Sunday, May 15, 2005

Guarding Your Senses

It's been said that those who were used by God were not trying to be used by God when they were called to do great and mighty things. Gideon was hiding in a wine press; David and Moses were tending sheep; Joshua was scrubbing prison cells after being betrayed and framed; St. Peter was fishing.

No, I'm not saying that something's happened to me that is on par with leading troops into battle or anything else. Just that, in the ordinary "hum-drum" of the life of this Spanish teacher--which, thank God, has of late been fairly constant and marked with more faithful prayer than usual--there has been a constant perferation thoughout the last few days of a Voice that I feel I can safely call the Holy Spirit. Why this simple idea/phrase hasn't always occurred to me I can only attribute to my own pig-headedness, but several times throughout the last few days, my priest's first words to me during a confession (not even my most recent one!) come back to me: "Guard your senses."

St. Paul tells the Romans and us to "be transformed by the renewing of your 'mind,'" though the word in Greek is actually nous, which the Fathers defined as that part of you that is utterly focused on certain things and can be turned in complete attention and stillness to God. One's nous, being part of our body--forgive me here if I sound condescending; I'm actually a bit embarrased, as this is more for my own fleshing out of this simpler-than-usual idea...thinking out loud, if you will--is affected by the "gateways of the body," or the eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and skin (particularly the hands). Stimuli come in through sights, sounds, tastes, smells and sensations and can serve to distract one's nous from focus on God, its one true Destination and Home, even to the extent of being the things it lives for, of which it considers itself the servant. Living for this physical world and its sensations, it loses sight of its Maker and embraces the fallen creation as master.

When, however, we engage in the ascesis of the Church--fasting, prayer, silence, stillness, charitable works, confession--we cut off these sensations to a degree and reign in the abused passions they have inflamed in order to regain stillness and silence, to allow our nous to see God again, so that it can recognize Him as the Author, Source, Sustainer, Finisher and Purpose of our lives. We don't condemn stimulii as bad in and of themselves--certain stimulii, yes, but not as a whole--as the physical realm, being created by God, is good and can be redeemed. Likewise, there are "passions," or emotional responses to stimulii that are sinful and others that are not (the latter often referred to by the Fathers simply as "passions," though all emotions could be called this), but when we "offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices," as St. Paul says directly before the nous quote, we sacrifice much of what stimulates us precisely because we are being led away by our senses from He Who is the One True Food, Who will one day eliminate the need--along with all the panicked responses to it--to sustain this life through physical food, to see via light, to satisfy our desire for novelty through new smells, tastes, etc., as He Himself will be our Light, our Food, our Satisfaction.

So it is that this has been rolling around in my--nous, I suppose--and over several days, in a vast variety of situations, my call has been to remember where my chrism went when I was received into Holy Mother Church and to guard my thoughts, my ears, my eyes, my actions, my impulses, my appetites...and thus to remember God in uninterrupted stillness (yes, even in the midst of a hectic school day!).

So I'll leave y'all with that, too: Guard your senses.


basil said...

"Joshua was scrubbing prison cells after being betrayed and framed..."

Do you perhaps mean Joseph?

David Bryan said...

Heh. Yeah. Thanks.