02. Quiet places
To find true inner prayer, are we willing to give up our material needs, find a good teacher and a quiet spot?
Let us continue the journey through the book “The Way of a Pilgrim”.
The starets advised the pilgrim of the importance of a spiritual director and his guidance (Jeremiah 10:23), for one to lead a good inner prayerful life. Likewise, in our spiritual pilgrimage, let us pray to God, and ask for His infinite mercy and grace, to grant us a good spiritual director, or directors, in various phases of our journey in life. Do not be surprised, that every phase in our lives, God may grant us different spiritual directors. God’s mysteries are sometimes impossible to understand rationally, but let Him take charge in our lives.
The starets explained to the pilgrim the advice of Saint Simeon the New Theologian, which one should sit in a quiet place alone (St Matthew 6:6), bowing the head and closing the eyes. Then breathe slowly, and slowly bring all of one’s thoughts into the heart, striving to allow the thoughts to cede, and pray either softly or in the mind, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Sometimes, when we pray, our minds begin to wander and drift off with unending and distracting thoughts. The pilgrim experienced the same. The devil is extremely disturbed at a prayerful person, and will stop at nothing to distract you away from prayer, since prayer leads you back to God.
What is interesting to note, is that the starets explained that when we are not humble, our own selves will empower and embolden the devil to be able to distract us. Nothing defeats the devil more easily, than a humble person in deep focused prayer, especially that of the confessional prayer of the heart with reverence and frequency, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The pilgrim, under the guidance of the starets, started slowly with 3,000 prayers of the heart per day, to 6,000 per day, slowly and steadily, without rushing through each prayer. And soon, the pilgrim felt inner joy when he prayed unceasingly and longed for prayerful solitude, away from people and distractions. Eventually, the pilgrim managed 12,000 prayers per day. And not surprisingly, the more the pilgrim prayed, the more delighted and yearning he had to pray. God gave His mercy and grace on the pilgrim, one who sought only prayed to our Savior the Christ.
I have humbly found that in a hurried secular life, there is nothing more profoundly simple and yet edifying, than to seek to pray the prayer of the heart, for it is simple enough for anyone, no matter how busy, to pray between cracks of time between difficult and busy periods in a typical day.
After a delightful time with the starets, the pilgrim was again challenged spiritually, when the kind spiritual director died. The pilgrim once again was alone. In the transient life journey we go through, we are often presented with many of the same instances of fleeting moments, such as death itself. The pilgrim sought solace in the prayer of the heart. And strangely, the more he prayed, the more good he saw in people he met. Often, we come across people who may present challenges to our persons, and even cause us to lose our spirituality. But the pilgrim has shown us that by always returning to the prayer of the heart, we will perhaps lose sight of the negativity in the traits and behavior of people we come in contact with, and begin to see the good in them. Let us find an image of Christ in everyone we meet, and let us return to inner prayer always, whenever we find difficulty, or perhaps when we find negativity in people, for it is us who have sinned when we view others negatively.
The pilgrim eventually spent his only money on an old copy of the Philokalia, his very own, which he found to be the greatest treasure other than the Holy Bible he carried in his pocket. He has shown us that there is no greater treasure than Holy Scripture, and that wealth is nothing unless we spend it wisely. Are we carrying our wealth like shackles and chains, or are we using it like the tools of grace?
Let us keep the prayer of the heart often, deep in our heart:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
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