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What Christianity Needs to Know About Its Own Decline

Paralleling the experience of so many cities throughout North America, Ottawa is marking the closure of one of its oldest and most iconic churches, the 127-year old St. Matthias Anglican Church. In a building intended to hold 600, the average congregation has dipped to 75. It’s an everyday, almost unremarkable phenomenon of modern life, that even as people are willing to cross continents and look to traditions from the Himalayas and the Far East in search of meaning, the churches that were once the religious backbone of our society seem to exert almost no attraction at all.

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A lot of people have said a lot of things about this from many different viewpoints, and I’m not going to repeat most of it, because, frankly, none of it gets to the heart of the matter. It is no secret that Christianity is in numerical decline in the developed world, or that the most successful churches at this point tend to be on the radical side of the Evangelical movement. Many, long lists of contributing causes have been compiled by writers either seeking to bandage the sucking chest wounds or gleefully celebrate the death of a personal bogeyman.

One Cause

There is only one ultimate cause of the decline of Christianity, without which all the others either would not exist or would not matter. It’s not science or modernity or consumerism or hedonism or any other external factor. It’s not church scandals or liberalism or ecumenism.

The one and only cause of Christian decline is the fact that the real spiritual tradition of Christianity and its understanding of the world is not only dead in most churches, it is so far gone that they it sounds utterly foreign to them.

Libs vs. The Hardcore Crowd

Let’s look at the most basic dichotomy among Christian churches today, which is between those teaching niceness and inclusion and those teaching moralism and exclusion. You can see this dichotomy between the mainstream liberal and evangelical branches of Protestantism, between the modernising and traditionalist parts of Catholicism and so on.

If we look at the Protestant churches of the developed world as a case study, we can see three basic trends that are fairly undeniable, statistically speaking.
1. Liberal Protestant churches are in sharp decline
2. Evangelical Protestant churches are still attracting followers
3. Overall, Protestantism is in decline, whether measured by absolute number of adherents, attendance or by percentage of population

How did this situation come to be? On the one hand, Protestant roots going back to the likes of John Calvin and the Puritans emphasised a particular interpretation of strict Christian practice against the corruption of the Catholic Church. This practice was extremely harsh in its denial of pleasure and its emphasis on hard work, to the point where the Puritan Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas. This kind of alleged Godliness could only hold the imagination for so long. As Protestantism embraced more social causes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became a driver for social change based on the morality of the New Testament- helping those in need, redistribution of wealth, equality of all people before God and the acceptance of everyone.

That shift was a much-needed relief to societies that had long been burdened with a rule-heavy morality and a rather Old Testament conception of a judgmental God. But without the rules that had held sway for so long, it brought on a crisis of what it meant to be Christian. After all, you don’t need to embrace any particular religion to be a nice, tolerant person. From this comes the view of Jesus as a moral teacher of enlightened values. But if that is all Christianity has to offer, then why do we need to go to church, and what, if anything, is the purpose of Christian practice?

The reaction to the resulting crisis of purpose was an inevitable revamping of old Protestant values. We’re not here to be nice! the Evangelical Churches proclaim. We have sinned and can only be saved from damnation because Christ paid our debt to God by dying as a man! Now we have to obey the rules so we don’t fall on his bad side again!

What rules? Well, there’s the rub, there are so many possible rules in each tradition, so many ways in which the rules contradict and so many interpretations that there really is no moral consistency to be had. But that doesn’t matter to the “rules club,” the hardcore Evangelical Protestants, “traditionalist” Catholics and Orthodox. No, they want rules for rules’ sake. We are saved for adhering to a particular ideology and obeying a checklist of rules- the one they happen to be emphasising this week- and anyone who doesn’t can expect fire and brimstone.

Selling Points

So why are these people so successful in marketing their petty, vengeful God and his inhuman checklists of rules? For two reasons.

First, because they’re serious about it. They seem to be offering exactly what the liberals never did- a thoroughgoing approach to Christian life. People are attracted to seriousness, because it feels like they’re actually doing something, like their faith is not superficial.

