Friday, March 11, 2016

Our thoughts and feelings are not us!

I think there are re-occurring themes in our life. I believe there is a reason. You hear it once, it goes in one ear and out the other. You hear it again and think, "that's strange, I just heard something similar..." You hear it a third time and you take notice..."I see a pattern here." We probably don't consciously see that God is poking at us, but He probably is.

One thing that I have heard lately is, "Our thoughts are not us." Yes, it is true that Elder Thaddeus wrote a book called, "Out thoughts determine our lives." That is also true...but what thoughts? That's where the real tricky work begins, separating out those pesky thoughts...the bad ones and the good ones. What we give over to, the thoughts that we choose...those are what determine our lives.

A larger theme that was in this post has been re-occurring in the last four years of my life. "God loves me." This one is huge. If you don't get it, you just don't get it... I'm just at the beginning stages of getting it. This concept is crazy with how different this makes E.V.R.Y. L.I.T.T.L.E. T.H.I.N.G. in your life sooooo different/better/amazing/simple/awesome.

We recently were given the name Ss. Joachim and Anna for our new little mission parish here in Goldendale, WA. Our mission is right on Main Street in a store front building in Goldendale. Just 10 minutes up the mountain on highway 97, almost to the top of Satus Pass, lies the most wonderful Greek Orthodox women's monastery, St. John the Forerunner. They just celebrated their 20th year! I could talk for days about the nuns and the monastery and how integral it has been in our lives, so God putting us here at the mission next door is God loves us!

I have loved Saint Anna since I was a kid. After all, she shares my name. Often, I would wish that I was closer to her...knowing that she must have been a wonderful and wise mother. I could learn a lot from her, if only I prayed to her more, then I could get to know her better.

I thought (somewhat selfishly) it would be quite fitting to have wonderful married saints as a supportive parish right next door to the monastery church. Both monastic and married are so important in the life of the church and I was cheering on these saints to be our patrons. It also, just literally dawned on me, that Saint Anna was St. Elizabeth's aunt...Elizabeth the mother of St. John the Baptist. Ss. Joachim and Anna were Saint John's aunt and uncle!

My husband called me up one afternoon in January, with the good news, while my 15-year-old son was driving us into town. I started weeping with joy, my poor son didn't know what was the matter. Metropolitan JOSEPH had written us a letter telling us that Ss. Joachim and Anna were going to be our saints and that they have always been dear to his heart. What a wonderful gift! God is so good and loves us so much!

In doing research about their life tonight, I stumbled upon a blog called, "Holy Nativity Orthodox Church" and an old post from 2010 called "The Poor" where the priest talks about Ss. Joachim and Anna's charitable donations, giving a third of their money to the local temple, keeping one third to live on and giving one third to the poor.

Liking how the author wrote and the words he said rung true, I followed the blog to it's new home on Ancient Faith Radio's blogs called, "Praying in the Rain." The priest is Fr. Michael Gillis from Langley, BC. I know I have heard his name before, but I'm not sure where from. Now that we're in the Pacific Northwest, there are a lot of new priests to meet! We're not so secluded as we were in Alaska, and now I hear names in passing but they don't stick...probably not 'till I hear them a third time...

One of the newer posts he wrote caught my eye, "The Almost blind leading the blind." That has been another theme recently (the blind leading the blind) I clicked on it. One of the other themes popped up in the post. "Our thoughts and feelings are not us." Where he explains to a new Orthodox person who is just now discovering for the first time, that those thoughts that pop into our heads do NOT belong to us and we have a choice on weather to listen to them or not. We can talk to those thoughts, let them control us, or we can slam the door in their face. We can smack them away like a mosquito.

She asked him four questions. He answered "I don't know." to two of them and focused on the first and fourth. (Don't you appreciate people who can just say,"I don't know", when they don't know?! I love that kind of honesty.) The fourth issue she had is not currently a theme of mine, so I won't even mention it but he will mention it briefly, since they are related. She wrote this about her thoughts: “I find myself stopping before I move on to a secondary emotional state….  I am able to pause after the impulse reaction before engaging with the secondary emotions/thoughts that usually perpetuate frustration/anger/etc. or provide distraction from what is truly being revealed.” 

