Online Meditation Readings: 08 and 09 January

1) READING

Evil’ thoughts

Kim Nataraja

Evagrius had profound psychological insights into the workings of the human mind. The fact that insights, arising from carefully scrutinised thoughts, are essential for change and transformation, was only rediscovered in the 19th century by Freud and Jung. Now it is a commonly accepted working hypothesis for most psychotherapists and analysts. Many of Evagrius’ sayings would not be out of place in a modern manual of psychotherapy.

In his teaching on ‘watching the thoughts’ he distinguishes the following ‘evil
thoughts’ or ‘demons’ as the most important ones: “There are eight general and basic categories of thoughts, in which are included every thought. First is that of greed, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and last of all, pride.” We have already met the ‘demon of acedia’, spiritual dryness with its feeling of ‘what the point?’ or ‘nothing ever happens,’ so effective in preventing us from persevering on the path of meditation. The most important ones are greed, avarice and seeking esteem: “Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of greed, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men. All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups”. It is easy to see how rampant these ‘demons’ still are in our times!

‘Greed’ starts therefore the whole process and applies to all aspects of life, not only to food; it is considered to be a form of obsessive attachment to everything, which includes physical and intellectual abilities, knowledge and material possessions, however few these may be. It could even extend to sexual relations, hence to ‘unchastity’. ‘Greed’ was really considered to be a general attitude of being immoderate; therefore in the ascetic life it could apply more to extreme fasting rather than to eating too much food. Moreover, the danger was that this in turn could easily lead to being ruled by the demons of ‘vainglory’ and ‘pride’: Abba Isidore the priest said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.”

Preoccupation with food and fasting could not only lead to ‘pride’, but also to ‘avarice’. The ascetic might be unwilling to break a fast and share a meal with the brother who called because of worries about not having enough food to maintain his own health. In so doing, he also broke with the important virtue of providing hospitality.

‘Sadness’ and ‘anger’ are considered to be related demons. Evagrius does not mean by ‘sadness’ genuine grief or depression, but a sadness that arises, when desires are thwarted. This is often accompanied by ‘anger’ at those, who have the abilities or possessions the ascetics covet.

‘Disordered’ or ‘evil’ thoughts of ‘vainglory’ and ‘pride’ are considered by Evagrius to be the most dangerous demons, even when the ascetic is already quite advanced on the path: “The spirit of vainglory is most subtle and it readily grows up in the souls of those who practice virtue. It leads them to desire to make their struggles known publicly, to hunt after the praise of men.... The demon of pride is the cause of the most damaging fall for the soul.

For it induces the monk to deny that God is his helper and to consider that he himself is the cause of virtuous action.” This discursive form of meditation, ‘watching the thoughts’ is an essential element on the spiritual path, leading to self-knowledge and knowledge of the Divine Presence.

 

2) OPENING PRAYER AND MEDITATION

Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the Spirit of your Son. Lead us into that mysterious silence where your love is revealed to all who call. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

3) READING AFTER MEDITATION

"Lost," by David Wagoner from Collected Poems 1956-1976 (Bloomington: IU Press, 1976), noted in The Writer’s Almanac, January 11, 2006.

LOST

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
where you are. You must let it find you

4) SHARING, COMMENTS

5) CLOSING PRAYER

By Laurence Freeman OSB

May this Community be a true spiritual home for the seeker, a friend for the lonely, a guide for the confused.

May those who pray here be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to serve all who come and to receive them as Christ himself. In the silence of this retreat may all the suffering, violence and confusion of the world encounter the Power that will console, renew and uplift the human spirit.

May this silence be a power to open the hearts of men and women to the vision of God, and so to each other, in love and peace, justice and human dignity.

May the beauty of the Divine Life fill this Community and the hearts of all who pray here with joyful hope.

May all who come here, weighed down by the problems of humanity, leave, giving thanks for the wonder of human life. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.