What do we mean when, like in the last post, we talked about inner stillness? And why do we need to cultivate stillness in our spiritual lives? Let’s see I can answer the second of these questions first.
Stillness, the Orthodox theologian Fr John Breck writes, is important for a number reasons. We need stillness if we are “to attain spiritual knowledge.” It also is essential as we “engage in spiritual warfare against the passions and against demonic powers.” Finally, in stillness we are able to hear “the voice of God.”
Fr John recounts a saying from the Desert Father. “A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word. The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.'” If we want to acquire inner stillness and the wholeness of being that comes through the Jesus Prayer, we need to practice “solitude.” Real inner peace is the fruit not only of divine grace but also of adopting a certain attitude toward the world of persons, events and things.
Specifically, we need to undertake “a temporary withdrawing from the noise and busyness of the world that cause endless distractions and hinder us in our quest for God.” This is more than not being around people or not talking to people. No, what’s necessary is that we “transform the heart and mind, our inner being, into a place of silence and solitude, an interior monastic cell in which the Spirit of Truth dwells, to teach us everything we need for our journey toward the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. John 16:13-15).”
It is this same Spirit Who inspired the authors of Sacred Scripture, Who leads the Church in every generation, raised up the Church fathers to defend the faith and preach the Gospel. Above all else, it is this same Spirit that caused the Son to come and dwell in the womb of the Most Holy Theotokos.
It is the Holy Spirit Who together with the Father and the Son comes to dwell in our hearts at Holy Baptism. When we turn inwards, we do so not to flee from our neighbor but to find the Holy Trinity. When we find the Holy Trinity, we also find our neighbor.
Together with physical silence, inner stillness allows us to hear the God Who dwells in our hearts. This is why, as I said earlier, prayer isn’t so much talking to God but listening to Him. By stopping my inner monolog, or, at least, slowing it down, and by stilling my heart, the Jesus Prayer helps me listen to God as He speaks to me in the depths of my heart. Stillness, says St Isaac the Syrian, “brings fruits that no tongue can speak of, neither can it be explained.”
Unfortunately, some misinformation has developed around the Jesus Prayer. Our prayer life should be sober and regular, not prone to emotionalism or erratic. And while guidance from our spiritual father or confessor is important, we don’t need to be afraid to start praying even if that guidance doesn’t seem available. Remember, we a have guide in the Holy Spirit and as long as we don’t deviate from the moral or dogmatic tradition of the Church—the same tradition that the Spirit inspires—we are on safe ground.
Remember the same God Who inspires us to pray, also inspires those who offer us guidance in prayer and He will bring us that guidance when, and how, it is needed.
So the first rule of cultivating inner stillness so we can hear God speaking to us is this: Begin. And beginning is easy.
St Porphyrios says that
There’s no need for any special concentration in order to say the Jesus Prayer.
It doesn’t require any effort if you have love of God. Wherever you are, on a stool, a chair, in a car, anywhere, on the road, at school, in the office, at work, you can say the prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me’.
Gently, without pressure, without pushing.
When I talk with people about their spiritual lives I often come away with the impression that they don’t think praying counts unless it hurts. So many of us think we need to stand at attention to pray; so many of us undermine our own spiritual lives because we act like a soldier on guard duty and not like a small child on our Father’s lap.
So, to cultivate inner stillness we need to begin. But how, concretely, should we begin?
Next post: How to Cultivate Inner Silence