As one saint has said, the wind in the reed can be a distraction from prayer. It is a blessing to pray in silence. But it is an even more precious gift to pray without disturbance from within, free from all the thoughts and anxieties that might engulf you and destroy your inner peace. Anxiety and apprehension lead us to exaggerate and fantasise, and we face many dangers. So it is essential not to lose control of our inner world. We should never neglect it, nor let thinking and sensations deceive us. For when we do, we are at risk of being self-centred and wilful, and both are bad companions to a proper life. To know the right way, we should ask God. But living in the flesh stops us from doing so, as we cannot get ourselves to overcoming our selfish selves.
The Lord wishes us to have a different life and a different relationship with Him. Yet we resist because we are unprepared. We remain opposed just like any other sinner who would be too afraid to put his trust in God's hands.
People can be unreasonable like wayward children. The Lord will lift them in His arms, and they would become exhilarated, and think that they were flying. They would be blissful and ecstatic; they would think that the world is perfect and all things are in the right places. Yet a moment later, the Lord will say: "Now it's time to stand on your feet". Man makes his first step, and stumbles; he makes another and falls. He is hurt. He is scratched and bruised. "God, where are you? Can you hear me? Why are you doing this to me? Why am I not flying again?" But was he flying? Or was he deluding himself? God had lifted him, and he took it for flying! He is back on the ground, he is asked to walk by himself, but he does not want to endure the hardships.
What else can God do to convince all of us to walk on, despite the sores and the bruises? To persevere, even though our wounds become more painful as we age, and even harder to tolerate? And how can we remain steadfast in trusting the Lord? How can we still be confident that He is near, even when he cannot see or hear Him? How can we rest assured that God still loves us, even when we feel depressed? That he is still leading the way, even when the going is tough? We are treading up a narrow path, we are learning and growing, and we are on our way to becoming His sainted warriors! We are called to shed all things worldly and perishable as we proceed, to reign in our flesh and the passions that it rakes up in us. How often do we succumb to them at our moments of weakness, when we feel exhausted and unable to go any further, or when our path seems too narrow and steep for us. We must continue, and we must never lose trust in Him. Too tired? Feeling pity for yourself? Ready to sit down, or look for an easier road below? Do not allow yourself to become deluded, keep going. We are guaranteed to stumble and fall as we go up, and there will be a pain. So we might let ourselves think, "Perhaps we might be better off finding someplace more comfortable and warmer and staying there? We fret and fidget; we reason and we bargain, while the Lord is gazing down on our miserable endeavours and braces us to soar up to the Kingdom of His Love.
There is no way to say anything definitive of any person, as we are a combination of many traits - ugly, silly and insane, but also beautiful and sublime. They are all found in the heart and in the life of the same person. Which will prevail? Which will have the upper hand? The man of the flesh to whom I am listening? Or Christ, from whom I am hiding and running, and is hearing from me my constant excuses – “Sorry, I am not ready to follow you yet!”
We go to church and accept into ourselves the body and blood of Christ. How should we be living our lives with this kind of blessing? And how are we actually living them? I am not asking this to hear from you: "There is no hope - we are going to die". My aim is to get you to say to God, in full acknowledgement of your worthlessness: "Glory to You who showed us the Light!" I want you to appreciate how merciful our Lord is to each of us.
As we become closer to God, we are going to realise our unworthiness ever more acutely. In his book about his teacher, Elder Silouan, Father Sophronius (Sakharov) warns us that the struggle will be extremely hard. He wrote that after twenty years of testing the limits of his ascetic virtues, of sleepless nights spent in prayer and hard work, the honourable elder concluded: "There is no shortcut to the Lord, no prayer or feat can do it". All things of the world and of the flesh, including the asceticism, have not been enough to overcome pride. But when they asked the elder if he was ready to die. His answer continues to inspire me. "I have not humbled myself enough," he said. He was not speaking from modesty, but from his experience of life and overcoming sin. We, too, should take heed to these words of our Lord which touched the elder's heart so much: "Keep your mind in hell and despair not. Do not be afraid; just believe, and you will be healed." (Luke 8: 50). With this attitude, what should we care about our neighbours' looks or words? They would be too small to deserve our attention. Our life or death in eternity would be the things that mattered.
Do you realise how high the Lord has raised the plank for us? But we choose not to aim for it, as we are too afraid. We too concerned by our daily relationships - who loves whom and who does not, and what others have or have not done. Our connectedness with God gives us all the answers. But when we do not have it, we go to all sorts of lengths to outsmart others with our cunning, and we often fool ourselves, too. Things become such a tangle that it is much easier to cut it up and throw it away than to try undoing it. Untying the knot of the passions, desires and deceptions of others – what could be a more hopeless task? They are going to be discarded and left behind on earth. But when the Lord summons our souls and asks us to follow, are we going to say, "Sorry, I am too busy now, I still have a few projects to finish and errands to run. Please give me more time?". Let us be honest: are we making proper use of our time right now? What are we preparing ourselves for? A finite death, or eternal life? Are we still looking for excuses? Are we still losing where we ought to gain by being a servant of another, and through that other person, of our Lord?
Is loving our neighbour still too difficult for us? Are we finding it hard because we are not humble enough? To be humble, we need to overcome our selfishness. We should be able to forget about ourselves. When we do not, we see the results. Why are so many families falling apart? That's because people fail to realise that family is our service of another. We give love by not living for ourselves and living for another. Life in the flesh prizes selfishness. Selfishness comes in many different forms and guises, but how can someone selfish to the bone be a servant of another? Or stop doing one's will by becoming a monastic? That would be unthinkable.
But transformation is possible, and it can only happen by God's love. Freedom begins and ends in our hearts and our minds when we can say: "Show me the way, O Lord! I will follow and surrender my soul to You!"
How many of us would be able to say so? All our lives, the Lord would have held us to His bosom, while we are resisting and fighting back. The Lord will have been safekeeping our souls and giving us space and time to decide what they wanted in the first place. But I can say for myself that His work has not been in vain, as I have learned to pay less attention to myself, my selfish wants and my desires.
How can we change our world? To quote Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov, do not try to shake the foundations, but be vigilant; take care of yourself, your family and kin; be an example for others, and thousands will be saved around you.