Friday, 30 November 2012

60: “Believing” in saint John

When we read saint John's Gospel we are struck by the fact that for him “to believe” is so essential, and that the whole structure of his Gospel relies on that issue. All the architecture of his Gospel is meant to lead the reader, through a spiritual journey, to a clear goal: becoming capable of “believing”.
In his Gospel, saint John doesn't use the word “faith”; instead, he seems to privilege the verb: "to believe". The way he understands that spiritual, inner reality is very different from the common understanding.
Let us remember a very common pitfall: when we read the Bible we often  operate a "psychological projection" on the words we find, applying a modern or personal meaning to words that seem the same, but are in reality different  for this or that author of the Bible (saint John, saint Paul, ...). Our reading of the Word of God becomes biased.
One of these cases of a biased reading is the verb “to believe” in saint John. It is more advisable to have the humility and purity to say that maybe saint John put a different meaning to it and that we should explore it, instead of unconsciously projecting our own idea of what is "to believe". It is more challenging, maybe a tiny more demanding, but certainly wiser.

Here is how saint John presents us the structure of his Gospel:

"While therefore Jesus did also do many other signs
in the sight of his disciples
which are not written in this book,
these [6 signs I gave you] have been written
so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that believing, you might have Life through his Name.” (John 20:30-31)

For John, “to believe” doesn't come undetermined, like saying: "I am a believer" without making it more precise (believer in what? in whom?). For him, it is “to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. “That Jesus”, the human Jesus we know, the son of Mary and Joseph, is THE Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus, who appears to be just a human being ("Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" (John 6:42) ), at the most a Prophet (a great prophet, or “the” Prophet), is not only a human being, but He is infinitely much more: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the One who is full of the “Chrisma”, the “Unction”, i.e. the Holy Spirit, and He is the One who gives the Holy Spirit ("And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn 20:22)).
John wants us to reach an important point of spiritual Growth that allows us to experiment that Jesus-the-man is the Son of God, God Himself (“my God” says Thomas in John 20:28).
John wants us to get that close to Jesus, through a journey of purification and transformation, that there are no obstacles between Him and us, so we can touch Him with our “to believe” and be touched by Him, by His divinity to the point that we say with Thomas: "My God" (John 20:28).
"My Lord and my God"
We can only see Him as He is (i.e. God) if we are transformed in Him, made like Him: "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

What is "to believe"? Intellectually, with our will, we can say that Jesus IS God, but this is not the goal of saint John, this is not "to believe" for him. He wants us to be that much transformed in Jesus that we are made similar to Him, capable of being touched by His Divinity, capable of being united to His Divinity, with no obstacles between Him and us.

Saint John offers us in his Gospel 6 Signs. They are like 6 halts, each one purifying our faith from an impurity. These 6 stops prepare us the "enter in the side of Jesus" (see John 19:34), as the "heaven opened" (John 1:51), from where we draw Water, Blood, and the Holy Spirit (see John 19:30.34).

Here below, you can find important quotes from saint John's Gospel (in red) that help us understand better what is "to believe" and what it brings us. Each quote is followed by a short comment (in black), helping us understand the initial verses of saint John: 20:30-31 we mentioned earlier.

1:12 But to all who did receive him, to those believing in His Name, he gave the right to become children of God.

"His Name", Jesus, means: "God saves", God introduces us in Him, in the Fire of His Love. Introducing us in the Son, we become adoptive sons in Him: "children of God".

2:23 And while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover during the Festival, many believed in His Name - seeing the signs he was doing.

As you see, John uses again the same expression "believing in His Name". It comes as a result of "seeing the Signs". Now, about the signs: remember that John gives us 6 signs that are 6 halts for our purification. They are symbolised by the 6 "water jars" in Cana's wedding meant for the "purification" (see John 2:6):
1- Cana of Galilee (John 2)
2- Healing the Official's son (John 4)
3- Healing the Paralytic (John 5)
4- Feeding the five thousands (John 6)
5- Healing the man born blind (John 9)
6- The Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11)

3:14 And as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, in like manner the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have Eternal Life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not perish, but have Everlasting Life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 The person who believes in him is not condemned. The person who does not believe, is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of God's only begotten Son.

