St. Theognostos: Living in God’s Time

(Philokalia, vol 2)

When I was little, I remember listening to a song by a group called, The Byrds:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

This is based on a passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8  

For everything there is a season, and a time for every [a]purpose under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

In the decades that followed, I found waiting for the right time to be my hardest challenge. I simply hated to wait and expanded considerable efforts in forcing time to bend to my will. I was also sure that nothing would be ever achieved unless I willed it and made it happen, myself. Imagine the weight of this responsibility. I could never allow myself to be still. Even before the next self-appointed deadline was reached, the next goal and then the next had begun crowding the horizon.

How many of us have no faith in our children’s ability to correct mistakes and learn from them, or in the possibility that we lost a promotion because it wasn’t God’s time for it?  How many of us have arbitrary timeframes for assessing our, and others’, value as human beings?

He is 40 and still in middle management or still unmarried.”

In forcing our own script and timelines, we lead lives filled with anxiety, disappointment and fear– longing for but never achieving a sense of peace.

Theognostos applies similar examples of desires to control and impatience with slow results, to the pursuit of theosis. It is only when you free yourself from such passions that you can ascend higher levels of spiritual knowledge.

If you wish to be granted a mental vision of the divine,” he says, “you must first embrace a peaceful and quiet way of life and devote your efforts to acquiring a knowledge of both yourself and God.”

We cannot jump to the end of the journey by skipping steps.  We cannot experience the peace and joy of union with God by forcing our timeframe or using shortcuts—alcohol, drugs, fantasy, overwork, delusion and other forms of escape.

Do not try to embark on the higher forms of contemplation before you have achieved complete dispassion, and do not pursue what lies as yet beyond your reach. If your wish is to become a theologian and a contemplative, ascend by the path of ascetic practice and through self-purification acquire what is pure.

While Theognostos sees true longing for God as the engine that drives our journey, no matter how hard, he differentiates it from ambition.  To admit lack of readiness and submit to God’s time and will, takes humility.

If you want to be known to God,” he tells us, “do all that you can to remain unknown to men.”

Consciously look on yourself as an ant or a worm, so that you can become a man formed by God. If you fail to do the first, the second cannot happen.

Blind ambition is usually influenced by what others do, what we think will get us their approval, jealousy, insecurity and other passions that enslave rather than free us. Paradoxically, humility raises us to God. It is only by descending that you will rise.

“The lower you descend, the higher you ascend,” Theognostos tells us.

It is not by forcing the destination and willing its timing that we will achieve a state of true contemplation, but by submitting to God’s will and time and patiently completing all the stages of your journey.

 If you do this and achieve a pure state untroubled by any passion, there is nothing to prevent your intellect from perceiving, as it were in a light breeze.

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