The second stage of contemplation according to St. Peter is knowledge of our own faults along with awareness of God’s bounty. How does he get from one to another and how are the two linked?
First, those who have progressed to that stage, identify their flaws and mourn for all that they have lost because of them.
Woe is me, unhappy that I am! What shall I do? I have sinned greatly… Many are the temptations: sloth overwhelms me, forgetfulness benights me and will not let me see myself and my many crimes.
The greatest spiritual struggle, however, is not mere awareness of flaws.
Think of our daily lives. How many times have you regained the weight you worked so hard to lose? Though you know in detail the consequences of being overweight and the rewards of a healthy weight, you just cannot resist that second helping or two scoops of luscious ice-cream daily. Or perhaps you know someone who, even after a bout of cancer, and fully knowing the likely consequences, simply cannot stop smoking; or others who cannot stop destructive behavior, even if their marriages, careers or lives are in shreds.
“I begin to see that my soul is being destroyed,” St. Peter writes, “and yet I make no effort to embark on a godly life.”
Sin, then, can be seen as addiction over which we have lost control. Other interpreters of Philokalia, such as Fr. Dr. David Subu, have made that case. Awareness, others’ pleadings or even consequences cannot impede an addiction’s powerful drive that increasingly dominates our lives.
Though we may engage in passions we recognize as destructive, we usually derive little joy in them. We may be haunted by guilt, a sense of failure and powerlessness. We may feel hollow with the lies we tell ourselves to justify our addictions and, eventually, sink into hopefulness and depression.
Addiction to sin causes us fragmentation. We have a divided sense of who we are as our intellect and action are disconnected.
Alas, for I know the punishment and yet am unwilling to repent. I love the heavenly kingdom, and yet do not acquire virtue. I believe in God and constantly disobey His commandments. I hate the devil, and yet do not stop doing what he wants. If I pray, I lose interest and become unfeeling. If I fast, I become proud, and damn myself all the more…
Yet the narrative shifts from the pain of living inauthentic lives to a cry for help. It utilizes the structures and cadences of a prayer.
I would like, Lord, to erase the record of my sins by tears, and through repentance to live the rest of my life according to Thy will.
I have sinned against Thee, Saviour, like the prodigal son; receive me, Father, in my repentance and have mercy on me, O God.I cry to Thee, 0 Christ my Saviour, with the voice of the publican: be gracious to me, as to him, and have mercy upon me, O God.
This is a transformational change with profound implications. Supplication to God Implies awareness of his mercy and gratitude for his bounty. It implies hope and faith.
Mere awareness and admission of our sins cannot, in themselves, raise us to the next stage of contemplation without gratitude, faith and hope. Without these elements, mere awareness can lead to despair.
Because sin is an addiction, we are in danger of losing control. Even if we are aware of, and sorry for, our sins we can still live inauthentic, anxious lives as we fail to translate intellect into action.
Yet there is hope if we recognize our powerlessness and turn to God for help in humility; if, in spite of our flaws and bad decisions, we maintain hope and a sense of gratitude toward God.