3:36 The person who believes in the Son, has Eternal Life, but the one who disobeys the Son will not see life, but rather, the wrath of God remains upon him."

"Everlasting Life": Believing makes us get closer to Jesus, who is the Giver of "Life". "Life" is the Holy Spirit, "Life" is: the divine life we are called to share.
"saved through Him": Jesus saves (this is His Name).

4:42 And to the woman they said, "No longer because of your talk do we believe; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man truly is the Saviour of the world."

To believe that Jesus is the "Saviour of the world" = believing in His Name.

5:24 "Truly, truly I say to you, the person who hears my word and believes the One who sent me, has Eternal Life, and is not going into judgment, but has crossed over out of death into Life. 25 Truly, truly I say to you, a time is coming, and is now come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, 38 and the ones who hear will Live. 26 For just as the Father has Life in Himself, so He has granted to the Son to have Life in himself. 5:27 And to him he has given authority to do the judging, because he is the son of a human.

6:29 Jesus answered, and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in that one whom he has sent."

All John's Gospel is here: accomplish the "work of God": to reach the point, after purification, of being able to believe fully that Jesus is God. Reaching the God in Him.

6:30 So they said to him, "What Sign then are you performing, so that we may see, and believe you? [...] 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who comes to me, would by no means hunger, and the one believing in me would by no means thirst, ever.

Believing in Jesus = getting closer to Him, in order to draw from Him the Holy Spirit. But as well to "eat Him" directly. He "eats" us as well and introduces us in Him.
To believe is to come to Him, to get closer, and to draw from Him Eternal Life: the Holy Spirit.

6:40 For this is the will of my Father: that anyone looking to the Son and believing in him would have Eternal Life, and I would raise him up at the last day."

John, repeating himself: looking at Jesus, His human side, and believing that He is God... makes us reach His Divinity, and receive the Holy Spirit: Divine Life.

6:47 Truly, truly I say to you, the person who does believe in Me has Eternal Life. 48 I am the Bread of Life.

Same mechanism of the act of faith.

7:37 And in the great and final day of the festival, there stood Jesus. And he cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink: 38 he who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from His belly." 39 Now this He said in reference to the Spirit, whom those believing in Him were about to receive. For the Spirit was not yet present, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

"Come to Me" = to believe.
"streams of Living Water" = the Holy Spirit. He is the giver of the Holy Spirit.
Believing is going to Him and drawing from Him the Holy Spirit.

8:23 And he said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24I said to you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am who I am, 72 you will die in your sins."

"who I am" = I am God. Which is what He says in John 20:30-31: we are invited to believe (get closer) that He is God. If we don't reach the bottom of His Being (His divinity), we won't get the Holy Spirit.

10:24 If you are the Christ, tell us clearly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I am doing in the Name of my Father, these testify for me. 26 Yet, you are not believing, because you are not of my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 And I give to them Eternal Life, and they will by no means perish, into all time, and no one will snatch them out my hand."

John is repeating in a dramatic way the central point of his Gospel.

10:41 And many came to Him. And they were saying, "Though John performed no miraculous sign, everything John said about this man was true." 42 And many there believed in Him.

"came to Him" = "believed in Him"

10:14 So then, Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus died. 15 And for your sakes I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.

The 6th signs, like all the others are made to help us "believe", grow in the act of believing, and be purified in it.

10:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the Resurrection, and the Life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live; 26 and everyone who is living and believes in Me, will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She says to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one expected to come into the world."

Believing is to get close, to draw Divine Life from Jesus: this will make us live.
Again, as in John 20:30-31, Jesus stresses on the necessity to believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God.

11:40 Jesus says to her, "Did I not tell you, that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 They therefore took away the stone. And Jesus lifted his eyes aboveward, and said, "Father, I thank you, that you have heard me. 42 But I already knew that you always hear me; only for the sake of the crowd standing around did I say this, so that they may believe that it was you who sent me."[…] 45 Many of the Jews therefore, of those who had come to Mary and seen what he did, believed in him.

Believing, will help us "enter in Jesus" and be touched by His Divinity: we'll "see" then "the Glory of God".
Jesus makes the Miracle (Sign) so people "may believe". We have the same logic as in 20:30-31: the Signs are here to help us go from the humanity of Jesus to His Divinity.