Second, because they trade on fear. You may remember our post on the difference between religion and spirituality. The core of the religious illness is the attempt to exert control over our destinies by performing ritual and moral actions that will get the deity on our side. Religious rules are a means of exerting control over the universe, of feeling like we’re justified or on the right track. They’re also a means of sorting the good people from the bad people, and we all know how much humans like to have bad people on whom to blame their problems.

The Lost Pearl

And that brings us to the real core of the problem here. From the very beginning, there was a tension in Christianity between principled spiritual life and rules. You can see one of the earliest instances of this in the Acts of the Apostles, when the church in Jerusalem had to decide whether to admit Gentiles. On the one hand, the Jewish Law forbade them to associate with Gentiles. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit had already acted to transform the lives of these people. In that case, the Spirit won, but it has been an uphill battle ever since.

The tradition of theosis, of the transformation of the human person in cooperation with the divine energies of God, is a demanding one. It requires us not to follow a checklist of rules, but to enter upon a deliberate journey into the centre of our being, to face and heal the very sources of our misery, to change the way we as human beings exist. It also requires us to exercise moral discernment rather than depending on rules. Here is what it has to say about the God of juridical Christianity:

“Far be it from us that we should ever think so wicked a thing as that God could become unmerciful. For God’s attributes do not change as those of mortals do.”

“As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.”

– St. Isaac the Syrian

But following the rules is much easier than self-transformation, and certainly much more convenient for an institution governing a large body of followers.  The idea of a divine judge gained almost universal currency in Christianity, while the tradition of theosis was obscured. What the Evangelicals and other rule-bound types embrace is not Christianity, but the rule of rules, the neurobiological sickness of religion which allows people to be assured that if they follow such and such a set of rules, if they associate with the right group and believe the right things, they can control their eternal destiny without in any way challenging the many mental afflictions that they have grown comfortable with.

But today, our society is growing much more aware of the limitations and harmful effects of moralistic rules, and so it is often the case that those who enter strict rule-bound parts of Christianity or their children end up leaving it for good.

The alternatives those alienated ex-Christians and our alienated society look for are those with fewer rules, but a genuine and thoroughgoing approach to self-transformation- in short, those offering real substance up front.

The Challenge

What’s really dying here is not Christianity, but the husk of a shadow of Christ’s teachings. Without a real path of spiritual development that is not overshadowed by the bankrupt morality of juridical Christianity, nothing else will take for very long. In order to change this dynamic of decline, Christians would need to do three very difficult things:

1. Confront the moral inconsistencies of the inherited rules and replace them with consistent adherence to divine love and personal integrity,
2. Rediscover the ancient tradition of self-transformation (theosis) and put it into practice, and
3. Build a community around it that is willing to teach it and live it out.

No existing church is even close to doing this, certainly not the Orthodox Church which claims the tradition of inner prayer as its own. In fact, although the knowledge of the ancient tradition survives only in the Orthodox Church, that illustrious institution largely ignores it in practice. After all, it’s much easier to celebrate the lives of the transformed human beings (saints) of the past than it is to actually do what they’ve told you.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.


Fasting Part Two: Fasting for Spiritual Purposes

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Ageless Beauty – Timeless Health:
Building a Lifestyle that Automatically Creates the
Health, Immunity and Longevity You Want

Toronto, Canada: June 4-5, 2011
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Over the course of human history, fasting for spiritual purposes has been at least as widespread and quite probably much more so, than fasting for better health.  We also need to remember that non-Western and pre-industrial cultures did not tend to divide life into categories of “physical” and “spiritual” as we do out of (bad) habit. 


Goals of Spiritual Fasting



There are many different ones.  As I write this, tens of millions of Eastern Christians are beginning their Holy Week fast leading up to Pascha (Easter).  For them the goal is to become more open to divine influence and to actually participate in the events they’re celebrating.  Of course, there are many different spiritual reasons for fasting:

  1. To become more open to divine influence
  2. To receive divine guidance on a particular issue
  3. To receive healing, whether physical, emotional or spiritual
  4. To help someone else receive what they need, whether healing, guidance or protection
  5. To prepare for a spiritually difficult task



In reality, of course, the majority of people who would say they practice spiritual fasting seem to do so on a semi-conscious level at best.  They often think they’re fasting, when they’re simply practicing a form of abstinence, or they’re not clear on how fasting works or exactly what they wish to achieve.


