Spiritual Insulation

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Taking a Lesson from Gregory of Sinai, via TSO: “But he who writes to please men, for fame or for display, loses his reward and will receive no profit from this either here or in the life to come; more, he will be condemned as a sycophant and a wicked poacher of the Word of God.”

What follows will please few, but it is the fruit of my own hard experiences. To reinvent the old phrase: If the artificial exterior covering of the pedal extremity is of adequate but not excessive dimension and geometry, it would behoove one to ornament the anatomy with it.

I don't know how it goes with other St. Blogs parishioners, but when I examine my own habits, I discover some disconcerting tendencies that ally me closely withe the Pharisees. Let's pause for a moment and consider the Pharisees as a group. Why was Jesus so hard on them when he welcomed tax-collectors, publicans, women of ill-repute, adulterers and all manner of other thief and scoundrel. I think the answer lies not in the fact that the Pharisees were particularly bad but in the fact that they had developed an elaborate schema for insulating themselves from God. By raising the Law to the status it had and by carefully observing the exacting letter of the law, but removing oneself from complying with the spirit, the Pharisees managed to insulate themselves against God's grace. The phrases Jesus speaks to the Pharisees are like battering rams, seeking to break through the armor and to open them up to the work of the spirit. "Ye whitewashed sepulchres. . ." he's claiming that they are beautiful outside and ritually unclean on the inside. "But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:42)" Gosh, He's saying that they aren't really observant. There are many other examples--examples of unparalleled harshness in speaking to people--Jesus does not even speak to those who executed Him in this way. He ardently wants the Pharisees to hear God and return to Him wholeheartedly.

Those of us who are intellectuals and bibliophiles have developed a new Phariseeism. We acknowledge the error of the Pharisees in raising law to the ultimate heights and forgetting about God. However, in recognizing their plight, we disregard our own. How many times do I pick up a book to insulate myself from God? How many times do I read about the bible or read about the Church or read about prayer, to avoid doing anything about these issues? How much Bible Study have I done to avoid actually engaging the text of the Bible?

My tricks are subtle, so subtle that I have difficulty recognizing them. But they are all designed to keep me away from intimacy, away from the true dedication to the "one thing necessary" that should be the hallmark of my life.

How many times do I "not have time for prayer" and yet seem to finish two, three, or four leisure reading books in the week? How many times do I read about prayer rather than pray? How many times do i write about prayer as a means of avoiding it? There is a time and place to every purpose--reading and writing as well as others. But I have to be honest with myself--I spend more time in leisure than I spend in prayer and my leisure time is NOT prayer time no matter how much I want to fool myself into believing it is. I am not "practicing the presence of God" when I'm reading Mickey Spillane, or even when I'm reading Flannery O'Connor. How many people who read Flannery O'Connor are really there to engage her grappling with eternal spiritual truths and how many are there because she has a unique, idiosyncratic and engaging voice? (I tend to think the more people are there for the latter because, while I can build up a case for the spiritual message of O'Connor's story, it is often just as easy to completely ignore them and get on with the reading.)

I recognize the need for moderation in most things, but I also realize that it is important to be absolutely immoderate with regard to devotion to God. I would say that more often I am immoderate in my devotion to literature and subliterature and quite moderate in my approach to God.

But as any 12 step program attendee will tell you recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution. God will give each person who asks the grace of self-knowledge. How we choose to employ this will certainly be guided by the Holy Spirit if we ask. Perhaps it's time to evaluate those things we do to see it they bring us closer to God or if they are useful tools for keeping us at a distance.

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Timely words.

You hit the nail on the head. Self-love can be very subtle and deceptive, but God has given you a view of one way self-love sneaks in.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 23, 2006 3:21 PM.

Reasons for Not Loving God was the previous entry in this blog.

Spiritual Union on the Way of the Cross is the next entry in this blog.

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