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Homily for 3/27/05 - Lent 2 - Wholeheartedness

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  • David Moser
    Sometimes from out of nowhere a comment just jumps out of a conversation or off a page and makes an impression. The other day as I was reading a book - not
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27, 2005
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      Sometimes from out of nowhere a comment just jumps out of a conversation or
      off a page and makes an impression. The other day as I was reading a book -
      not even a Christian or particularly spiritual book - such a comment stood
      out. Once in a while, when we hear a familiar truth from an unexpected
      place, expressed in an unexpected way, it becomes clear. This is what I
      read: "Worship yields nothing to the slipshod and halfhearted. I have seen
      men's worship which, if it had been a roof they had built, would not have
      kept out half an hour's rain; nor had they even the wit to wonder why it
      left their hearts cold and yielded then neither strength nor comfort.
      Worshippers reap what they sow."



      What if our worship, that is our prayer and spiritual effort, were indeed a
      roof. Would we be building it sufficiently well to keep out the rain? A
      common complaint is that prayer doesn't seem to warm the heart as well as it
      used to or like we think it should. We sometimes wonder if prayer even
      works since it doesn't seem to bring us any strength to resist temptation or
      to overcome difficulty. Coming to the Church sometimes doesn't seem to
      bring the comfort that we hoped it would. Why is all this? Is it perhaps
      that we do not worship well? Is it perhaps that we are "slipshod and
      halfhearted" in our worship? This is a hard question, it is uncomfortable
      even to ask. The first reaction to that question is always the thought
      springing up "I do the best I can" and then the "proof" that "I come and
      pray as often as I can", with the justification that "I have so many other
      things to do, my life is busy, it is full of responsibilities and
      commitments" and then a list of all the things we do in life pops up to put
      a cap on the question.



      In reading the lives of the saints, it never ceases to amaze me what they
      actually accomplished in their lives, especially those who lived in the
      world or even in monasteries. There were always constant demands on their
      time, there was always something that needed to be done, some demand from
      the outside on their time, some responsibility that needed to be fulfilled -
      and yet, even in the midst of all that commotion, they found a way to
      worship and pray wholeheartedly in such a way that their spiritual life had
      a constant and significant impact on the rest of life. Then I ask myself,
      "How is it that they could do these things and still pray, but I cannot?"



      The answer to that question is quite simple - the saints made their prayer,
      their spiritual labor, the center of their lives and I do not. For them,
      their life of prayer is at the core of everything else, it is their anchor
      in the midst of the chaotic world, it is the solid rock which serves as the
      foundation of the rest of their lives. In the lives of the saints
      everything centered on their prayer, nothing was more important, nothing was
      permitted to take its place, nothing was done without it. Because prayer
      was at the root of everything else, then everything else could become a
      prayer.



      The life of St Gregory Palamas, who we remember on this second Sunday of
      Great Lent for his instruction that we all must "pray without ceasing",
      gives us an example: "All of us Christians have the duty of being always in
      the state of prayer. You see, my brethren, how all Christians, from the
      least to the greatest, must always pray within their hearts: "Lord, Jesus
      Christ, have mercy on me!" in such a way that their mind and heart would
      always be in the habit of pronouncing these holy words. Be assured how
      pleasing this is to God and how much good comes from this, when in His
      infinite love for mankind,



      But what do laymen say? "We are overburdened with things to do and worldly
      cares how can we pray without ceasing?"



      I would answer them that God did not command us to do anything impossible,
      but only that which we are able to do. And therefore, this can be done by
      anyone who fervently seeks the salvation of his soul. If this were
      impossible, then it would be impossible for anyone living in the world and
      there would not be so very many of those who, in the midst of the world,
      carried on unceasing prayer as they should. Among many such people, we may
      take as examples the father of St. Gregory of Thessalonika, in the world,
      the wondrous Constantine, who, despite his involvement in the life of the
      court, being called the father and tutor of the Emperor Andronicus and daily
      occupied with affairs of state as well as with those of his own
      household--he had a large estate with many servants, a wife and children--in
      spite of all this, he was inseparable from God, and attached to un-ceasing
      mental prayer."



      This seems, at our first impression to be an impossible feat - but it is
      simply a matter of priority - to make our spiritual life our first and most
      important priority, letting nothing else get in the way of it. When we do
      this, prayer naturally moves to the center of every other activity and
      permeates it. In what way might this be accomplished? We can begin by
      consistently keeping a simple rule of prayer - to pray every morning when we
      get up and again to pray in the evening before we sleep. Take the morning
      and evening prayers from the prayerbook and use this as your basic rule -
      say these prayers without fail at the same time every day. Set aside a
      block of sufficient time (20 or even 30 minutes) as an "appointment" so that
      these payers can be said without other responsibilities acting as a
      distraction. During this appointment do not allow anything else to
      interrupt, do not allow any thoughts other than those of the prayer to
      arise. Once this foundation of a prayer rule is established then look at
      everything else that must be done during the day and begin to prioritize it
      with respect to your prayer. In every task, no matter how large or small,
      begin what you do with a prayer asking God's help and end it with a prayer
      thanking God. With just this small adjustment, your spiritual life begins
      to take the center role and position and everything else in life is at least
      surrounded by prayer.



      There are times also which are appointed for the gathering of the community
      of the faithful to pray together. These are the services in the Church.
      This should be one of the items of highest priority on your agenda. When we
      gather to pray together in these services many things happen. First, the
      Church is a special place, which is dedicated to prayer and so the
      environment of the Church with the hymns and prayers, the icons, the
      candles, the incense, and the rest helps to make it easier to pray. Also
      here in the Church there is a freer flow of God's grace and presence so that
      not only does our prayer come more easily, but its effect on the soul is
      amplified and magnified. Here in the Church we can surrender ourselves to
      the common prayer, we do not have to think or evaluate or control what goes
      on, but here by God's grace we can simply immerse ourselves in the
      atmosphere of prayer. (This, by the way also emphasizes the necessity of
      proper care and behavior in the Church so that by our own disorder we do not
      disturb that atmosphere of prayer.) And there is more because when we
      gather together to pray, we strengthen and encourage one another, we truly
      begin to "bear one another's burdens" and by our prayer together we touch
      the soul of each of our brothers and sisters, and they touch ours. In this
      way our common prayer, the services of the Church, enriches and enhances our
      prayer life.



      But, you may think, I already do all this - and still it has no effect. We
      then go back to the original question - what is the quality of our prayer?
      Do I appear to pray with my lips or my body but the mind and heart are
      elsewhere. Do I come to the Church bodily but let my desires and thoughts
      float to some other place that I would rather be? When I pray, do I enter
      into the words and feelings of the prayer allowing them to permeate and
      change my soul, or do I judge and evaluate the prayer, trying to decide if
      its the way I like it, not allowing it to act to change myself, but
      struggling instead to change the prayer to my own taste and liking. We all
      do these things, not one of us is exempt - but this is exactly what we must
      overcome in order for prayer to have in us the same effect that it has in
      the lives of the saints.



      If your prayer were your house, would it be warm and secure, a refuge from
      the wind and the rain and the cold - or would it be drafty and leaky and
      about to fall down with the least gust of air. How well do you build the
      house of your soul. Remember "Worshippers reap what they sow."
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