Is fasting a form of sacrifice that God demands imperiously?  Is it a form of punishment for human sin?  Well, if you read the ancient Christian spiritual sources carefully, such as the various collections of “sayings of the desert fathers” from the fourth and fifth centuries, it’s quite clear this isn’t the case.


What emerges is a bit more complex.  Because fasting cleanses the body, it also makes the mind more lucid.  If you consider that the desert dwellers who pioneered Christian spiritual fasting were totally dedicated to remaining in an unbroken state of inner “prayer of the heart”, this lucidity of mind was very important.  The bottom line from their experience is that abstinence from heavy foods and periodic fasting will enable you to maintain focused inner attention and will cut down on the inner dialogue, swirling emotions and physical symptoms that ensnare your attention.  That’s obviously a vital consideration for any sustained program of prayer or meditation, and explains why spiritual fasting has been so widely used worldwide for millennia.  


So if we ask how spiritual fasting works, it’s clear the explanation bridges the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes of our being, creating a cleansing and unifying effect.  It’s not simply a matter of fulfilling an abstract divine commandment; it has to do with how your mind-body organism is intended to function.  This is something that Orthodox Christian ascetics, Kriya Yoga practitioners and many native American medicine people, to name just a few, will tell you.  


Here’s a really interesting video on spiritual fasting that also ties in the health aspect in an admirable and well thought out way.  Be sure to pause it to give yourself time to read the text, in addition to listening to the excellent commentary:












A Spiritual Warrior’s Explanation



Without contradicting any of the foregoing, the Coptic Orthodox Monk, Matthew the Poor, offered this explanation of fasting. When he uses the word “self”, he is using it in the sense of the “ego” or “false self”:


“[When we fast] we must reach a state of accepting not the partial, but the complete annihilation of the self, and this can only take place by an act of deliberate volition.  In other words, if we begin by any exercise, such as fasting, which brings us to the partial overcoming of the self, we need to supplement the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accepting this state with an acceptance of the total destruction of the self.  This is obtained by the mental acceptance of death itself, with no dismay or restraint.  ‘But we received the sentence of death in ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 1:19).  


“When our father Abraham offered Isaac his son, he did so partially with his hands, but totally in purpose.  When Abraham proved his willingness to offer Isaac, his only son, God did not leave him to carry out the slaughter; when the offering had been only partially made on the physical level, God considered the sacrifice to have been actually carried out.  This, and only this, is why God redeemed Isaac with a ram – a symbol of Christ – who was to redeem the souls of those whose self was destroyed partially by their actions, but wholly in their intentions.”1.


In terms of spiritual fasting, that’s certainly “food for thought”!  Think about it.  Better still, try it.  Just remember, though, as with fasting for health, the same advice and warnings apply here, so go back and read the previous post before you start!


Blessings!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂














Noetic Prayer: The "Real Chocolate" of Spiritual Life

In the pre-dawn darkness, broken only by candle light, I felt a tap on the shoulder.  “The ‘yerondas’ will see you now,” said a voice from behind, speaking Greek.  I turned to follow him out of the Church, where we had already been praying for half an hour, and across the compound to another of the monastery’s buildings. 

As I entered the abbott’s humble quarters, he rose to introduce himself in a very warm and welcoming way, as is typical on Mount Athos, a penninsula jutting into the Aegean off the Greek mainland, where only Orthodox Christian monks have lived for the last thousand years. 

Though we were both multi-lingual, we quickly settled on French as the easiest form of communication for us and began to talk about various things.  I told the abbott I would soon be teaching theology at the university level for the first time and asked his advice. 

“The most important thing is the heart, ” he said.  “Theology is not primarily dates, events and facts.  It’s primarily the transmission of a living experience.  You need ‘the prayer’ – it’s the key to everything.  The more you get a grip on ‘the prayer’, the greater the effect of your teaching.”

Hmmm… not “prayer” generically, but “the prayer”.  An enigmtic expression, yet very clear to the two of us conversing in the candle-lit darkness of the Athonite wilderness. 

