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More on Thoughts. . .

July 2, 2012

One might wonder why I’m spending quite some time on the nature of thoughts.  Well, they are at the root of every human act-whether it be virtuous or full of vice.  The act starts in the thoughts.  It’s also in the realm of the thoughts that the spiritual warfare is fought.  In chapter 8 of my book, entitled, “To Survey the Thoughts”, I note that “monastic tradition enjoins beginners in the Christian life to turn to prayer whenever they are confronted with enticing, ambiguous, or deceitful thoughts.  For example, St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite advises those who are unable to resist or repel seductive bad thoughts to be silent and flee to God for refuge.  Similarly, Abba Barsanuphius indicates that ‘there is no other way to humble our diverse passions more beneficial than invoking the name of God. ‘”

Such thoughts don’t necessarily have to be bad in terms of quality of character.  If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that when you decide to pray, that’s when you are beset with all sorts of thoughts-“what’s the day going to bring?”  “How’s my boss going to react to my proposal?”  “Who’s going to pick up the kids from soccer practice?”  These are thoughts that aren’t objectively bad but are inappropriate and a distraction when it’s time for prayer.  (Have you noticed these types of thoughts don’t flood your mind when you’re watching tv or engaged in a family activity?)  Unfortunately, these flood of thoughts are symptomatic of our fallen state, a weakened state in which the mind rules the heart which is the proper repository for prayer and communion with God.  In order for the mind to be brought into the heart, we must beseech God’s help and divine intervention.  The Fathers clearly warn against confronting the thoughts themselves.  Rather, they remind us to re-focus on the words of our prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

Perhaps another excerpt from my book might help, “Summarizing patristic tradition, Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite enumerates three reasons why taking refuge in God through prayer is preferable to disputing bad thoughts:  (1)believers are not always strong enough to fight their thoughts;  (2) those who attempt to dispute them will still have to contend with impure images lingering in the mind, thereby defiling it; and (3)those who admit their own weakness and inability to fight bad thoughts make their souls humble.”

Human history reminds us that the one weapon we have at our disposal which the Evil One does not possess is humility.  The devil and his fallen angels surely have knowledge that surpasses our understanding.  Yet, they flee a humble heart.  That’s one reason why the Jesus Prayer is such a powerful weapon in our spiritual battle.  Once again, chapter 8 helps support this point-“Turning to God in prayer should not be misconstrued as an abdication of human responsibility to judge a thought, but as a preparation for illumination before attempting to do so.  The watchful fathers knew by experience  that when the believer’s mind is gathered in the heart and repeats the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” demonic thoughts, fantasies, and illusions are exposed as false and thus can be more easily rejected. “

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