Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nativity -- Day 27

As of lately, I've resumed reading the excellent trilogy of books: The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart by Fr. Theophanes. Here is an excerpt from vol. 1: The Orthodox Doctrine of Person:
The Christian remains in this approach: seeking after the Face of the God who appeared to Jacob in Penuel. Hence, a very basic difference in structure presents itself: the Christian prays to a God who is Other, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whereas the model of consciousness we are discussing posits that there are innate structures in the human soul, taken as a mind-body holistic phenomenon, and that the spiritual life is a matter of gaining access to a spiritual experience by gaining access to these innate structures. The innate structures are taken as automatically providing the desired experience, and the spiritual quest is viewed as the manipulation of the psyche to attain to the desired subjective experience of the always present but hidden deeper aspect of the person being manipulated.

This is usually presented as a program of yoga, but we do not wish to expatiate: we are Christian, and we do not know enough about Buddhist or Hindu yoga. Hence, while it is true that both Buddhist and Hindu yogic writings refer to the grace of the guru as a means of raising the consciousness to the desired condition in the context of innate structures, there is nothing that we are aware of that corresponds to the doctrine that the Holy Spirit blows where it will (this conveys the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit from the constraint of him who is praying) and to the statement that you do not know whence the Holy Spirit comes and whither it goes. Orthodox spiritual writers uniformly assert this aspect of the Uncreated Light: just as Christ came and stood in the midst of his disciples, the doors being bolted,[3] the Holy Spirit is suddenly present without your knowing; and he leaves to go where you know not. In the Songs of Songs, this is an important motif: the touches of the Holy Spirit that ravish the soul of him who prays and leave her (i.e. the soul) desolate, seeking where the Beloved might be.[4]

This is important, for we will discuss a method of prayer that resembles a mantra; and we will discuss to what extent contemplation is within the voluntary power of him who prays.

The point is this: the touch of the Bridegroom, his caress upon the soul, is completely within the sovereign power and discretion of the Bridegroom; it cannot be commanded by the one who prays; it is not the manipulation of innate structures of the human soul—taken as a holistic mind-body phenomenon—that creates or gives access to these caresses of the Bridegroom. Hence, man has an innate ability to contemplate; that is what St Macrina has just said. But his ability to contemplate is restricted by the sovereign freedom of the Other.

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