What is “The Prayer”?

We’ve already talked this week about the importance of prayer to your personal resilience and how to begin a life of prayer that gets results and increases your faith in the process.  Today, though, we’re going to talk about the highest form of prayer, the “real chocolate” of spiritual life.

It’s sometimes called “unceasing prayer” because it becomes eventually a state of being.  And it’s technically called “noetic” prayer because it’s the prayer of the nous, as opposed to the rational mind.  The nous is the ancient Christian term for your deep, intuitive mind – it’s a form of intelligence within you that knows reality directly and not through concepts, the way the rational mind does. 


To clarify, this isn’t prayer in the sense of “give me, give me” or “save me from the consequences of my own stupidity”.  This kind of prayer is about achieving a living communion, an assimilation of being, with the Absolute Reality. 


We build our resilience by remaining as far as possible integrated into the Absolute (God), under His influence and open to His energies (the energies of God, by the way, is a technical term that goes back at least to the 4th century), and the only way to do this is to cultivate a meditative state of openness and inner stillness. 


What’s the catch?  Your mind stream, that internal dialogue that locks you up into an individual, isolated and ego-centric perception of reality is what prevents this.  The more active the mind stream, the more we identify ourselves with our thoughts and fall under the sway of delusive thinking and powerful emotions we don’t control.  The Absolute can’t act within us under these circumstances. 


Your real self is not your thoughts or your emotions.  So the more you’re under the mind stream’s influence, the more you lose track of who you are, until finally you totally identify your self with your personality, which is little more than a collection of reactions to past experiences, to cultural brainwashing, to media propaganda, as well as of numerous other influences, including fluctuating hormones, biorhythms and phases of the moon.  In the end, you’re totally controlled by your environment and lose your inner freedom.  


Noetic prayer frees you from all that and enables you to become who you really are.  It also opens you up to the Absolute and keeps you that way.  You begin to perceive the world in much more vibrant colors, so to speak, than other people do.


One master of noetic prayer, the famous elder Porphyrios of Athens (d. 1991), knew everyone’s name, could communicate with animals and, if you came to see him from overseas, he might tell you clairvoyantly to fix the front step of your house in California and to make sure your sister in Florida sees a specialist for her bad knee.  Such is the power and effect of noetic prayer. 

On my visit to Athos in 1998 I was too late to meet him in person, but we talked to his senior disciple for several hours about the old man.  When another spiritual guide had once told an inquirer to consult Porphyrios, the inquirer protested.  The spiritual guide said, “My child, Father Porphyrios is like a color TV set; I am just a black and white one.” 

Beginning to Practice Noetic Prayer:


There are many different approaches that can work for different people.  For modern Western people, it’s often best to use basic meditation as a starting point, since this is a very effective way to gain a direct experience of the nous and to separate your self from your mind stream – your thoughts and emotions.


Just use your mental attention to follow your breath in and out.  When thoughts and emotional states arise and try to dominate your inner attention, just ignore them and return your attention to your breathing.  This is called “watchfulness” – using the nous (your mental attention) to keep your mental continuum free of clutter.


The more you do this, the more you’ll discover that the centre of your noetic energy is in “the place of the heart.”  The place of the heart is in the upper chest, and not everyone experiences it in exactly the same location.   For most, it’s in the upper chest, above the physical heart and slightly to the left,  no doubt related to the heart chakra plexus of yogic anatomy.


Now it’s time to request the divine presence, and there are several ways to do this.  The continuous repetition of a short prayer text is one of the most often used methods.  In ancient Christianity there were several in use that we know of, including various psalm verses, snipets of hymns, etc.


Eventually the formula that dominated and virtually replaced all others was the now famous “Jesus Prayer”.  And when the abbott above talked about “the prayer”, this is what he meant.  The text of the Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  It’s also called the “five word prayer” because in the original Greek, it’s only five words. 


Repitition of the words, which can be done aloud or just mentally, is often combined with the breathing, though not always. 


However, it’s possible to pray noetically and request the divine presence with no words at all.