12:37 But, though having done so many Signs right in front of them, they were not believing in Him, 38 so that the word of Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled, which said, "Lord, who has believed our report? And the Arm of the Lord, to whom has it been revealed?" 39 Because of this they were not able to believe: that again, Isaiah said, 40 "He has blinded their eyes, and he has hardened their hearts, so that they would neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor look back around, such that I would heal them." 41 Isaiah said these things, because he saw Jesus' glory, so he spoke about Him.

The goal of saint John is not to show us all the Signs that Jesus made, but to focus on 6 of them, setting them as halts/healing of healing, purification and transformation.
It is true as well that the sign is meant to be seen, and through seeing it, we are invited to go beyond it and benefit directly by the healing Power of the Holy Spirit.
This journey of growth and purification improves our capacity to believe, until we reach a point were we are ready, transformed in Him, not having any obstacle between Him and us.
We then reach the Side of Jesus (John 19:34) which is for John the opened heaven (John 1:51).
The Disciple is formed, and is capable of accessing the depths of His Master, and capable of drawing Blood, Water, Holy Spirit.
One accesses the Divinity of Jesus, His Glory. One "sees his Glory". Paradoxically His Glory appears on the Cross (much before the Resurrection).
Are you with me?

12:44 But Jesus cried out, and said, "The person believing in me, is not believing in me but in the One Who sent me, 45 and the one looking upon me, is looking upon the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a Light, so that everyone believing in me may not abide in darkness.

First: believing as we see it is a progressive journey into accessing the Divinity of Jesus. The Father and the Son are one God, one Nature. So if we believe in Him (i.e. access His Divine Nature), obviously we access the Divine Nature of the Father. There is only one Divine Nature.
Secondly: The Divine Nature is Light and Love. Light and Love are our food and oxygen. "believing" in Him means accessing His depths, His divine Nature: Light a Love.

13:19 "Yes indeed: I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe who I am.”

"when it happens" means: when the suffering, the crucifixion, and the death on the Cross will happen. Remember this leads to an opening of Heaven (the Side of Jesus), the access to the Divine Nature in Jesus is facilitated again.
Believing who He IS, means: accessing His Divine Nature.

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The statements which I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father abiding in me is doing his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. But if not, believe because of those works. 12 The person who believes in me, truly, truly I say to you, the works that I do, that one also shall do, and even greater than these shall do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Indeed, whatever you shall request in my Name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me for something in my name, I will do it.

Same as above: believing is accessing the Divine Nature of the Son - the same Nature of the Father.
Accessing the depths of the Son means being transformed in and united with Him. This means that He is alive in us, and works with us, through us.
We do "greater works" because He is in us and through us. It is a much bigger victory and realisation.

14:28 "You heard how I said to you, 'I am going away, and will be coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you, before it happens, so that when it happens, you will believe.

When the His Side will open, we can access Heaven (the Divine Nature).

16:31 Jesus answered them, "For now you believe? 32 Behold, an hour is coming, and indeed has come, that you will be scattered apart, each to his own, and me you will have abandoned, alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

The last step in the purification happens during the Passion.

19:35 And the one who has seen has borne witness, and his testimony is reliable, and he knows that he is saying something true; so you may believe.
This moment is of paramount importance: at the Cross, John sees the side of Jesus opened, and he discovers that this is the Real Door to Heaven. He testifies to us, so we know where we should go in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

20:8 Then at that time the other disciple entered, the one who had arrived to the tomb first; and he saw and believed. 9 For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

What he saw is mentioned the verses before: "He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen." John is presenting us here a very deep aspect of Jesus: the "Total Christ" is Head and Body. We are his mystical Body (see John 2:21). What John saw and made him believe is first that unity of the head and the body, but as well, and much more, the fact that the Head now is Risen, and is going to Ascend, and the Body (them) is still on earth, continuing the mission of the Son.
John saw the cloth separate from the linen, the head separate from the body. He saw that, and believed: the unity of the one Total Christ, and the two different parts of Christ: his Head and His Body. They communicate, they belong to one Mystical Person, one "Total Christ".
Who believes is part of the Body. "To believe" is to be hocked to the Head, communicate with the Head and draw from it the Divine Life.
He believed in the Resurrection: that the cloth that had been around Jesus' head was folded up by itself, risen, separate from the linen. The Head though is distinct, but not cut from the Body.

