Without a doubt, the hardest part of the journey through inner silence to love is beginning. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges and struggles along the way—there are—but that first step is still the hardest.
What makes it hard is that I don’t know what I’m doing. My understandable ignorance is often a source of anxiety. A lack of understanding might also be a why I undertake the spiritual life with an unwise enthusiasm. The former makes me afraid to start, the latter over-eager to finish. Where ever I find myself, starting is hard.
This is why I think Tito Colliander’s advice on the first page of The Way of the Ascetic is helpful.
If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“Faith,” he goes on to say, “come not through pondering but through action.” I come to know God “not with words and speculation” but through the experience of prayer. “To let in the fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine.” Our pursuit of inner silence and a life of sacrificial love is no different; “we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal son be our example. He ‘arose and came’ (Luke 15:20).”
So daily I must take some time apart from others, settle myself and begin saying the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
As I say the prayer different things might come to mind.
Lord…I begin with a reminder that I am not my own. I am under obedience to someone else.
Jesus Christ…And to Whom do I owe obedience? The One who saves me because He loves me. He suffers, dies, is buried and arose from the dead because of His great love for me. It is to the Lord Jesus Christ that I owe my obedience.
Son of God…It isn’t just for what He has done, but for Who He is, that I am obedient. Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity Who by the power of the Holy Spirit became Man of the Virgin Mary and reveals God the Father to me.
Have Mercy on Me…It is to Jesus that I look for mercy, not just in the sense of forgiveness but also comfort, healing and strength. Above all though I look to Him to bring to an end my loneliness. Created in the image of God my greatest wound is my isolation. Not only my lack of being loved but my inability to love.
A sinner…Only now that I have some experience of God’s mercy and love for me am I able to confess my sinfulness to Him. Only now am I able to grasp a great paradox of the Christian life. Yes, I am a sinner but I am only one sinner among many sinners. And all of these other sinners are as much in need of God’s mercy, compassion and love as am I. Seeing myself as a sinner, I am now able to see my unity with my neighbor. Even though we are both fallen, even though we both often falter in our attempts to love each other, we are both loved by God. It is this last realization which now must become for me the first and most important thing in my life.