Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Yucky Thoughts: A Somewhat Hasty and Imperfect Transcription of Part of Fr. Thomas Hopko's Talk, "Wisdom! Let Us Attend!" (from cassette tape)

“John of Kronstadt said that the worst memories of his life were when he was standing in front of the altar. And by the way—and not ‘by the way’ at all; this is very important--that’s supposed to happen. So you can say, ‘Oh, God, I go to church, I try to say my prayers, and I get all these thoughts and these horrible memories of my college years and all that stuff,’ and we say, ‘Yeah, that’s right, that’s what’s supposed to happen, because you’ve got to name it before God, you’ve got to bring it to God, and you’ve got to let God dissolve it for you.’ Otherwise, it’s going to stay in there doing its yucky work. So catharsis is part of the attentive process, and by the way, that’s why a lot of folks who start out, they quit, they leave, and they’ll make some lame excuse—‘Ah, church is crazy, people go there just to show off, I don’t need that, I can pray in the field,’ but what they’re really saying is, ‘I can’t stand the wisdom that’s there, and I’m not ready to deal with it.’ But if you’re going to stand it and face it, all that garbage is going to come up. All that’s going to happen. And you’ve got to watch it come up, you’ve got to see it--as they say nowadays, you’ve got to ‘name it and claim it,’ you’ve got to admit that it’s there, and then you can dump it, and you dump it on the crucified Jesus. You put it on the altar. And then you can be liberated from it. But that process has to go on. And that’s why you’ve got to stand in church and read that stuff and hear that stuff even if you get to the point where you say, ‘I can’t stand it any more, if I hear one more Lord have mercy I’m going to kill the cantor and throw up in the middle of the church or something. Well, you’ve got to go through that. That’s part of learning how to be attentive. And if you go through it, actually, what happens is that something happens. You get through just the surface of it. You get through just hearing for the thousandth time the prayer—I don’t know whatever it is, and so on—you finally enter into the content of it, and it become part of your own system, but you’ve got to go through that exercise; there’s no way around it. Now if you’re doing that, and all these thoughts and all these feelings are coming up, the advice is you just let it go. Just let it go. You don’t engage it. There’s even a Greek word for that…you don’t couple with it. You just let it be there. We have to know, we have to know for sure, that if we’re trying to be attentive to the Word of God, all that is going to come. And the devil is gong to come and say all kinds of stuff, telling everything all the time, pointing out how stupid the guy is who sings and why that is that lady standing there and why is that guy by the candle stand and why doesn’t the priest stand straight…. All those things can come for distraction. And what do you do? The teaching of the fathers is that you stand. Let it go. Let it go. Bring your mind back. Bring your mind back. You don’t engage when it comes. And you don’t freak out, saying, ‘Why is this happening to me? Something’s wrong with me. Am I some kind of freak?’ You’re not a freak; you’re just trying to be a wise person, you’re trying to be purified, you’re trying to be a human being is what you’re trying to do, because if you’re not doing that, all that stuff is ruling you, it’s ruling you anyway, so you’ve got to get rid of it, so this is how you do it. And that’s what the holy fathers would mean, you know, in those famous saying where the young guy comes to the old guys, the young guy would come running to them and say, ‘I can’t pray, I can’t fast, I can’t do anything,’ and they’d say, ‘Go in your room and sit there. If you can’t pray, don’t pray, if you can’t keep vigil, go to sleep, if you can’t fast, eat, but just stay there, and your cell will teach you everything.’ So just standing there is what we’re told to do. Now what about the mind and thoughts? Well, with these thoughts that come, let them go, let them go. But they can be very instructive. So the holy fathers tell us: watch what kinds of thoughts come, and then sometimes you can name what the causes of them are, because you can’t just cover them over, you’ve got to root them out. But the thoughts are going to keep coming. You know that saying, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free’? Well, a lot of times, these thoughts can be instructive in showing us what it is that’s really bothering us--what it is that we’re scared of, what it is that we’re angry at, what it is that we’re sad over, and then we’ve got to name those and give them to Jesus, so to speak. And unite those wounds to Christ’s wounds. So when you try to be attentive, you see what your wounds are. Now the one exception to that would be blasphemous thoughts, because blasphemous thoughts will come. If blasphemous thoughts don’t come at least some time in your life, then you’re probably not doing it right. Or you’re not doing it in earnest enough. Because at some point, the devil has to get you head-on. And the unanimous opinion of the fathers is that you never pay attention to blasphemous thoughts; you laugh at them and you spit at them. That’s all you do because they’re not you, they’re not you, and don’t think that they’re you. But don’t be afraid, either--you just say, ‘Oh yeah, [the holy fathers] said it would happen. Thank you, holy fathers, it makes me feel good.’ You can read John Climacus’ sentence on blasphemous thoughts--that’s exactly what he said in The Ladder--you don’t pay attention to blasphemous thoughts, you laugh at them and you spit at them –like at baptism--you know at baptism when you spit on the devil, that’s all you do. You spit, but you stand there. Now when these thoughts come, it’s also always advised that you have to tell somebody. You can’t handle it yourself. If you try to handle it yourself, it won’t work, at least according to the fathers. So every one of us should have at least one or two people that we tell what happens to us when we try to pray, when we try to go to church, what kinds of thoughts come, what they are, and there the holy fathers say to be very specific--if there’s any doubt at all about whether to tell or not to tell, do tell--the only exception is if it’s explicitly sexual, don’t get into detail, but say what it is, just say, ‘I have sexual problems,’ and then the friend or the father can say, ‘O.k., I don’t need to hear anything more.’ But that’s enough. But normally, we tell what they are because that’s how we get rid of them. And when you try to pay attention and they come, that’s what ‘s supposed to happen, and then when you confess them or [do] what they call ‘opening the thoughts,’ sharing those thoughts, that gives you a certain freedom, and it allows you to be more attentive. They never go away but they bother you less. They can’t get you as they used to, you see. Our freedom that we’re looking for and even the wisdom that we know is that in this world they will never go away, but we learn how to be attentive in the midst of them, and we learn to focus on the one thing needful, the Word of God, while all this stuff is going on. Now sometimes they may lessen or whatever, that’s in God’s hands and it depends a lot on us, but at least in the beginning we shouldn’t worry not only that they’re there, but we shouldn’t worry if they even get worse. It seems to us that they’re getting worse. That’s probably a sign of progress. It’s most likely a sign of progress. But then you’ve got to stick with it. You can’t run away; you can’t hide them; you can’t deny them; you can’t try to repress them. You let them out. So confessing the manifestation of thoughts is important…”

1 comment:

Mairs said...

Hmmmm...food for thought - thanks.