what I need to learn – the Orthodox Way. I look to your help to learn.