So it’s not an accident the ancient Christian spiritual tradition (paradoxically the best documented and least known or understood spiritual tradition anywhere!) has always been called “hesychasm” – the practice of stillness or silence.  Note that this “silience” is interior and has nothing at all to do with whether you talk or not. 


By keeping your mental attention in the place of the heart, and more generally inside your physical form, you eventually learn how to defeat the disordered emotional drives of your past, as well as all outside influences, so that you experience an extreme inner peace.


Noetic prayer is, on the one hand, like candy – you can’t taste it just once. You want to stay there always and you experience a great compulsion to do that.  On the other hand, it’s really tough to master and takes continuous and regular practice.  This includes times you set aside to just practice this, because, without separate practice times, your efforts to remain in prayer during the hustle and bustle of the day won’t likely bear fruit.


Ultimately, this kind of prayer leads directly to a direct encounter with the one, true and living God.  This is often called theoria (vision) or the vision of the Uncreated LightThis experience confers real knowledge of God, erases all possibility of doubt in the existence of God, and leaves you in what St. Isaac the Syrian used to call “awstruck wonder”.


It is an experience far beyond anything the human imagination can possibly dream up.  All I’ll say about it is this, quoting another great master of noetic prayer from the 20th century…


“Compared to the Divine Light, all the lights of this world, even of the sun at high noon, are nothing but darkness.  At that time there takes place a union, a communion of the Infinite and Uncreated with human beings, who are created and limited.  By His energie, the latter are truly transformed into children of the Most High.  It is then and only then that you can be assured in all your being that you really are created in the image and likeness of God.  Every limitation of time and space disappears, you soar above duration and space and find yourself immersed in peace.”1

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

1. from The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain, ed. Alexander Golitzin, p.157.


Prayer Requests that Really Work

For the second in this three part series on prayer, we’re going to talk about prayer in the most common sense of the word, prayer as requesting a specific outcome.

Lots of people fall into the trap of feeling bad when they pray for some sort of outcome they want.  They feel they’re not worthy of it, or that it’s selfish or that God just wants them to suffer, so they should just suffer without the result they want.


All of this is deluded thinking.  First, if you’re a Christian, you have to consider that the God-man – Christ Himself – taught people to ask for what they want and need.  “Ask and you shall receive,” He said.  “Whatever you ask for in prayer, you shall receive.”  You’ll notice here that He doesn’t say he’ll reject any request that makes your life more pleasant because He wants you to suffer, and He doesn’t say these requests are selfish. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to learn the essential steps to building a prayer routine that “works”.  What do I mean by prayer that “works”?  Simple – you begin to see the fruits of your prayer, both in the sense of inner peace and the concrete results you’ve asked for (or something better).  And based on that, you develop a deep realization that you’re not alone and that help is closer to you than your own breath.  Do you think that would work for you?
 



How to Make Requests in Prayer:



Step 1: Put Yourself in the Divine Presence


Represent God vividly before you.  Do not build a mental picture of Him; just put everything else out of your mind and feel the firm conviction that the power of God is here with you at this moment.  Remember that the direct experience of the ages has revealed two things – the Absolute is totally beyond human imagination, so don’t try to imagine God, and the Absolute Reality is benevolent, so banish any childhood ideas that God is out to get you.  Simple be fully present and summon the full attention of your mind and heart.


Step 2: Be Honest with Yourself and with the Divine Presence


If you’re not sure that God exists, or that God is personal, or that God is loving or any of that, don’t worry.  If you have doubts, express those too.  And know that you can certainly ask God for clarification, for love and compassion.  The Absolute Reality is up to the challenge  😉



Step 3: Give Thanks



Give thanks for all the blessings in your life.  Give thanks for your family and friends, for your job and career, for your health and for all the good things that have happened to you.  Don’t worry about being exhaustive here, just bring a few things to mind.


Then recall specific prayer requests you’ve made that have been fulfilled.  Yes, if you’re new to this you may have to skip this step for now.  Just keep in mind it’s vital to know exactly what you’ve asked for and exactly what you’ve received.  This will boost your faith, which in turn is vital to the success of your prayer and your entire spiritual life.  