20:27 Thereupon he says to Thomas, "Bring your finger here, and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas responded and said to him, "My Lord and my God." 29 Jesus says to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those believing without having seen."

This is really one of the highest points in saint John's Gospel: this finger, introduced in Jesus' side, and, as a result, being touched by Jesus Divine Nature: "my God"... All this movement in fact is the movement itself of "believing". Seeing Jesus divinity, entering deeper in his Human Nature, and finally reaching His Divine Nature.
Did you notice that "believing" is a movement? entering deeper, reach the Divine Nature. A movement led by the Holy Spirit.
Being touched this way allows the Holy Spirit to be given to us and flow in us like "streams of Living Water".. (John 7:37)

"While therefore Jesus did also do many other signs
in the sight of his disciples
which are not written in this book,
these [6 signs I gave you] have been written
so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that believing, you might have Life through his Name.”
(John 20:30-31)

I hope this helps.

Friday, 23 November 2012

59: An example of "Spiritual Direction"

Dear N., 
you did very well in telling me all these details about your “spiritual life” during this past week. Don’t worry, you did it better than many others. This clear account helps me help you. Please, keep always this transparent attitude, this will help God help you with greater efficiency. 

You mention in your account various difficulties you face in your practice of the Prayer of the Heart

Of course you should continue to receive all the rest of the teaching on the Prayer of the heart. I mean by that that you need to continue to learn it. It is not in one day that you "master it" or "know all about it". Remember that in my Basic Course, I do give at least 7 lessons (14 hours) in order to explain it. You may come each Monday, at the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate where I do teach it and we practice it all together, guided by me, at 6 pm (the whole thing lasts more than 2 hours). 

You did very very well in starting to do the “Lectio Divina” (listening to Jesus through the daily readings of the Bible). Please do insist everyday, when you do it, toward Jesus, for Him to talk to you, to give you "one word", one light (read my book, all of it), and don't leave Him until He gives it to you. But in order for it to succeed, you need everyday to put Him back at the first place... otherwise He remains silent. 

For the Prayer of the heart, you seem very troubled, not knowing what to do, when, etc. The issue is soooo simple, but we are not. Step by step, you'll find your way throughout the day and during this specific moment set up for the Prayer of the heart.
Please do follow the teaching I give on the Prayer of the heart, on my YouTube Channel: Jean0162, lesson 4, in four parts. (see the first part here below:)
When we do the Prayer of the heart the trigger is not “the feeling of love”. It is the act of love you make: "the determined surrender" as you said. 

You trigger His love for you (Him giving himself to you) when you give yourself (surrender in his hands) to Him. 

Your heart is situated in a supra-conscious area, the soul (mind, emotions) and the body (organs of feeling) can't feel it directly. 

You are not supposed to feel anything [if you feel these are like crumbs that fall from your heart (supra-conscious) into your conscious part (soul, mind, brain, feelings, emotions)]. You remain quite, repeating from time to time your act of offering. 

During the Prayer of the Heart, when you don't feel anything, just keep repeating your act of surrender, peacefully, from time to time, especially if you feel you were distracted.
There is no contradiction between the “Prayer of the Heart” and “Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament”. Of course, the songs or any other prayer will probably disturb you. Sadly, people can't just shut up when they should. The cause they can't shut up is the lack of a serious formation in “Prayer of the heart”.

Again, there is no opposition between "Prayer of the heart" and "Adoration": the One who is in the Blessed Sacrament, is the same one who is your heart. If you have Him that far (exposed, few meters away) you'll have anyway to enter in contact with Him, no? And "entering in contact with Him" IS the "Prayer of the heart". Got my point? So, find your way; and it is not wrong at all to do "Prayer of the heart" in His Presence... it is the same, it just helps a bit more to have Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
Prayer stool
I am glad you read the Blog, and please don't hesitate to drop a question in the Blog. The Blog is made for you guys. 

Sometimes, during the "Prayer of the heart", God removes any feelings from us (no emotions) that fall in the soul and/or in the body. Why? It is a meeting we set up (a rendez-vous of love) to be with Him and to love Him. We don't do it to receive feelings but to give Love and receive Love. Receiving Love happens in the Heart (not in the feelings). He sees our act of faithfulness and receives the offering of ourselves to Him, and gives himself to us. 

