The Soul’s Yearning for God, part 2 (The Writings of Staretz Silouan: Wisdom from Mount Athos)

pp. 42-46

How is it possible to love God without ever seeing Him?

We do not come to know and love God through physical connection or logical proof, St. Silouan tells us. Instead, God makes himself known to us “by His effect on the soul.”  Silouan spends the last pages of this chapter describing these effects.

When God dwells within us:

  • We can understand and experience His mercy, as did St. Silouan. “I did not know this before, but now every day and hour, every minute, I clearly see the mercy of God. The Lord’s mercy gives peace even in sleep, but without God there is no peace in the soul.”

We live at a time when so many of us seem to be filled with “righteous” indignation:  outraged with politicians or an injustice; “fed-up” with situations; angry at others. Last Sunday, Fr. David talked about the danger of being trapped in a cycle of hate. Whether we are simply against something or actively working to demean, demonize and defeat it, we are still defining ourselves through hate.

Now imagine what our experience of the world would be like if we were cognizant of Lord’s love and mercy at every moment of the day, despite sufferings or injustice around us. Hatred and rage cannot take root in a heart filled with gratitude.

  •  We are filled with love for others. Our empathy and care for them fills our heart leaving no space for self-pity and self-preoccupation: “The man who has come to know the love of God himself loves the whole world and never murmurs at his fate, for temporary affliction endured for God’s sake is a means to eternal joy.”
  •  We are no longer afraid. We experience and believe in God’s love and mercy. Without it, we do not believe in God’s love for us and are incapable of finding rest within it. We think God is “forgetful” of us and despair of our salvation
  • We experience peace and joy. “The Lord gives peace even in sleep, but without God there is no peace in the soul.”
  • We surrender to God’s will and no longer exhaust ourselves in trying to fashion perfection on our own: “The soul that has surrendered humbly to God’s will invisibly beholds God in every second, yet finds no words for it…”

 Union with God transcends words and human intelligence. Our human capabilities can take us only so far. To advance beyond this point, we need the help of the Holy Spirit.

We must, therefore, be willing to accept our own limitations and humble ourselves, shifting from our own intellectual constructs to prayer and surrender.

“We must not argue about faith but only pray to God and His Mother, and the Lord will enlighten us…” 

Without this leap into faith beyond understanding, we will remain on the surface, running in circles, without ever reaching our destination of union with God.

Just as we know God’s presence through His effect on our soul, we also know his absence through the darkness that his departure leaves.

Where art Though my Light? Where art Though my joy?”

A soul that is bereft of God’s presence:

  • Is filled with fear and anger as it is unable to experience God’s love and mercy
  • Sees knowledge as a material end unto itself–a source of pride and separation from others it deems inferior. Humility and love enable us to see others as complete human beings rather than as props for our pride, without reducing them to component parts–intellect, wealth, physical appearance, etc.
  •  Is anguished and unable to find peace or to rest on solid ground: “ The soul that is not humble and has not surrendered herself to the will of God cannot come to know anything but flits from one idea to another and never prays with an undistracted mind or glorifies the majesty of God.”
  •  Is tormented by circular, obsessive thinking and is unable to have empathy for, or provide comfort to, others: “…but we are not humble and therefore we torment ourselves and those we live among.”

 Yet St. Silouan does not juxtapose knowledge against experience. He contrasts, instead, knowledge without humility and help from God against knowledge achieved through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Without the Holy Spirit men go astray, and though they study endlessly they cannot learn to know God and have not discovered what it is to rest in Him”

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