He responds with these following paragraphs... (the bold part in the second paragraph is crazy, yes, yes, yes!!!)

"Beginning with question #1, noticing thoughts and feelings before they get into that secondary state is very important.  When you do this, you realize that you are not your thoughts and feelings.  You have those thoughts and feelings, but you decide what to do with them—if you can notice them before they take on a life of their own.  As you continue the practice of noticing thoughts and feelings, and then controlling yourself and/or channeling the thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, then the Holy Spirit will teach you deeper things.  The Holy Spirit will teach you about your own darkness (which is connected to your question #4) and you will learn to accept Light in those dark areas.  What I mean is that you will learn to hold both your brokenness and God’s love for you in your heart at the same time.  This will not be easy; or rather, this will be painful, it really doesn’t have anything to do with easy or not easy."

"It will be painful because we all wish we could offer God a better offering than who we really are, but part of our salvation is realizing that we have only our broken selves to offer God—only the two widow’s mites, only the precious myrrh earned by prostitution of some sort, only the brokenness of a prodigal who has wasted all of her Father’s gifts.  As we know this more deeply, two things happen.
First, the amazing extent of God’s love becomes more real to us.  When I see myself as a basically good person who merely makes mistakes, then it doesn’t take a very big God to love me.  But when I begin to see the depths of my darkness, then God grows exponentially in my eyes.  It takes a very great God to love such a broken person as me.  A corollary of this realization is that if God loves this much someone as broken as me, then God must be able to love everyone, no matter how broken they are, just as much as God loves me.  Seeing and accepting both your own brokenness and God’s love for you also helps you understand and not judge the brokenness of others: especially the brokenness of those in the Church or of the sins and mistakes Church itself both today and throughout history."

"The Fathers talk about three stages or aspects of our salvation: (1) purification, (2) illumination and (3) theosis.  Purification has at least partly to do with your question #1.  As we purify our nous by prayerfully attending to our thoughts, we put ourselves in a position in which illumination is more conducive (we are better able to notice the light of illumination because we are cleaning up the inner noise and garbage running rampant in our thoughts and feelings).  And this then leads to theosis, actual transformation, becoming more like Christ.  However, transformation, or theosis, is not something we can see in ourselves (as a student doesn’t realize her growing knowledge, but only how much more there is to learn than she ever imagined before—but it is her very growth in knowledge that enables her to realize how much she doesn’t know).  So for most people, especially those living in the world, our experience of theosis is mostly in area #1, purification of the nous by attending to and managing thoughts and feelings through prayerful attention (often by practicing the Jesus Prayer).  Then, as we do this, we have moments of awareness, #2 illumination.  But what is illumined is what had been in the dark, often something we didn’t want to see, often something ugly about ourselves.  Here is where the verse comes in, “Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way with him.”  Our “adversary” here is the Holy Spirit illuminating something we don’t want to see in ourselves.  But rather than trying to justify ourselves, we agree (which is, by the way, what ‘to confess’ means)."

"However, we can only agree if we are secure in God’s love.  Remember the verse, “with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you”?  When we judge others harshly, it becomes difficult for us to accept God’s love for us as we are illumined by the Holy Spirit to see how broken and dark we really are.  In these cases, we either fall into depression or arrogant delusion.  But if we are generous in our judgement of others, it is easier for us to accept God’s love for us when we experience moments of illumination.  That is, we end up judging ourselves as harshly or as mercifully as we judge others."

"The resulting fruit of this process is transformation, or (3) theosis, which we can never see in ourselves.  As I said, what we mostly see is the “spiritual warfare” of the battle to be aware of and control our own thoughts."

Wow. Ok, so some of this went over my head, I'm clearly not at the the third paragraph...but that's ok. The parts in bold were the ones that got me...they seem to be re-occurring themes in our house lately, or at least in my mind. I will never be a big reader, so thank God for priests (and smart Deacon husbands) like this who read and take the time to teach via blogs and home discussions with me and the kids. Because, every now and again, God finds a way to poke me with what I need to hear that day.

Most Holy Saints Joachim and Anna, pray to God for us! (Already I'm praying to her more! Glory to God!)