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The Cultivation of Good Thoughts

July 25, 2012

We’ve spent some time now examining bad thoughts—what they are and how to cope with them.  Since the spiritual life of the Christian is just as much about the cultivation of good thoughts as coping with bad thoughts, it’s time to turn to a reflection upon those good and luminous thoughts that the ancient fathers commend so vigorously.

In chapter 9 entitled, “The Garden of the Heart”, I review certain principles necessary for the cultivation of good thoughts.  In this post, I’ll offer some reflection on one of them, namely, the careful and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture and spiritual texts.  The fathers recognize that in the thoughtful reflection and reading of Scripture, both theoria and praxis are actively engaged in the process.  “Saint Athanasius the Great notes that constant rumination on the law of the Lord is a necessary form of spiritual exercise that should be practiced regularly, so that good thoughts might lead a person to acts of virtue.  When believers daily read familiar teachings with the same eagerness and thirst for sanctifying knowledge that they had when they encountered those teachings for the first time, then even the purposes of their hearts and the wanderings of their imagination are sanctified.  Even as the cultivation of good thoughts shapes a person’s core schemata, so do daily spiritual readings, for as Saint Neilus the Ascetic notes, ‘Frequent reminders of good examples carve similar images within the soul.’ The ascetic fathers even maintain that extensive spiritual reading can heal a person’s evil memories by imprinting in the mind the remembrance of the good, thereby purifying the memories of the passions, and distancing the soul from distressing recollections.  Spiritual readings moreover “fill the soul with incomprehensible wonder and divine gladness.”

This notion is richly reflected in the Church’s liturgical life, which is like a cup overflowing with the healing wisdom of the Sacred Scriptures. Readings from the Psalter and choice selections from the Old Testament make up the unchanging and firm structure running through the Hours, Vespers, Compline, Nocturnes, and Matins. And that same structure—always enlivened by fresh spiritual teachings from the daily, weekly, and Paschal cycles—also becomes a structure within the mind of the believer. This sumptuous banquet of consistent spiritual nourishment is moreover supplemented by additional divine services such as Akathists, Molebens, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Paraklises. And then, in the Divine Liturgy, not only is Divine Scripture ever-present shaping the hearts of the believers, but even further the Word Himself becomes flesh in the Holy Eucharist.

Two obvious points need to be reiterated: in order for the wealth of services to form a scriptural mindset in the soul of a believer, the believer must (1) read or listen to the Divine Services frequently, even daily, and (2) do so attentively. Nothing can replace persistency and consistency in the spiritual life.

If in this way the human soul is filled with Scripture and the teachings of the ancient fathers, there is little room for the darkness of bad thoughts.  Once these spiritual seeds take root, the believer begins to perceive the hidden workings of God in each and every circumstance of life, including that which is painful and difficult.  This is an integral part of the healing of the nous which left without Sacred Scripture and the spiritual writings of the fathers, remains incapable of seeing Divine Providence in the human events of day to day life.

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  1. Remembrance of God « Ancient Christian Wisdom

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