Keep doing with great faithfulness and perseverance the Lectio Divina, and as well the Prayer of the heart. The Lectio Divina boosts a lot the Prayer of the Heart. Jesus says it in the Gospel: Jn 14:23: "Anyone who loves me will keep my words [lectio divina], my Father will love them [the reason why we do Prayer of the Heart], and we will come to them and make our home with them [Prayer of the Heart]."

There is no need to be stressed with Jesus, and with Mary... the Prayer of the heart is just about putting ourselves in their Hands, and abandoning ourselves after... leaving Him to Work in us. 

Let us give it a try one more week. And then please give me the same quality of account of this one, then we'll see. 

If there is any serious blockage during the week please write to me. Otherwise, just continue; keep doing your best everyday: He is waiting for you. 


Thursday, 22 November 2012

58: Sleeping patterns, gadgets & Prayer of the heart

Some facts: Gadgets occupy a large "space" in our daily life. We are just discovering them (20 years in History is very little), on the long run we don't know yet what are their effects. They certainly have positive aspects, but they also have negative ones. Today one can easily say that they are shaping our life, our behaviour and our culture, minute after minute.
How much time does an average teenager or young adult spend with his Smartphone, while, the same generation, 30 years ago, would have spent the same time doing other things: socialising, speaking to others (and not staying with them silently playing with their own Smartphone), reading a book, or watching a good movie.
Hopefully it won't be too late to counter the effect of the negative patterns these gadgets are introducing in our behaviour. The greedy market of smartphones (10 years ago it was "the greedy market of laptops and cell phones") is offering us each day a newer gadget, with something better in it. The creators of these gadgets are "controlling" us, in the sense that their battle is to find something better, more efficient, with greater capacities in order to allure us and get hold of our money.

One important negative use and negative effect of the gadgets is right before "sleeping time", and during it. You want it or not, "sleep" is of utmost importance for you and me. If we touch that fine balance and fine mechanism in us, the rest of our day is put upside down and our efficiency in work and daily tasks is seriously threatened. Even monks who are supposed to remain awake during part of the night and pray, know perfectly that you can't touch the number of hours needed for our sleep. Otherwise you threaten the body's balance. and with ill body you can't do a great deal, not certainly be a monk.

The fact is that these gadgets are invading our sleeping time, in a very subtle but efficient way.

(Of course we are not speaking about "wave pollution". This is another aspect as well that influences our body.)

Prayer of the heart before sleeping

It is highly advisable to shut your smartphone, and your computer much before sleeping, preserving, in your day, a legitimate and healthy space for yourself. It is of utmost importance to practise the Prayer of the heart before sleeping, and to fall asleep while practising it, in order to have a better quality of sleep (that helps you digest/process better the day you spent and all its events and sift them, getting a clearer vision of what happened), and to wake up in the same state as well, fresh and rejuvenated, ready to start a new day "in synergy" with God. This way we can dwell longer in Christ during the day. Your night commands your day.
Take your rosary in your hands (a good solid one that won't brake while you are sleeping), and start practising the Prayer of the heart. Put the light off, put if you want a safe candle in front of the Icon of the Mother of God, so you can enter in a much easier way in God through the Prayer of the heart and enter better in the "deep sleep".

Sleeping is a serious surrender, abandoning ourselves to the unknown. The is why, before sleeping we ask the Angels to protect us from the "forces of the night" , the subconscious, and our hidden mechanisms.
"Sleeping" is considered by the Monks as the "small death", in the sense that you live your day as if it was the last day in your life, and "sleeping" is like the "judgement" of the day you spent (we examine our conscience before sleeping). We don't know if we will wake up or not. "Pretty scary!" you might say, but when you think about it (holding for a second your emotions) you'll find that it is not that wrong :-)

Therefore, if surrendering is necessary in order to sleep, surrendering is much easier if done "in the Hands of God".

Let us improve the quality of our energy during the day by improving the quality of our sleep. Sleeping "in God" is totally different from just mere "sleeping". Let us remember these facts and work on "entering into sleep" in a much healthier and holier way: by practising the Prayer of the heart.

(* The pictures are courtesy of this study)