Step 4: Make Your Requests


Know exactly and clearly what you’re asking for.  Make your requests known to the Absolute without the slightest doubt.  Simply assume you will receive your requests and that if you don’t receive them immediately, that some even greater benefit is coming to you.  


God is the Uncreated life force behind the entire universe.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  If you think your request is impossible, keep in mind it’s absolutely possible for God and that the only barriers to your request are found in yourself and nowhere else.  


What should you pray for?  First of all, ask for spiritual progress for yourself and those close to you.  Ask that all of you will be protected from harm, whether spiritual or physical.  Pray for some people individually, especially those most in need.  Ask for any material thing you need as well.  In short ask for anything you need or want.  And always end by reaffirming the things you’ve prayed for.  This makes it all the more definite in your own mind and memory.  With it fixed in your memory, you can recall your prayer requests during the day, knowing that they’re on their way to you and to the people you’ve prayed for. 

Of course, we’re not talking about requests that are purely selfish in the sense of petty.  Praying to become a billionaire might not be the best idea, for example.  First, you don’t need it and second, you probably wouldn’t even like the result!  As St. Isaac the Syrian put it (and I’m translating this literally), “Don’t ask a king for shit.”

Does This Really Work?



Well, if you’re a skeptic looking for scientific data, I’d recommend you have a look at Lynne McTaggart’s classic book, The Field: the Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe.  There you’ll find the results of some rigorous scientific experiments on distance healing, for example, proving that prayer really can heal people measurably and repeatably, and over any distance.  

I can tell you personally that I’m continually stunned by the results of prayer.  I expect my requests to be granted – not because I’m gritting my teeth and fighting off doubt, but because I’ve seen it so frequently that it no longer occurs to me that I should doubt.  


It wasn’t always like this, of course.  Learning fruitful prayer takes time, persistence and dedication.  But when you’ve learned well, you have a whole new take on life itself.  You know for a fact you’re not alone.  You know for a fact that help is closer to you than your own heartbeat.  And you know that this help is the power that created the Universe in the first place. 

Next time, we’ll talk about an even more profound type of prayer – prayer as a continuous inner state of communion with the Divine.  As I said before, this is the “real chocolate”, the real nectar of life and it’s unfortunately a teaching that has long since disappeared from conventional “religion”. 


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


























Prayer – a Vital Resilience Practice

The requests keep coming in… they never stop.  “Talk more about prayer, meditation and spiritual life.” “Will prayer help my health?”  “How does prayer fit into resilience and how is it different from meditation?”  And the list goes on…

So this week I’ll do my best to answer and to help you make sense out of all this by talking about prayer.  We’re going to do this in three parts.  First we’ll talk about some of the basics.  Then, in mid-week, we’ll talk about prayer in the sense most people are familiar with, as a request for a specific outcome.  And finally, on Friday, we’ll get to the “real chocolate” of spiritual life – prayer as a continuous spiritual communion with the Absolute reality.  



“I Know Lots of People Who Pray… and Most of Them Are Wackos!”



If that statement describes the way you feel, believe me, you’re not alone.  I’m a priest of the Orthodox Church and I feel the same way! 

So yes, you’ll find lots of deluded people who “pray” frequently.  The Taliban folks pray.  Your Aunt Mildred who keeps beating you over the head with the Bible prays.  The TV evangelist who tells you God wants you to send him your money prays too.  Of course, all these people are praying more to their own delusions than anything else.  Prayer can transform you life into paradise on earth, but… if you stubbornly persist in delusion, it can destroy you.

Back in late 19th century Russia, someone asked a holy man named Theophan the Recluse why so many “religious” people were plain nuts.  The old man, who was a great teacher of prayer, replied that when you put yourself in contact with the Uncreated Being, you either accept that power into your life or you resist and distort it.  If you accept it, you become more like the divine – more loving, more peaceful, more integrated and more whole on every level.  If, however, you resist, you become the opposite of all that.  In short, if you’re trying to use prayer to build up your ego instead of get past it, you’re on the path to self-destruction. 
 

