Thursday, June 26, 2008

On converting pain into spiritual progress

This is from a series of presentations Fr. Zacharias gave entitled The Hidden Man of the Heart. I listened (again) to the recording today while traveling back and forth to work; what follows is taken from the book by the same name (pp. 103-105). I usually prefer reading to listening, but just hearing his gentle manner and humble approach is inspiring to me.

It is not easy to learn to weep properly. If we weep on the psychological level, we shall wither and quench all life in us; whereas if we weep spiritually, not only will we suffer no harm, but we shall be regenerated. In We Shall See Him as He Is, Fr. Sophrony explains the difference between spiritual and psychological mourning. According to him, psychological mourning is a matter of our confining life to the visible plane. Spiritual weeping occurs when we refer every experience of ours to God, on Whom we depend for everything, for we can only lament the distance that separates us from Him.

We frequently suffer pain and hurt on the psychological level when we encounter energies that crush our heart. But we must rise above these negative experiences, and we do so by exploiting the heart-felt pain of a particular incident and convert it into spiritual energy. Fr. Sophrony often stressed that we must learn to transfer every psychological state--whether due to illness, the scorn of other people, persecution, or the incapacity of our nature--onto the spiritual level by means of a positive thought. And we do this simply by keeping our mind in the place where the Son of God is. We think on those things that are on high, as St. Paul advised the Philippians (cf. Phil. 4:8).

Fr. Zacharias gives this example to clarify what he is saying:

A brother says a harsh word to me and wounds me. There are two ways of reacting to this energy that so crushes my heart. I can react bitterly and say, "How ungrateful of him! I have been so kind to him for years, I pray and care for him, and look how unjustly he treats me! He is a bad man." That is the normal psychological reaction of people in the world. But, there is another reaction. The pain is real and goes straight to the heart, but without even thinking about where this pain came from, I change the direction of my thought and I say, "Lord, You saw my indolence and my negligence and You sent Your angel to wake me up. Have mercy upon us." I use the energy of the emotion and I direct my thought to God and pray for the things I am in need of. We can always use that bitter energy within us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins. So I convert the psychological energy into spiritual energy, and I enter into dialogue with God, and at the end of it I feel refreshed and I do not even remember from where I started, or who dealt me the blow.

This is truly a good word.

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