Do we carry an excessive burden in our hearts, or are we traveling light in the journey of life, in our pilgrimage to find God and rest in Him?
I was very moved by the opening paragraph of the book “The Way of a Pilgrim”, with the excitement of a child and the tears of a penitent. The unknown Russian pilgrim confessed his faith in the grace of God, and his sins before God. He had nothing on him, except a backpack with some dried bread and a Holy Bible in his pocket.
When we walk the journey of life, what do we carry with us?
Do we shoulder the burden of many things and cling on to worldly possessions, or are we utilitarian in material needs but are voracious in our desire for growing towards God?
The pilgrim contemplated on Saint Paul’s admonition (1 Thessalonians 5:17, and Ephesians 6:18) on “praying unceasingly”. That became the reason and motivation for him to travel as a pilgrim, in search of answers. And like the pilgrim, we are too, pilgrims in life, in search of meaning, in search of life, in search of God. And I am convinced that Saint Paul’s words pointed us directly to just what we need for meaning, life and God. But how?
Every morning, as we observe and pray the daily rule, for a brief moment in time, and a window of our lives, we focus on our attention towards God. But yet, as many of us lead lives in the world, we become hurried and hassled in the daily grind, and between those tasks we have to do, sometimes just to survive, we lost track of God. How then, as the pilgrim asked, can we attain this unceasing prayer?
The pilgrim went to various monasteries, in search of answers, and yet, he found none. At every place, when kindly abbots would offer him shelter and food, the pilgrim’s singular attention was not on material comforts, but a focused attention on just wanting the answers to attaining unceasing prayer. I often lament when I revisit the pages of the book that I am but weak and frail in spirit and body, and do not have the resolve of this pilgrim, who, as we read in later pages, has a physical disability. I can only say I am unworthy in many ways, compared to this godly pilgrim, whose journey inspires me.
I am often encouraged by the words of Saint Macarius the Great, our father among the saints, who said: “One must force himself to prayer when he has not spiritual prayer; and thus God, beholding him thus striving and compelling himself by force, in spite of an unwilling heart, gives him the true prayer of the Spirit.”
Saint Macarius’ words exactly echoed the words of a starets who advised the pilgrim, that the inner desire to find unceasing prayer, is itself a grace from God, and a calling from God. One must relinquish his personal will, to allow God’s grace to call out to us, to return to Him in inner prayer. The starets also advised, that while many teachers have written much on prayer, many do not realize that prayer is like breathing – it must unite with the rhythm of life. It should not be a mechanistic or methodical procedure, but truly to live and breathe the inner prayer. The starets reminded us of Saint Isaac the Syrian, who likewise said that the discipline of prayer is the root of all spiritual blessings (“Acquire the mother and she will bear you children.”)
Let us pray, beloved, the prayer of the heart (from the Philokalia):
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”