Monday, July 30, 2007

The Inner Storm

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

From this morning’s Gospel Lesson [Matthew 14:22-34] we heard St. Matthew’s account of our Lord Jesus Christ walking across the waters of the Sea of Galilee at night to meet His disciples in their storm-tossed boat. Once the disciples had gotten over the terror of the situation and regained their wits somewhat, the ever-spontaneous Peter practically exploded over the gunwales, begging Christ for permission to join Him in this grand adventure of walking upon the waves. When this was granted he immediately leapt overboard, and it appears that he actually succeeded for at least a moment or two. All too soon however, he shifted his attention from Christ to the strong winds and the fierce waves all around him and fear entered his heart. Perhaps along with this fear came a sudden and keen awareness of the stark impossibility of what he was doing, and his faith evaporated and he began to sink. He immediately cried out to Jesus to save him, upon which our Lord reached out with a strong hand to pull him into the safety of the boat.

Over the years, I am sure we have all heard sermons that spoke of the winds and the waves in this story as being life’s occasional trials and tribulations, during which we must always keep our eyes focused on Jesus lest we be overcome by our fears and sink into our troubles. Well this is fine advice and always welcome. But it may interest you to know that quite a number of our early Christian fathers, especially among the desert monastics, saw a much deeper and more immediate meaning to this passage of scripture. Rather than seeing the elements in this story as symbolic of life’s trials, they saw the darkness of the night as describing the spiritual darkness of man’s fallen soul, and the turbulent and churning Sea of Galilee as portraying the confused and disorderly state of most people’s interior life.

Our Christian fathers were preeminently concerned with the ordering and healing of man’s inner life, for it is primarily in this realm that we were created to perceive God and commune with him. But in our fallen state, the peace and calm that was meant to characterize our souls and direct our inner life, has been replaced by a raging torrent of out-of-control and random thoughts and emotions that are mostly all directed by our earthly passions.

It isn’t only during periods of trial that we lose sight of Jesus; in fact, ironically enough it is usually during such times that we tend to pay a little more attention than usual to God. It is normally during our ordinary day-to-day lives when things seem to be going smoothly that the darkness and confusion of our souls reigns unchecked, and we are often driven away from the contemplation of God by an endless stream of undisciplined thoughts and careless and brazen desires until we virtually drown in them.

The brave Christian who dares to venture into the inner realm of the soul to bring it under submission with God’s help, may soon find himself overwhelmed by the effort required and the seeming impossibility of controlling the tempest, and like Peter, may quickly lose faith and beat a hasty retreat out of such a hostile environment back to the safety of living life on the surface, where most people indeed spend the majority of their lives.

Because we avoid and ignore our inner life, we become perversely obsessed with ordering our outer life, perhaps thinking that if we can at least create the appearance of being in control of what we and others see, this will mean that we are right with God on the inside as well. Thus we eagerly expend nearly all our energy in pursuing external things to make us happy and comfortable. We crave financial success, a happy family, property and possessions, lovely homes and wonderful vacations, the latest fashions, and the respect and admiration of those around us. We may not have all or indeed any of these things, but we just know our lives would be better if we did!

Meanwhile, life keeps yanking the rug out from under us. Perhaps we suffer a financial reversal and lose much that we have built up over the years. Maybe we go through a divorce or have a child who seriously messes up his life. Maybe things have gotten bad at our job or our friends have suddenly turned their backs on us. If all our hopes and dreams have been wrapped up solely in the things of this world, such naturally occurring catastrophes can bring overwhelming grief to us and leave us wondering why God is mad at us.

But God isn’t mad; He is grieved. He knows that in the darkness and confusion of our souls we have made bad choices; seeking fulfillment in things which are passing away, sometimes even seeking pleasure in sin, which only adds to the darkness of our souls and creates a more profound and lasting sorrow. Like the addict who desperately laments the effects of his drug but finds his only solace in its continued use, we often try to drown our sorrows with more pleasure and more distractions, rather than by turning our hearts away from such things to the God who alone can calm the stormy sea of our souls and bring us healing.

But there is one more problem. Who among us doesn’t love pleasure more than struggle? For this reason we often give in to our sins and will not suffer so much as a single bruise in the fight against them. We so often choose to go easy on ourselves, and flee from the determined effort needed to stay focused upon God daily. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and men of violence take it by force. But we are pacifists in the battle for the kingdom and do continued violence only to our own poor and defenseless souls. How many times have we made excuses for ourselves, saying that we are too weak, or too busy, or that our Orthodox Christian faith is too hard? How many times have we started out to show concern for our inner life, but quickly turned and fled when the winds and waves were too frightening and the labor seemed too impossibly great?

My brothers and sisters, it is so much easier to live life on the surface than to enter into the depths of our dark and troubled souls. But the reward for those who dare to step out of the boat and meet Jesus in that turbulent place is nothing less than the miracle of a soul made more pure and more calm, where God can be known and the peace of God cannot be taken away. Is this not worth the risk?

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 8/01/2007 7:20 PM , Blogger The last cause said...

Hello Fr. Eremitike, I especially liked the thought about walking around in daily life we tend to forget about God.

"If my words dwell in you, you will have life"

Good to see you still are writing, prayers for you and yours.


At 11/13/2013 1:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading Rev.21:1 this passage enteredy mind.there will be no more sea, there will b no more chaos. Itook as jesus walk over the troubles of this world, peter stepping out of the boat as being victorous over the the things that seperate uc from God.Jesus said in this world u will many troubles, but b of good cheer for I have overcome this world.So I believe that if we are lovers of God, beleversof Christ, we are overcomers of the things that sepetate us from God. Thank u for the wonderful message. Pete


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