Praying in the Rain
Summary: Reflections on the Inner Life from Canada's Pacific Coast - Fr. Michael Gillis reflects on the inner life of Orthodox Christians. Drawing on the wisdom of both ancient and contemporary Church Fathers, Fr. Michael ponders the struggles, the ironies, and the disciplines of the spiritual life.
Acknowledging the ugliness in our heart is like taking out the garbage. When we pretend it’s not there, it doesn’t go away. It just festers. But when we confess our sin by acknowledging before God the ugliness of our heart, a ray of light shines there and we take a step toward healing.
For those of us who are still working on getting that first few rows of stones around the foundation of faith, focusing on acquiring a little bit of every virtue helps us to keep picking up the stone (of virtue) that is needed at a given moment and putting it down at the correct place in our spiritual house. Baby steps for baby Christians. May God grant that we are all found to be children in His Kingdom.
Just as surely as there is a time of sowing, there is a time of reaping. God changes us and touches the hearts of others through our prayers, our giving and our service to others. Seeds become trees and trees change the environment. Sowing is hard. Trees grow slowly, almost imperceptibly. It requires faith and often tears.
The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives always takes place on two levels, both on the level of what is outside us or what comes to us, and on the level of what is within us or how we receive what comes to us.
Fr. Michael Gillis answers the question of “how to overcome thoughts of pride in our hearts that inevitably come after labouring on good works for our families and people around us.”
Fr. Michael Gillis reflects on the life and writings of 20th century Catholic author, Flannery O’Connor. "Good in this broken world is always something under construction. The grotesque—physical, moral and spiritual—that presents itself to us as the terribly deformed face of a cancer ridden child very often hides from us the Grace of God at work constructing good in that person’s life. How many people have I dismissed because I have connected the visible cancer of a terribly confused and broken moral or spiritual life with the “grotesquerie of sin”? How often have I failed to see, failed to even look for the good under construction, the glimmer of Grace at work in a life disfigured by the brokenness of sin? Truly the thought of this question overpowers me sometimes."
In St. Paul’s famous passage about spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10, he specifically mentions arguments as one of the high things that must be cast down because they exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Arguments, St. Paul tells us, along with every other “high thing” must be brought into obedience to Christ. Forcing myself to turn away from the argument in my mind and to return to Christ in my heart is the only way I have found to recapture the peace which fled when I accepted the devil’s bait and began to argue.
To begin with, we must remind ourselves that salvation is a mystery, and that discerning principles and rules in the scriptures and self consciously applying them to ourselves is no guarantee that we will find salvation. In fact, it seems that this approach to seeking to discover and apply the correct formula or law to his life is exactly the approach used by the ruler who fails to find salvation.
Fear and anger, however, seem to trump common sense and faith in God. Fear and anger open in us a floodgate of animal passions making it seem appropriate to demonize (or de-humanize) those we disagree with. Fear and anger release our inner muskox ready to trample those who are less clear thinking than we are, less concerned for liberty or the common good than we are, less eager to create a just and safe society than we are—or at least that’s how it appears to us. And we don’t have time to listen, truly listen, to one another. Fear and anger create urgency so that we don’t have time to listen, we don’t have time to care, we don’t have time to be Christians.
Self-importance is a tricky disease to diagnose, not in others, but in oneself. The problem lies in the fact that often (but not always) those who suffer from the spiritual sickness of self-importance are in positions that are actually important. Those of us who teach and/or lead in the Church or in politics or in education or in medicine or in business are indeed in positions of importance. However, it’s not the fact that we are in positions of importance that causes us to suffer from self-importance, but being in such a position does make it much harder for us to diagnose our disease.
I want to make clear to everyone that we will not be asking anyone about vaccination status. As in almost all matters, so with government health mandates, it is possible (probable) that very godly, intelligent and well-meaning people will disagree. Let’s not let self righteousness—and her children, fear, anger, and judgement—keep us from loving one another and believing the best of one another, even if we don’t see eye to eye on this or any other political or medical matter.
Here’s the problem: We so often set ourselves up for failure by thinking our best must mean that we should do what someone else, probably a saint, is doing or has done. And so, without discernment, we force ourselves to complete a rigorous prayer rule or fasting discipline, or to sleep very little, or attend copious church services, or to volunteer at every opportunity—all without discernment, often motivated by a pride that thinks that all we have to do is force ourselves and we will attain the spiritual heights others seem to have attained.
Our assurance must be in God Himself. Our assurance cannot be in being right, for we are human. Yes, being right is important, and we should strive for orthodoxy (ortho is Greek for ‘right’). We are the Orthodox Church, after all. However, we are also human. We are limited, do not know everything and are easily deceived. Our trust has to be in God, not in man.
Isn’t it strange how much easier it is to thank God when you have almost nothing, than it is when you have much more than you need? I have noticed this in myself. I am very thankful to God when I have a little bread (when I might not have any), but when I have bread going mouldy because I have so many other things to eat, I forget to give thanks. When we have abundance, we have to force ourselves give thanks, otherwise we won’t.
Today we live in a time of uncertainty; but really, today is no more uncertain than yesterday nor the day or year or century before. Certainty is a kind of delusion. It is a delusion that conveniently forgets that there is much, much more going on in the world than we know and can see. How, then, can we live in peace when our life is enveloped in uncertainty? How do we escape the fear of uncertainty?