EXPERIENCING ETERNITY THROUGH PRAYER, ST. SOPHRONY

From his book, HiLife is Mine, chapter #11

…. appear unto us, O Light of the world,

To reveal unto us the mystery of the ways of thy salvation,

That we may become sons and daughters of thy light.

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It is with this prayer that Sophrony starts this chapter.

We are of course sons and daughters of God but becoming what we were created to be is different from just being. “Becoming” means comprehending and fulfilling this potential. This is not automatic. It requires both God’s intervention and our ability to focus our lives on him.

Stay your mind upon God, and the moment will come when you feel the    touch of the Eternal spirit in your heart.

Fulfilling our potential, “lifts the spirit into the spheres of uncreated Being and pierces the mind with a new vision of all that is. Love streams like a light on all creation.”

Yet even if we experience God’s light in this way, we cannot take it for granted because it can suddenly leave us. Having experienced the fulness of light, its departure leaves us bereft and empty.

Our study group questioned the idea of God departing from us. Hasn’t he promised that he will never leave us? Yet experiencing the presence of God within us is different from God simply dwelling in us, without us even perceiving it.

Experiencing eternity, as a member of our group remarked, does not refer to a sustained, emotional high. This is the mistake we often make, resorting to forced or artificially induced emotional highs. Light is not a state of emotion but a state of being in which we become transformed and see the world differently, with absolute clarity.

While we cannot count on when and in what form “the character of [God’s] coming” will appear to us, we can make its absence increasingly rare by resorting to prayer. Sophrony talks about “one spiritual adventure after another” to refer to the frantic and aimless pursuit of meaning without God. I remember the constantly changing face of my pursuit that exhausted and frustrated me—from hippie “farmer,” to ironic intellectual, conflicted mother and urban professional.

Sophrony tells us that for a Christian, a prayerful life encounters steep obstacles but has a steady goal and direction as we “press on toward the goal shown us by Christ, not dismayed but inspired by the magnitude of the task before us.”

Sophrony grieves for a modern world in which Christ is forgotten and seems irrelevant.  Why isn’t everyone burning with the desire to reach God and attain a higher level of being? asks Sophrony and answers his own question.

I suggest,” he says, “that it is less because the testimony is false and does not correspond to actual fact than because majority of us, satisfied with the things of the flesh, feel little desire for higher knowledge.” He concludes with a quote from the Corinthians:

“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (I Cor 15.50)

As Westerners, we may be moved by the artistry of a single move by a ballerina, while remaining indifferent to nuanced moves in, say, Thai dancing, or the hard-to-discern tonal modulations of Indian music. These non-western art forms, in fact, may strike us as “weird,” cacophonous and irrelevant to our entertainment.

To fully appreciate the beauty of a piece of art or the brilliance or a scientific concept, Sophrony suggests, one must have some training or familiarity with these fields. It is the same with the Spirit.

Man is an enigma, torn by the contradiction between the pull for the stopgaps of superficial comfort and the “everlasting glory” many of us do not dare to even consider. Yet, having forgotten the meaning and “vocabulary” of eternal life in Christ, we cannot visualize, or converse with, that realm.  Sophrony advises to exert ourselves, in order to become proficient in this higher “language.”

He urges us to think of a huge, old tree whose branches seemingly reach into the sky. He asks us to contemplate its roots and realize that they are at least as deep as the tree is high.

He concludes that “to contemplate this glory we must needs be in glory. Otherwise, we cannot see. To apprehend even dimly “Who this is” (Matthew II 11.27), we must become like him.”

It is through prayer that we experience Eternity, Sophrony concludes. And it is by descending into humility like the roots of a large tree that we will ascent to the glory of God.  

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