KEEP THY MIND IN HELL AND DESPAIR NOT. (WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS, St. Silouan)

No pain or deprivation is worse than the state of pride. Hence no amount of sacrifice is too much to defeat pride and replace it with humility. This is one of the premises of this chapter by St. Silouan.

Pride and vainglory trap us inside ourselves and separate us from God. Under their yoke, we live in the grip of suspicion, jealousy, resentment, fear, and loneliness. We suffer constant anxiety over loss of status or material things.

Pride creates a constantly increasing shadowy corner within us that unexpectedly surfaces and fill us with darkness. This is where panic dwells over potential failure, loss of control, separation, disapproval, or ridicule. This is where we bury resentments, disappointments over things that did not go our way; exhaustion over pushing against the grain to impose our will; and a secret worry about being frauds; that the image of ourselves that we project does not correspond to our authentic selves.

Our minds are too weighed down with our own concerns to have room for God. “Our hearts are cold, and we have no understanding of Christ’s humility or love.”

The ailing soul is full of pride,” St. Silouan tells us. That is, if we are filled with despair and turmoil, the root cause is always pride.

Silouan, himself, experienced this loss of grace after the Holy Spirit descended on him. Caught up in the sweetness and peace of this presence, he took pride in it and lost track of his battle with the enemy. He recognized this as a pattern:

“…when my mind emerges from the fire the suggestions of passion gather strength again.”

Silouan realized that the state of grace is fragile, and we cannot let our defenses down. In the grip of fresh joy or success, we must always remember the hell we came from.

“Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”

Without consciously keeping hell and death in sight, we fall into pride. Hence, we have only ourselves to blame if we fall from grace or never achieve it.

Silouan recognized the devastation the pride has wrought on our souls. It is especially tragic when we do not recognize pride as the cause of our pain. If someone does not know God and has not experienced grace, he may be “unaware of his poverty and ruin,” thinking himself fortunate or superior because of wealth or material successes, while experiencing the void of hopelessness and discontent, deep inside

Humility is the opposite of pride. “Humility,” St. Silouan tells us, “is the light in which we may behold the Light which is God as the Psalmist sang: ‘In Thy light we shall see Light’

Without having to fight for control, we experience peace and are open to God’s presence.

This is why, instead of asking for comfort, freedom from pain or material things, St. Silouan, asks for tears in his prayer. It is by embracing tears and keeping his mind in hell, that he can experience the greater happiness of humility and the presence of God.

Thou, O Lord, showest me Thy glory because Though lovest Thy creatures, but do Though give me tears and the power to thank Thee

Great pains are needed, and many tears must be shed to preserve the humble spirit of Christ; but without it the light of life is extinguished and the soul dies

St. Siouan makes it clear that, even if you have learned to “keep your mind in hell,” you are still not able to experience humility without the Holy Spirit. There is a difference, he tells us, between believing in your mind that God exists “and knowing God by the Holy Spirit.”

The spirit of the man who has come to know God by the Holy Spirit burns day and night with love of God, and his souls can form no earthly attachment

What if someone has never experienced the grace of God so that he does not know enough about what is missing to desire humility? Silouan gives us courage. Surely, we all have had a glimpse of grace, he tells us; a moment when God’s presence was palpable within us, though we may not have been able to identify the source.  We all have had enough of a glimmer of God that we experience a deep desire for Him, though we may be unable to pinpoint and name the nature off this desire. And, as Silouan tells us, “the Holy Spirit moves to God those who desire it.”

What we should do then “to have peace in soul and body?”

“Love all men and be prepared for death, St. Silouan concludes. “The man who is mindful of death is not beguiled by the world.

Emptying ourselves of pride will bring about the peace and love that stem from humility:

We will find that:

our “human soul wishes good to all men and in all things is content.” 

And we will be able to experience Christ’s love to the fullest:

When the Lord enlightens you your soul will feel His presence, will feel that the Lord has forgiven you and loves you…

These are the gifts of humility in heart.

 

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