Dead Souls (B)
Yet that the individual seeks to meditate highlights that within this burgeoning market of meditation, there is an aboriginal element yearning within the most atheistic or agnostic man or woman which understands that they indeed have a spirit – but similarly the individual cannot bring themselves to reach out to a God, due to the layer after layer of cynicism that has been deposited on their soul, telling them that if God exists, why can’t they feel love in the areas in which they reach out for love? Whereas prayer is about a loving communication and relationship with God – meditation is often seen as a tool for relaxation and anxiety relief, a form of therapy. Prayer points toward the other – meditation is about the self; be it recollection, peacefulness or centredness. All these latter benefits of meditation, assuredly can have a spillover effect to a third party, but meditation without God, is therapeutic rather than an act of love. One communicates with whom one loves; the frequency of this loving communication highlights the depth of the relationship – and the importance placed by the individual on the object of their affection. To this end, and with a degree of sardonic wit, Goethe once wrote that the fact that he loved a woman – was really none of her business. Meditation can just as well be no one else’s business, but your own – but prayer is about communicating with the other, and that other is God. Hence it is probably true that one can be ‘spiritual’, without being ‘religious’; because the ‘Spiritual’ is an act of the soul – but the ‘Religious’, a combined act of soul and intellect.
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St. Augustine of Hippo, the author of those famous words that he had prayed as a youth to God for the virtues of chastity and continence, but not too have his prayers answered too promptly, penned other words equally aptly to the youth of our age. Augustine wrote in his Confessions (Chapter XXVII): “Late have I loved Thee, 0 Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee! For behold Thou were within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou were with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness: and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do not pant for Thee: I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee: Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace.” Thus Augustine is clearly warning us not to love the creature above the Creator. If we do not consider the possibility of a Creator, we are forced into loving the here and now, and either having as the end-point that which is finite; either others or ourselves.
If we do not consider the possibility of a Creator, we are forced into loving the here and now, and either having as the end-point that which is finite; either others or ourselves.
Augustine also noted that it is impossible for a person to pray to God and sin; for if one prays totally from the heart – then such an act of love requires the individual to unite themselves with goodness rather than evil. Hence, as I have written previously, a pedophile cleric, could never have had a prayer life beyond the mere utterance of words. These individuals may have publically said prayers, and led prayers – but their hearts were distant from God. Prayer searches out the Truth of what Christ spoke – that no man can be a slave of two masters; the more one prays from the heart, the greater one will love goodness, and desists from evil.
Prayer is difficult in a world of self-absorption, because prayer as with any loving relationship, makes demands of the individual – it requires a movement away from self-interestedness, toward self-expression, and selflessness. The generation that walks through this world with headphones on, cannot hear the voice of the other. They are being entertained in a world, in which they play very little part. A cacophony plays on the senses, or rather bombards – and deadens the soul from being able to: feel, to hear, to see, to touch, to taste, to be.
Prayer searches out the Truth of what Christ spoke – that no man can be a slave of two masters; the more one prays from the heart, the greater one will love goodness, and desists from evil.
Perhaps the individual selects the media – for the media is safe; they cannot challenge me beyond my determination to turn on or off the remote control, or the play button. If I wear the headphones, I cannot hear the call of anyone else, beyond the safety of the voice I choose to hear. But to come to fulfilment of self, means to go beyond self; it means to risk; there is no love without being open to experiencing pain and growth.
The great doctor of the soul, St. Francis de Sales, often said that at the core of friendship lies communication. The best way in which to kill the fire of friendship is by cutting off the air of communication. It is as simple as this. So at the very heart of our relationship with God, is communication; and that communication is by way of prayer. In words poetic, the great Spanish Mystic. St. John of the Cross teaches us that: “God does not communicate himself to the soul … through the disguise of any imaginative vision, likeness, or figure, but mouth to mouth: the pure and naked essence of God (the mouth of God in love) with the pure and naked essence of the soul (the mouth of the soul in the love of God).” Such words are fertile with sensuality, they are written by a soul who understands that God is to be sought like a lover, that God has made us in His Image, and by that Image we have the capacity to live and love, and communicate like a man and a woman. God does not condemn us for venerating Icons – they are an intrinsic part of our prayer life, to help us touch the Divine, by acknowledging the sacred. But God wants this – as well as the ability to live with our senses, and not to walk this earth as Hohol’s Dead Souls, or as a prisoner locked away (with headphones on), sitting in our cells awaiting Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. San Juan de la Cruz, (1991): 202  Eckhart, J., (1979: Volume I): 284.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, May 2019