How do I sit quietly before God?

St. Paul encourages us in Eph. 4 to not behave like the rest of the world! As Christians we follow a higher standard. He tells us not to get lost in useless thoughts; futile thoughts he calls them. Because God gave us free will, we have total freedom of thought. We can think about anything imaginable. Our mind is continually generating thoughts, some good and some bad. Some thoughts are focused on meaningful things and some are of no value to us. Thoughts can build upon one another, grow and generate into rationalizations. Worthless thinking often leads us to sinful thoughts.

The "monkey mind"

Fr. Thomas Keating in his book on meditation refers to this continuous motion of thoughts running around in our mind as “the monkey mind.” Picture a cage with monkeys jumping around and screeching. They rush at you, then away from you and then at you again, always chattering and making a ruckus. That is often the state of our mind, an endless commotion. Our minds have almost unlimited creativity and freedom. But if we do not harness the great power of our mind it can cause a mess. We talk with someone while thinking about something else more important to us. We listen with interest to a Psalm, and suddenly drift off to other thoughts. We injure our relationships when we do this!

St. Paul refers to still darker thoughts in this Epistle. This futility of our mind draws us to the edge; and we risk stepping off and into a darkness of sin.

When we are interested, however, we do focus our thoughts. An exciting movie holds our attention. A good novel can grip our interest. When our interest is not captured though, it often takes great energy and discipline for us to pay attention to a person speaking to us. We allow our mind to wander because we get lazy.

But God can work miracles through the great power of the mind. Our weapon of defense against a lazy, undisciplined mind is prayer. During Lent we pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim – “take from me the spirit of sloth.” We fight against the lazy, idle mind with “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” We fill our mind with “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great goodness. Blot out my transgressions.” Our motivation is enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit when we fill our mind with the name of Jesus.

The Virgin of Unexpected Joy (detail), late 19th c., Russian. Photo credit: The Temple Gallery

St. Paul tells us to “renew the spirit of our mind.” We meditate on Christ. We fill our mind with ‘Christ-thoughts’ and ignore the futile thoughts. We enter into this relationship with Christ, and give the Holy Spirit full reign to direct and focus our thoughts. We are confident of God’s grace for us through His work on the Cross, our symbol of his abundant love for us. In the community of our local church, we are continually encouraged to renew our relationship with Christ. Through the motivation and power of the Holy Spirit we strive for righteousness.

The Virgin of Unexpected Joy (detail), late 19th c., Russian. Photo credit: The Temple Gallery

Each time we stop our mind from offending, Christ is victorious in us. We saturate our thinking with Jesus. The more active our relationship is with Jesus Christ, the less our struggle is with futile thinking. The monkey mind is quieted. From the mental chaos – emerges peace and order, and incredible beauty, like a procession of the saints, with Christ at the center. We are able to focus on loving Christ and others. We are becoming a new person: “created according to God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Deacon Seraphim Joa is a third-year M. Div. student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary from Rockville Centre, NY.  He and his wife, Julie, have a married son and two grandchildren. After retiring from an engineering firm in New York City late in 2006, Dn. Seraphim began thinking about studying to become a deacon.  All advice pointed him to St. Vladimir’s Seminary as the best way to achieve that goal.  He continues now hoping to help in the Church as he is led by the Holy Spirit.

Author: Synaxis

Synaxis is a blog of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.