The Jesus Prayer 14 – Imagination

Posted: March 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 14 – Imagination

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

There are books and other writings on Christian prayer today that encourage the use of our imagination during prayer. Orthodox tradition is adamant on this point; do not picture anything in your mind and do not use your imagination.

In the Jesus Prayer, we are trying to remain in direct contact with God, and such images can lure us instead into thinking about God.

Until I encountered this in Orthodoxy, the use of imagination in prayer had seemed natural to me. But once I began to think about it, I realized how odd it truly is to act that way. If I sat down with a friend for a conversation, but then proceeded to imagine my friend doing or saying various things, and began responding to the words and actions I had imagined, everyone would think I was crazy. And yet that is often precisely what we do with God.

Since it is possible to encounter God in reality, there is no need for fantasy.

And that’s really the crux of the matter. Do we believe God is real and do we believe we can truly encounter him? Our practices reveal our actual beliefs.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 18

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 18

51. The first type of dispassion is complete abstention from the actual committing of sin, and it may be found in those beginning the spiritual way. The second is the complete rejection in the mind of all assent to evil thoughts; this  is found in those who have achieved an intelligent participation in virtue. The third is the complete quiescence of passionate desire; this is found in those who contemplate noetically the inner essences of visible things through then outer forms. The fourth type of dispassion is the complete purging even of passion-free images; this is found in those who have made their intellect a pure, transparent mirror of God through spiritual knowledge and contemplation. If, then, you have cleansed yourself from the committing of acts prompted by the passions, have freed yourself from mental assent to them, have put a stop to the stimulation of passionate desire, and have purged your intellect of even the passion-free images of what were once objects of the passions, you have attained the four general types of dispassion. You have emerged from the realm of matter and material things, and have entered the sphere of intelligible realities, noetic, tranquil and divine.

The nous (which is often translated mind in English translations of the New Testament) is a concept that does not seem to have a real equivalent in our language. It’s not really the rational mind or thoughts. It’s more the center of our being that can know God mystically, directly, and truly. It’s that part of us that can see reality as it is rather than as we imagine it to be. It’s the part in us that was dead and which was healed by Jesus. When Paul speaks of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind,” it’s the nous to which he is referring. Remember also that the passions are the things we suffer. The term here does not refer to feeling strongly about something but to be ruled by those things that bypass our will. The eventual goal is to see reality, that is to know God, not through our imagination, but truly and actually.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 12

Posted: April 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

43.  If a man desires something, he makes every effort to attain it. But of all things which are good and desirable the divine is incomparably the best and the most desirable. How assiduous, then, we should be in order to attain what is of its very nature good and desirable.

As something of a competitive overachiever, I like this text. It reveals a simple, yet often overlooked truth.We can reliably gauge how much we want something by how much effort we are willing to expend to gain it. This, of course, is one of the threads behind Jesus’ statement that a man cannot serve two masters.

By this measure, I can ask myself if I want God. And far too often, it seems that my answer is no, or at least not very much. I want to want God. The Christian story has captured my heart and imagination. But I expend tremendous effort in many other areas of life and often have comparatively little left for God.

However, I do have faith that as I keep doing the little things that I can do somewhat consistently, God will take those and build upon them. God gives me grace, which is to say that God gives me himself, so that I might want him more. If I did not believe that, then I suppose I would see this whole Christian thing as fundamentally hopeless.