We, however, are presumably interested in prayer for the right reasons – to feel spiritually connected to the source of life, to fill our hearts with love, gratitude and joy, and to radiate compassion to those around us.  As long as this is our aim, and as long as we’re genuinely trying to distinguish truth from falsehood, we’re not in any danger of joining the wackos mentioned above.  

Do I Need Prayer to Become Resilient?



Looked at scientifically – and all authentic ancient mystical traditions were rigorously scientific – if the Absolute Reality exists (and they verified this), and if you are therefore in the image of or contain the nature and potentiality of the Absolute within you (also verified), and if the purpose of life is union with / transformation by this Absolute (another verified discovery), then it follows that if you are not consciously in communion with this Absolute, you are falling below you potential, weakening yourself and losing resilience.  Pretty simple, isn’t it? 

You’ll find a much more detailed discussion of all that in The 5 Pillars of Life, of course, but I can tell you now that in the eyes of any Authentic Ancient Tradition worldwide, if you don’t pray, you’re like someone who’s never experienced real life at all.    

What If I’m Not Sure About God?


That’s okay.  If you grew up in a “religious” milieu, you may still be struggling deep down with the idea that God is a cosmic despot with a significant anger-management problem, that He demands blind conformity to what some institution has told you and that if you don’t believe in Him 100%, He’s already really ticked off with you. 


Nonsense!  Without getting into the particulars, the whole idea of the angry God is a false teaching, according to the original Christian tradition.  There’s some more information on this in The 5 Pillars of Life, as well.  Here’s an example of what the early Christian tradition really learned about the divine being.  I suggest you read the following very carefully…


“God is good.  He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same.  We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him.  But if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him.  By living in holiness, we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked, we make Him our enemy.  It is not that He grows angry with us in some arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to the demons who torture us.  And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness.  Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.”(1)


St. Silouan of Athos, a great Orthodox Christian spiritual teacher of the 20th century, once said there are only two kinds of spiritual people – those who believe in God and those who know God.  The latter are those who have had a direct, overwhelming encounter with the Uncreated.  

So if you’re not too sure if God exists or what God / the Absolute reality is like, that’s okay.  You need to be honest with yourself.  There is very little difference between you and the person who, to use Silouan’s words, just “believes” but doesn’t yet “know”.  That person has simply taken a different ideological stand than you have.  However, he or she is still in the dark, in a manner of speaking.  


And yes, there are lots of Christians who’ll be happy to tell you they “know” God, but their “knowledge” of God unfortunately has nothing to do with “knowing God” as the ancient mystical tradition taught and still teaches.  And Silouan was a typical example of that tradition. 

Finally, you may also be struggling, even unconsciously, with the whole idea of God as “father” or parental figure.  This can be especially troubling for people who have grown up in dysfunctional family environments where the parental role models were incompetent, if not overtly toxic.  It’s no secret that how you related to your parents can have a huge effect on how you conceive of God.  Fortunately, there’s an antidote.. a very old antidote that works wonders…

You see, unlike the Christianity of the West over the last millennium, the ancient tradition explicitly taught that you should not take verbal descriptions of God too literally.  Using what we now call “apophatic” theology or “theology by negation”, the ancient tradition says that if we say, for example, that God is “good”, then we also have to say that God is not “good” as we imagine that word, but good in a way that goes beyond our usual concepts.  And likewise, is we refer to God as “He”, using the masculine pronoun (a huge stumbling block for many, given the historical shortcomings of most cultures), then we must also add that we do NOT mean “male as opposed to female” in the sense of human gender.  


So if you find yourself hung up on some of the traditional language about God, know that it was never intended to be taken in the simplistic way you were probably taught, and you can cheerfully dissociate your mental image of God from your parents.  


As Silouan said, after a particularly intense encounter with the Absolute Reality, “God is love insatiable.”  When one of Silouan’s contemporaries was asked by a younger person why he was always weeping, he answered, “My child, when God appears to you, all you can do is weep for joy!”




What’s Coming Up Next:


Next time, we’ll talk about putting your requests out there in prayer and how to do it so you get results.  In ancient times, prayer was referred to as “the art of arts and the science of sciences” and there’s more to it than you ever imagined…


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂


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