“I was asleep, but my heart was awake. Listen, a sound! My lover is knocking!” (Song of Songs 5:2)
For serious Orthodox Christians the brief love story in the Old Testament called Song of Songs contains the most intense clues to the way to get in touch with the living Lord Almighty.
One such phrase is the above: I was asleep, but my heart was awake. Even while we are sleeping, we are not dead to the presence of the Holy Spirit who being “everywhere present and fillest all things” prays for us and makes it possible to stay in touch with the Holy Trinity. Awake or asleep, we keep the channels of grace open. One way to practice God awareness is by reciting brief prayers, such as “Lord have mercy,” or “Lord Jesus, be with me.” The desert fathers speak of throwing darts at heaven. It’s not so much the words, but that the channels of communication remain open between the Lord and your heart. And you will know it by the feeling of inner warmth that may come upon you.
“My lover is knocking!” Think of the words of Lord Jesus: “I stand at the door and knock.” The Lord is outside the door of our heart waiting to be invited in. Our God is so respectful of our freedom that He never goes where He is not wanted, not even when He knows it is always in our best interests. We may treat one another with intimidation, force, cajoling or deception. God never does that. He patiently knocks, waiting to be welcomed.
You may say that you never heard Him. Why didn’t He knock louder, shout, or make some sound that would make it clear it was He, not a natural noise. Yet there are many through the centuries who have heard Him in the wind, the storm, the thunder, even in the rustle of leaves or song of the birds. Were they right? Perhaps — at least the Psalmist thought so: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders…The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…The voice of the Lord shakes the desert…The voice of the Lord twists the oaks…” (Psalm 29).
Monastics and others listen for His voice in the sounds of silence. It takes an enormous effort to shut out the clamor of the world; however, even the best earphones BOSE manufactures will not tune out the whispers of guilt when you find a quiet place, or the voiceless shouts from those in your life past or present who invade your stillness and demand to be heard. It takes a mighty effort marinated in baptismal grace to separate your conscience from their calls. The mind remembers events, not so much dates. What caused emotional impacts from the past constantly bubble up to the surface of consciousness? It’s not impossible to separate one’s thought from them, but it requires an enormous spiritual effort. We are people of passion living in a passion-filled time. We are taught by society to “Let it all out,” to consider self-control less human than emotional eruptions. Orthodox Christian spirituality requires the opposite.
Inner serenity calls for dispassion. The Holy Spirit will be with you if your intent is to struggle against all the passions that invade your consciousness and thwart you from achieving peace of soul. The church fathers realize and write about the effort it will take to gain control of your thoughts, or better stated, to battle and conquer the demons that control you and contain you in the prison of your mind. It’s a heroic struggle, but if you feel it’s all for nothing, an impossible attempt, you are what you are and cannot change, then you are beaten already.
On the other hand, if you only consider the prize, you will pursue the goal and make the effort happily. It is Christ Himself who is outside the door of your heart waiting to be invited in. Until you find the knob, you will not be able to receive Him into the living room of your soul, and unless you do, you will never know true freedom.